I remember my eleventh birthday with distinction. We had returned to the States after living overseas for more than two years, and we had moved to Kentucky. I was in utter culture shock. The kids at my middle school - an unknown entity to a child schooled by DODDS (Department of Defense Dependent Schools) - considered me so alien as to eschew talking to me at all. I was reading vampire novels and listening to punk rock and New Wave music (thanks, big sisters) while they were hoarding their meager cash for Now or Laters and the new Madonna tape. (It was True Blue, if anyone is wondering. It contains the masterwork Papa Don't Preach.) There were no kids my age at my party, because I didn't really have any friends yet, having only been living in the U.S. again for three short months. Instead, my mom's boyfriend's sister, who we called Tia Carmen, brought her two much younger kids along, Bhuj and Carmencita. Please don't ask me how Bhuj got his nickname. His real name was Diego, after Carmen's maiden name. His dad called him Boner. I am so glad I was as innocent a child as I was.
Anyhow, Tia Carmen baked me a birthday cake with a sparkly pastel unicorn on it. To a child enamored of Anne Rice novels and my eldest sister's Dire Straits albums, this was unspeakably lame. I can't remember any of my gifts, except that my mom bought me a grown-up ring, my very first piece of real jewelry. It was 10 karat gold and had the world's tiniest diamond chip striving valiantly to shimmer. It remains to this day one of the best pieces of jewelry I have ever received, much better than the opal ring I had to put on layaway in a store so my ex would know exactly which to buy, much better than the thermos he purchased the Christmas I thought I might get a gorgeous handmade silver necklace. I don't have it anymore, the ring. So much of my childhood was lost in the constant shifting that occurred in my life. I can still see it, though. The memory remains. It was a concrete token telling me very plainly that the time for letting other people rule my thoughts and emotions was done. I was a whole and separate person. It didn't sink in for a while.
Cap'n Jack won't soon forget this birthday. Flying hundreds of miles away and not being asked to eat vegetables for a whole weekend go a long way towards creating an epic in the long tunnels of reminiscence. I didn't pass on such a substantial baton for him; I am not quite ready to take the step my mother made. Perhaps next year, when he is twelve. Until then, I cling to the tiny warm ball curled in my exhausted arms eleven years and five days ago. The first night we spent holding each other was one of the sweetest I've ever known.
Oh yeah, and we saw Billy Joe and the Dusty 45's. Billy Joe told my budding pyro the secret of the flaming trumpet. Then Jerry showed him the weird sounds your hands can make after you play guitar for (mumblemumble) decades. Rock and roll has claimed my son's soul. Thank God.