TUESDAY, 6TH OCTOBER, 2009
When it comes to birthdays, my history isn’t a glittering one. Growing up, I got neither a birthday cake nor presents. Not even a “Happy Birthday” from someone who wasn’t a grandparent. Nadine and Joseph would say to people that they couldn’t give me parties because of a lack of money. Yet, their combined income was over CDN$120,000 a year. Even after Joseph took semi-retirement, their income was just shy of CDN$100,000.
Charlotte and Ryan got the best of everything on their birthdays. On Ryan’s 18th, they celebrated at their summer getaway near Niagara Falls. The whole family was there, except for me. I was banned from attending because I scored one singular C on my end-of-term report card, in science. In my defence, I scored an A on my final exam and that brought it up from a D. I was livid to learn that they managed to get Céline Dion to send Ryan a video message for his birthday, because I’m the Céline fan in the family. I have every album that she ever made, including her French-language ones.
What about Charlotte? When her 18th birthday came around, Joseph threw a cotillion at the Fairmont Royal York. It was a fete filled with long gowns, gloves, a buffet dinner, and Charlotte was wet with excitement, because they managed to get Christina Aguilera to perform there. I didn’t attend. I didn’t get an invite, but I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I had semester finals that day. And I don’t like cotillions. There will be more on that later.
So, what about my 18th birthday? I spent it holed up in my room, eating Haagen-Dazs and crying and listening to Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears over and over. The opening raindrop-like notes to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” still make me lose it. And I’m still a Haagen-Dazs lover, despite being a former competitive bodybuilder. As ever, my grandparents tried to send me gifts, but Joseph and Nadine intercepted them.
The only times that I had a birthday party were from 2000 to 2003. On my 19th birthday, I went out for a bowling party organized by my dorm adviser, Marie-Lourdes, who was this intimidating but friendly Métis bull dyke from Manitoba. I can’t bowl for shit, but I had a great time. The following year, just after 9/11, I bought a birthday cake for myself and had a private celebration in my dorm room. It was a Sacher torte, the cake that is made of chocolate and apricot jam and whose master recipe is kept under lock and key in Austria. It was a strange time in the world, but I didn’t let that affect my birthday. Besides, I hated George W. Bush and felt that he was just as responsible for 3,000 people dying as al-Qaeda was.
Evan took me out on my birthday in 2002 and 2003. The first occasion, we went to the 360 Restaurant atop CN Tower, which in all truth neither of us had been. I liked the food, but I loved spending time with Evan as well as the gorgeous view of Toronto and Lake Ontario. The second time around was, however, the best birthday ever. We dined at Byzantium, near Church & Wellesley. Dinner rocked, but the night was made for real when Evan gave me… TEDDY RUXPIN! Okay, it was a Teddy Ruxpin that he got off eBay that was worn out a bit, but still worked great. I cried, and for the first time in my life, it was for a POSITIVE reason. And what was my gift to Evan? I fucked him extra hard that night.
Since moving back home, my birthdays went unnoticed as unusual, with the exception that they were some of the very few days that I didn’t get assaulted or berated. As ever, the rest of the Buonfiglios got the royal treatment on their birthdays, including my niece Savannah. I was left to my own devices, since I didn’t have Evan or my grandparents in my life. I based where my birthday celebrations took place on one thing: whether or not they had chocolate cake or a variation thereof. For me, chocolate cake makes a birthday.
My 28th birthday began like most days. I woke up around 7 o’clock in the morning. Nadine and Joseph were sound asleep, and wouldn’t be up for some time. They usually would arise at around 10 o’clock, usually nursing a hangover. After a quick breakfast, I rushed off to the last day of work. In this case, it was a clerical assignment at HSBC in downtown Toronto. I liked the work, but in truth, I could never see myself as a suit-and-tie guy.
At the end of the work day, I rushed back to Brampton. I showered and got dressed. I had reservations at North 44, a restaurant in midtown Toronto, if not THE restaurant. I had even planned my menu, right down to the dessert. Everything was going to be so perfect, so wonderful… and then I went downstairs, only to hear this:
“WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?!”
Joseph met me in the foyer, dressed up in a ghastly navy blue outfit. Coincidentally, he was a member of the Conservative party, unlike his parents who were Liberals. Naturally, I take after my grandparents in that regard. Joseph looked ridiculous in that suit alone, and combined with his chunky build and balding black hair, he was an outright monstrosity. To put it another way, a pimp named Silky could roam the streets of Compton, CA and look much classier. Even Flavor Flav wouldn’t have looked that stupid, and he’s a guy who made his mark sporting a giant clock and Viking horns.
“I repeat!” he said. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
I didn’t look in his direction, nor did I care to. “It’s my birthday,” I said. “I have plans.”
“No, you don’t.”
“What? Have you decided to acknowledge it?”
He laughed for ten seconds, and then: “Hell no.”
I sensed that something was up. Soon, Nadine strolled out of the kitchen, holding a glass of wine. She was petite, brunette, and dolled up for the night in a simple black dress. She always made an effort to look good, even at her worst. “It’s your cousin Ashley’s cotillion,” she said.
I stood ten feet from her, and the smell of Sauvignon Blanc on her breath still hit me. I hated Ashley and her side of the family. Nicholas, my uncle, was Joseph’s brother and just as big a douche-bag. He sold Mercedes-Benz for a living. Denise, my aunt, worked for the federal government. What exactly her job title was, I didn’t know. And she was a monster bitch from hell. As for Ashley, well, she was 10 years younger than me, and already had an advantaged life in Oakville: a GPA in the top 0.1% of all secondary school students in Canada, offers from every major university in North America, and a coterie of friends and acquaintances who bowed at her feet and kissed her rings as if she were the fucking Pope.
“So?” I replied.
“We’re going to the cotillion at Glen Fiddich.”
“Um, don’t you mean Glen Abbey?” I corrected her.
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” she grumbled, walking back to the kitchen.
“Well, I hope that you two have a lovely evening.” I walked to the door, but Joseph blocked my way.
“Not so fast!” he bellowed. “Your faggot ass is coming with us, and that’s final.”
I refused to be cowed. “What’s so special about Ashley’s cotillion?”
“I SAID YOU’RE GOING AND THAT’S THAT!” Joseph roared.
I glared at him and thrust the door open, only to see my brunette whore of a sister, Charlotte, coming up the path. She looked every inch like a glamorous piece of shit. I decided to make a run for it, but she quickly grabbed my lapel and thrust me to the ground. I promptly got up.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she growled.
“He’s coming to the cotillion,” Joseph said, now dominating the front entrance.
“Yeah, and he had better not embarrass the fuck out of us!” I could hear Nadine cackle like a witch on crack from the kitchen.
“Get his keys,” Joseph ordered Charlotte. She thrust her hands into my jacket pockets, and when she found them, she yanked them out and put them in her Louis Vuitton knock-off purse. It happened so fast that I couldn’t react. And then, she slapped me, sending me back to the ground.
Nadine had joined Joseph in the doorway. They loved this. With Charlotte, it was three against one. Dinner at North 44 was now out of the question, perhaps indefinitely.