My birthday has been a lot of things over the years. It’s been fun, life-changing, sad, lonely, snowy, exciting, sporty, drunk, sick, awesome, surprising, and memorable.
Mostly because of my 18th birthday, March 31st has become a day that I cherish more than most and one that I try to remember no matter how many years has passed. Here are a few of my birthday memories from over the years:
When I turned 11, one of my presents was tickets to see Wrestlemania (yeah, the ORIGINAL) on closed-circuit TV at the Centrum in Worcester. This was before pay-per-view cable TV, so you went to the arena and watched it on a big screen. It may not have been watching wrestlers in the flesh, but it was Live TV and I was very happy to watch the Hulk Hogan and Mr. T tag-team match!
On my 13th birthday, I got my first Bruins jersey (#7, McGrath) – awesome.
When I was 17, my dad took me to a Bruins-Whalers game that was one I will never forget. Chris “Knuckles” Nilan set an NHL record with 10 penalties in one game! Also for my 17th birthday, my girlfriend and my friend Mike put together a surprise party for me at my parents’ house. We went out to eat at some resturant in Marlboro before, and I really had no clue what was waiting for me. They also invited two guys from Grafton to come and sing an Extreme song at the party, and my cake was a (go figure) hockey rink.
Just a year later was my life-changing birthday. I was turning 18, and was excited about not having to worry about the under 18 curfew rule for Massachusetts drivers. However this birthday didn’t include any late-night driving. Instead, it featured massive headaches, double vision, and a eventual diagnosis of a brain tumor (read more about my story at 15-40.org). Thanks to my family, friends, doctors, and nurses, I made it through in one piece.
Although it took me years of drinking, rehab, therapy, and writing to figure it out, my birthday and early April became times of “Dark Anniversaries” after my cancer diagnosis. It seems so obvious now when I look at poems with titles like “Sad Deathnight!” (see poem published in Poems from a Tragic Comic and card signed by Freshman year friends), but that also began a time that I used writing to fight back against the negativity cancer reminded me of during this time of the year.
My 21st birthday makes me wish I had certain parts on video and at the same time glad that no one taped a thing. Out of all the parties I went to at BC (I went to my share, and your share, and his share, and her share), my 21st birthday had the highest percentage of attendees that were well over the legal limit, totally smashed, “wicked hammahed”, wasted, and just really, really drunk. I can’t deny, it’s just what I was hoping for. We got two kegs (one Molson Ice and one Bud Ice – see receipt), and an ice luge shaped like a shamrock. The mix tape I made included songs from Pearl Jam, Extreme, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Skid Row, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (who provided the “Don’t Know How to Party” theme), STP, and the Gin Blossoms. I blacked out some of the night, but had friends who looked after me. The next day, I went to see the Bruins play the Rangers with my dad. I flipped off Mark Messier before the game, and met Denis Leary after it. This was also the last birthday that I was drinking, and the first of many that I wore my “Fuck You You Fuckin’ Fuck” T-shirt.
For my 22nd birthday, we held a bash at Mod 40A, and I’m happy to report that I’m still friends with a lot of the people that were in attendance. It was the last big party we had in our Mod, and no one had to talk to any of the kind BC police officers.
When I turned 23, I was working as a teacher’s aide in a special ed/residential school. That night, we got a blizzard and I knew that night that there was no school on April 1st – a perfect excuse to break in the Playstation I had just bought!
My 24th birthday was exciting because the BC hockey team had just made it to the Frozen Four and my roommate got us tickets to the semi-finals and championship game which were in Boston.
For my 25th birthday, I was student teaching at a special ed school in Boston. Karen, the awesome lead teacher of the class, said for my birthday we could have a “Fun Dave Day” in class. We watched a movie, played video games, and ate McDonald’s. And my girlfriend at the time got me tickets to the Bruins and a guitar!
My 29th birthday stands as the only one I was engaged during. My family and friends all gathered at the Green Briar in Allston for some celebrating, Irish music, and to see the Sox choke on Opening Day.
My 30th Birthday was another surprise one – at my older brother Jon’s house. There was a Star Wars room, a BC room, and (I think) a Bruins/Red Sox room. A lot of love and planning went into it, and it was a great time (there are more stories that involve board games and uncontrollable laughter, but you’ll have to read about those in my book!).
My 31st birthday was the Focusin CD release show.
The birthdays of my late 20s and early 30s were fun ones, but the process of turning this time of year from dreary remembrance into total celebration was still happening.
When I turned 33, I went to NYC with my parents to see my sister Megan doing a wonderful job in one of her shows that my dad most likely didn’t understand.
My 34th birthday I had awesome birthday pancakes with my friend Kerry and co-celebrated at Hope Lodge with a guest who also had a late March birthday.
Two years ago, I went to see the Bruins play the Lightning with my dad. My parents also got me very Bruin-like black and gold Livestrong sneakers that year.
Last year, I played some guitar at the special ed school I was volunteering at, wore my “Fuck You You Fuckin’ Fuck” t-shirt, had cake at my parents, and game night at my cousins. All were filled with laughs. I also got a postcard sent to me all the way from Germany!
This year, I am going to the Bruins with my awesome girlfriend and my wonderful parents. I have recently set the date for my Skating for Hope event, and now have 4 months to get ready for it. I think dreaming of something and knowing it’s finally going to happen is a good indicator that I’ve changed this time of year around (19 years, about f’n time, right?).
Cancer may have been something that temporarily gave me periods of darkness, questioning, and guilt during a time of year that I was supposed to celebrate. But, the rewards it has given my far outweigh those years I struggled to be happy around my birthday. Cancer has taught me that birthdays are precious, and people should celebrate no matter what their number is. It has given me a job that I love. It has made me realize that to have a happy birthday, presence of awesome family and friends is what matters, not presents. Cancer has made me realize that what I think on any given day (especially today and these days that follow) is up to me, and not something that happened all those years ago. Finally, it has shown me that if you think something and believe it, you can bring it into your life.