I still don’t understand how it took us over four years, carpooling almost every day for ballet or softball, to realize that we had the same birthday. Not once, in first through fourth grades, did we mention our birthday parties, and then say Hey, when’s your birthday? But Kristy and I didn’t go to the same school, and we didn’t even really live in the same neighborhood, so maybe all we talked about were long fly balls to deep center field and Miss Nora’s (was that her name?) funny way of telling us to stand up straight and squeeze our butt cheeks together.
Ballerinas have really strong butt cheeks.
Some time in fifth grade we discovered our friendship had an added element of synchronicity. For the next seven years, we did attend the same middle school and high school and have a wide variety of classes together. We both quit softball and ballet. We were occasionally in the same clubs, and sometimes our mutual friends would land us in the same study groups. But the same could be said of any number of people I went to high school with. Kristy always stood out, and not just because of that one day a year.
It was hard not to look at Kristy with envy. She was tall and blonde, with a waterfall of deep golden hair and a smile the size of the Seattle skyline. She was intensely photogenic, and her eyes drew any onlooker to her face in each picture. My envy gradually turned to admiration as I became comfortable with the fact that I had stopped growing in sixth grade and, even in heels, would never reach her statuesque height. My smile is pretty big too, and I tried to take some lessons from Kristy about when to use it.
She was always very popular, very attuned to the group, but, more so than most of the others she spent her time with, I recall her independence. Kristy had her quirks– not the least of which was a laugh so pealing and contagious that I’m smiling just thinking about it now– and she embraced them. She wanted to love and be loved, but she didn’t want to sacrifice the core of who she was. From our tutu days to wearing her cap and gown, she always seemed so confident in her own skin. It was as if she had decided, long ago, that being “made in God’s image” was the assurance that the things that bind us all to be the same and the things that stretch us all to be different were both equally valuable. She wanted to be fully, uniquely Kristy.
She also always seemed to have a direction. Maybe she really didn’t. Maybe sometimes she was just making things up as she went along like the rest of us do, or maybe she was better at recognizing the spark of inspiration that is accompanied by an excited buzzing behind the eyes and the sudden urge to throw up– the spark that says you’re on the right path, that doing hard things is good, that adventures lead to opportunities. Though we lost most contact after high school, she seemed to take on college with much grace and ease. The next thing I knew, she was pouring her love into the care of little kids in Tanzania. Not long after that, I learned that she was globetrotting again, this time to Chile. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought to myself, to be able to just drop into any situation and know that you will be loved? To be so assured that you are capable of handling any challenge, of remaining so resilient?
And she was, through it all.
Kristy was loved by an inordinate number of people. They flocked to her because she was genuine, conscientious, and kind. This was especially apparent on her birthday.
I wish I had counted the number of times, every year, that I heard, “Wait, it’s your birthday, Jillian? Oh my gosh, it’s Kristy’s birthday too!”
At the time, I interpreted those words as a slight upon me. Often, it was the same people every year who forgot my birthday but remembered Kristy’s. Sometimes it felt like her birthday mattered more than mine.
But that’s not the case at all. Kristy’s birthday didn’t matter more than mine. It simply mattered. It mattered to people because Kristy mattered to them. Every time that I heard someone remind me of Kristy’s birthday was a testament to how much she had influenced them, a tribute to her love that was never meant to put me in the shadows but to shine light as far as it would reach. Birthdays in general are representation of all the things I saw in Kristy– a belief that we share our basic human essence and miraculousness and that our individuality is just as essential to celebrate.
Kristy isn’t here to share our birthday later this week, at least not in the way that she used to be. I will probably never have anyone else tell me that it is her birthday too; most people in my life now never got the chance to meet her, and those who did will most likely keep it to themselves.
That’s ok. I carry her with me, on that day especially, no matter what. I write this as a way to remind myself that birthdays are beautiful because people are beautiful, to remind myself that a day that celebrates me is really a day that celebrates everyone who has touched my life thus far.
Happy Birthday Kristy. I love you.