Today I was reading a story by Wil Wheaton called “Fireworks” in his book “Just a Geek”, and this memory came to mind. I think about it often, so I thought I’d share. Not a very good start, starting in the middle, but more will come later and after, as things bubble and froth in the recesses of my mind.
My 9th birthday party I was going to have at Pistol Petes Pizza. This was super exciting because I had gone to other kid’s birthdays at Chuckie Cheeses and it was amazing, with animatronics and everything. Pistol Petes wasn’t quite the same, but I didn’t know or care about that, and thus was excited regardless.
I passed out invitations to everyone in my class. Now we moved constantly, a few times a year, so I didn’t know these kids any more than I knew any other kids. Despite not knowing anyone, I figured it didn’t matter because I didn’t know any of the kids whose parties I went to, so I thought that’s how it worked. In hindsight, I now realize I was probably the stranger invited to people’s birthdays because my parents knew their parents. Me inviting the other kids didn’t work, because their parents didn’t know my parents, and my invite went to the kids and not their parents; but I really thought I was going to have an epic party where I got to be the benefactor to all of these kids having a great time and thinking “its so awesome that Ricky invited me!” I was known as Ricky back then.
But when it came time to meet at the house before heading to Pistol Petes, only one kid I invited showed up. A few other toddlers were there, because I had a little sister and her affiliated 2 year olds, but just one kid from my class. He was black, and part of me now thinks that maybe the reason he showed up was because as one of the only black kids in the school, he probably could have used some friends too. Maybe he didn’t get invited to other parties. Now I imagine there was a possibility where we could have bonded and been best friends for the next several years like out of a show like Veronica Mars or something. In reality, I’d be moving again fairly soon, so even if we had bonded, it wouldn’t have lasted…
So we went to my “party”. Me and one other kid my age, a bunch of toddlers, my mom and her friends. I get the feeling there was supposed to be more kids at the reserved pizza party, but as it was, we got to share all of the tokens, pizza, and cake. It felt like there was unlimited everything, but I barely remember details, as I was in a fog of trying not to be sad. I always felt like I had to put a brave face on for the adults, I’m not sure why.
I became fixated on the prize booth that day. The idea of this booth with all kinds of cool things I could earn for myself became the only thing I thought of. I was obsessed, in the way that I do, excluding everything else. I didn’t care about anything or anyone, except how I could earn tickets. I earned a lot of tickets, and I kept bringing them to my mom like a cat returning a dead bird.
Success! Tickets! Here, meow! Ok, I didn’t meow, but as she stuffed those tickets into her purse to hold, I was definitely as satisfied as a cat licking its paws standing over a dead animal.
Part of me was on the verge of breaking from the moment it was clear no other kids were going to show up, but as I’ve done all my life, I just tried to stay focused on the “doing”. I became pretty good at Skeeball that day, I was already doing the math of how many tokens I had and how many tickets I could earn. There was a radio I was definitely considering. Of course I now know that was pretty much impossible, but at the time I was sure of it!
As I ran out of tokens, I went back to my mom to get my tickets, count them out, and get my prize from the prize booth. My mom didn’t have any tickets. I didn’t really understand. Where were the tickets?
She haphazardly commented that she had gotten some prizes for the little kids.
A great sorrow welled up inside me and I immediately began weeping. I know its ridiculous. Even now as I write this, I feel this hurt deep inside me. At the time, I just “felt”, now I know it was the culmination of emotion I had been trying to hold inside the entire day. This utter feeling of aloneness surrounded by entities that I didn’t feel understood me. This feeling of how things are supposed to be based partially off of what I had seen on TV, what I had read, and what I had just plain imagined.
Ironically, I had started this, thinking of how awesome it would be to be the benefactor providing an awesome experience to the other kids at school, but the event that pushed me over the edge was my mom making the toddlers a little happier with junk prizes from the booth. I was physically wracked with pain, and yes I was upset about the tickets, but only because the tickets were the goal that I had used to justify to myself why I shouldn’t be so sad about not having any friends. I don’t remember how that day ended. I’m sure I got a lot of presents, because my family has always been good about being generous with the kids. I mostly blocked it out of my head, being both embarrassed for how I acted and embarrassed for what the lack of attendees said about me.
Looking back now, I wish there was some lesson I could say I learned. I wish I could say it didn’t hurt anymore because I understand that my mom gave me the best birthday she could, exactly how I had asked. It hurts today the same way it did then, partially because I’m remembering the pain that little me was experiencing, and that can never be undone. It also hurts today because in many ways, I’m still that little kid wanting to give the best party for the other kids, but always worried that I’ll have to eat the pizza all by myself.