Guinea Pigs

It all started because she wanted Peruvian music at her 80th birthday party. At 70, she had a twinkle-lit, Central Park-side-penthouse cocktail party. Black dresses and thongs for seamless appreciation of the years past and future.   At 50, there was a secret society formed with the name of some obscure classical composer that I am far too musically uneducated to know about. Maybe it was even made up. The joke could have been lost on me. TV watcher that I am – a lot of “culture” goes by me as I drown my mind in others’ drama.

At 40, there was some kind of kidnapping by her two best gay friends (who were never a couple, by the way). They had her come to the Oak Bar at the Plaza. In a mink no less. The only one she could find was the ratty tatty leftover gift from an  aunt’s old, married lover (who never left his wife). The lining was torn, and there were worn bare spots. Like the aunt.

And so when I forgot her daughter’s 50th birthday, the magnitude of my mistake did escape me. For me a birthday is yet another slog-point of demarcation from one draining year to the next.  I had not looked back to see the history of festivity, the legacy laid before me to live up to and exceed. Celebration was not on my mind, but neither was hurting her feelings.

Others got it. They showed up. I did not.  I failed the test.  Or didn’t study enough or haven’t been schooled?  I get it now. When the date of the fete was announced I was already booked to go to Paris for work. I do not live on vacation. I work where other’s go to sight see. Not a criticism or crime. Not a complaint or kvetch. Just the reality of the step-by-step unreaching that life can be…or is…everyday, trudging through.

So this 80 year old – she is an adventurer. Been to Peru –  Macchu Pichu – the Andes. And she wanted authentic Peruvian music to mark the passing of these octo- years. The son of an old friend (from all the other years’ parties) is an adopted, Peruvian musical genius. A savant even.  In his world there is little accounting for people or relationships, at least as a first port of call;  this young man connects in tone, tune, note, tempo. Rhythm is his signature.

“A touch of the ’tism.” That’s how my friend describes her nephew who is similarly savant. Letting me know that social status, personal connection, cues from the outside world, facial expressions, and sarcasm are not his currency. Neither for this musical master who touches the heart.  It is a ridiculous (in the true sense of that word) experience to see someone fully in their life. Calmly startling. The easiness of being. There are so many of us neurotypicals who struggle, yet yearn to get there.  And THERE he is. In full.

So Peruvian was the theme. I offered to get a cake in the shape of a guinea pig. We ended up not having enough lead time – the bakery needing 10 days. So I moved onto a cake with a guinea pig on it. I looked for images. Googled. And there they were splayed on a plate with patates. Or something. And I couldn’t do it.   It was too blotted, too darkened – the living corpse of a critter. It was like a morose foreshadowing – where a birthday can lead, a birth canal can shut down.

So I switched to raspberries, because birthdays matter to people with reasons to stay alive; people who want life. I have learned this lesson.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Photo courtesy of https://www.amazon.com/Reasons-Stay-Alive-Matt-Haig/dp/0143128728