A 26-Pronged Birthday Cake

One sultry evening in late August of 1982, my father, armed with red wine, two cuts of perfectly grilled sirloin, and considerably more hair than he has today, sat down to a romantic dinner with his wife. “More Zinfandel?” he asks with chivalry. “Why, of course,” Mom replies, batting her eyes suggestively and nine months later, on May 16, 1983, I was born. That’s how I imagine it, anyway.

Thus, as my twenty-sixth birthday approaches, I can’t help but fall victim to the familiar funk that, in recent years, has darkened this bright milestone beneath a cloud of demoralized self-introspection. I work on Nantucket at a tedious, unrewarding job that I, like any sane person in this economy, can’t risk leaving. Alison, my infinitely patient girlfriend, lives in Boston and the long-distance thing, as it inevitably does, has begun to strain our relationship. To top it off, I’m homeless and living out of my car. Yes, this year, I could sure use a good birthday wish.

Due to my own personal housing crisis, I’ll be spending the day at my parent’s house and, being ever so loving, they’ll insist on a traditional birthday celebration. Dad will fire up the grill (please, God, not sirloin) and afterward, Mom will dim the lights and, as the time-honored ritual requires, bring out a birthday cake. As a child, I can remember marveling at the flickering candles and silently wishing for the most wildly ambitious dreams with the earnest intention of realizing them when, in that inconceivably distant future, I reached adulthood.

In ’89, after discovering the stash of National Geographic magazines behind Mom’s old 45s in the basement, I wished to become a fearless adventurer, exploring distant cultures and voyaging through remote tracks of unknown wilderness.

In ‘93, I devoured festive cupcakes on the mound at Chandler Field during my joint party with Jim Bush. I wished, like Jim and every other Little Leaguer in the greater Boston area, to grow up to be a pitcher for the Red Sox.

In ’95, I spent a questionable day at the Raynham/Taunton dog track, scrutinizing the canine competitors while Dad illegally placed my bets. That night, I hovered over my cake while visions of greyhounds danced in my head and wished I could grow up to be a veterinarian. After all, what kid doesn’t love puppies?

By ’97, I, along with the majority of my suburban peers, was dripping with adolescent cynicism and, to cultivate the notion of teen angst, declared myself too cool for cake. Still, sans candles, I wished to be a rock star like Kurt Cobain.

So sadly, and by all accounts, I have arrived at the impossibly distant locale of adulthood and, when viewed through the harsh lens of my birthday funk, the landscape is rather bleak. I am not bombarding adoring fans with soulful Rock music, nursing sick puppies back to health, taking the mound at Fenway, or bushwacking through Papua New Guinea on National Geographic’s dime. I am, however, just one more directionless twenty-something in America, slouching at my parent’s kitchen table and eyeing a twenty-six pronged birthday cake with a keen sense of despair.

I’ll study the mocking flames, each one symbolizing a year of my life, and concoct some frivolous wish before snuffing out my lifetime in a single dooming breath. Then, Mom will remove the squandered years, Dad will retrieve the mint chocolate chip from the basement freezer, Alison will fetch some paper plates, and I’ll die a little inside.

Maybe this year I’ll wish to go back in time, like Marty McFly or a character from Lost, and, ignoring all the theoretical laws of time-travel, approach my former self. I’ll corner me among the uncouth ruffians at the dog track or beneath the bleachers at Chandler Field, and with the stern gaze of maturity, deliver that crucial piece of advice that will magically reinvent my 2009 self:

But suddenly, I realize that I would have nothing to say. Sure, I could warn bygone Bryan, so innocent and naive, about the inherent cruelty of greyhound racing or Jim Bush’s backstabbing High School years, but all things considered, I wouldn’t drastically change a single thing about my past. In fact, as the shrouding funk begins to dissipate, it occurs to me that I rather love this life I’ve been given, and so this year, I’ve decided to take a stand. This year, I’m going to joyfully linger above my cake, grateful to be among loved ones, and make a birthday wish with all the lofty ambition of youth but updated with the more pragmatic goals of adulthood. And this year, and each one hereafter, I’m going to break tradition by declaring my birthday wish aloud.

I, Bryan Bourgault, wish to move to Boston with Alison and get a job writing for a major publication. I wish to eventually marry her, buy a modest home, and raise puppies in a makeshift cardboard den beneath the dining room table. Together, I wish to travel extensively, enjoy sultry evenings in August with red wine and steak grilled to perfection, and pitch backyard wiffle-balls to the consequences of those summer nights. I wish to listen to the soaring hopes of our children as they marvel at their birthday cakes and boldly dream of a wide-open future that’s not nearly as distant as they think. I wish to realize these dreams in peace, in good health, and, most importantly, in freedom.

I wish many, many years from now, to lie on my deathbed with dignity, surrounded by friends and family and, as a fearless adventurer, voyage into the unknown wilderness of death with the knowledge that I lived each precious moment I was given with integrity, humanity, and copious amounts of love. Like so many generations before me, I wish to live the American Dream.

Oh, and I wish this article would get published. I wouldn’t say no to becoming a rock star either, but I’ll take what I can get.


~ by Bryan Bourgault on May 14, 2009.

4 Responses to “A 26-Pronged Birthday Cake”

  1. Bryan,

    You take me back to the age of 26……nicely penned.


    p.s. living in a car…….we must talk.

  2. I wish I could hire you as a writer. Happy Birthday!

  3. Loved the article Bryan. Belated birthday and wishes for many more! Keep writing!

  4. Your ability to put down exactly how you feel and explain your thoughts, leaves me in awe. Belated birthday wishes to you, and I hope that the first steps towards moving to Boston with Alison have already been taken. If not, you don’t want to be wishing the same thing on your 27th birthday, now do you!?!! Get on it!

    best wishes,
    Stunned at the pace of life – Daniel.
    (23, Surrey,UK)

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