Two days before I turn five, my mom is driving us home from school and my sister, Anya, is squeezing my hand in the back seat of the station wagon. “She’s not going to have these cute little hands anymore, when she turns five,” my sister laments to my mom. My mom laughs, looks at us in the rear view mirror and asks, “what’s going to happen to Merrie’s hands?”
Anya sighs and turns my hand over so it is palm up, then over once more to inspect the freckle on the back of my hand. “Look at that cute little freckle!’ She is wrinkling her nose and squinting her eyes like she can’t believe how cute the freckle is. “Her hands just won’t be cute anymore. They’ll be big, like my hands.” She drops my hand, brings her 7-year-old hands up in front of her face and sighs.
Lucia pipes up from my other side. She has been looking out the window, waiting to see if the ducks would still be on the pond near the split pink house. She loves seeing those ducks. “Yeah, my hands aren’t cute anymore either. That’s what happens when you turn five.” She shrugs and goes back to looking out the window.
I am horrified. I have spent the last week trying to make time go faster so my birthday would get here sooner. Now I want to put on the brakes, slow time down through sheer force of will. I feel my hands clench into fists and I start to cry. “My hands will still be cute. I promise, they’ll still be cute!” I say, my voice rising an octave. I look at Anya, desperate to convince her. If I am not cute little Mur, who I know she loves, who will I be? Will she still love me? Is that why she and Lucia fight so much, because Lucia used to be cute, and then she turned five? At this thought, I whip my head around to look at Lucia.
Lucia, at 6, has two modes. She is either heart-achingly sensitive or cool and all-knowing. I don’t know if she will start crying with me or if she will give another matter-of-fact shrug, but I know it will be one of the two and I am somewhat comforted by that. She shrugs, eyebrows high, eyes wide, and I cry even harder. The loss feels unbearable.
My mom is looking back and forth at the road in front of her and at us in the rear view mirror. She is rolling her eyes and laughing. “You’re going to be fine, Merrie. Just fine.” Anya puts her arm around me and side hugs me as best she can with us in our seat belts. “My Mur,” she says softly. “Please don’t cry. I just feel sad that things always change.” I start to cry harder. That things always change is new information for me. What’s worse is that I realize it is true and I am not happy about it. “I don’t want things to change. I don’t want my birthday. Mommy, can you stop my birthday?” I feel bigger sobs fighting to get out of my chest and I am scared my throat is too small for them to get through.
“I’m sorry, Merrie. If I had the power to stop birthdays, I would stop mine first,” mom says. “But birthdays come even when you don’t want them to.” I am still crying, so she adds, “You will always be cute, honey.” I sigh and shudder and my sobs slow down. Anya is squeezing my hand. “It’s okay, Mur. I’m sorry I made you sad.”
Anya, who never misses a beat, turns her attention back to us, and says, “Wait, but mommy, last year you turned 29, and this year you turned 29 again. How did that happen?”
My mom laughs. “I’ll always be 29, honey. I refuse to age another day.”