A Birthday in Quarantine

At around 9 a.m. on April 6, 2002, I entered the world. Eighteen years later, at 9 a.m. on April 6, 2020, I was at home distance–learning AP Calculus, as I had been for the past three weeks. The world looked very different than it did 18 years ago.

I am part of the unfortunate bunch whose birthdays fall between April and July, and thus are unable to celebrate in anything close to the traditional manner. Rather than large birthday blowouts, most of us are opting for small, brief celebrations with immediate family, our favorite takeout food for dinner and whatever cupcakes the grocery store has to offer.

Nonetheless, I found something comforting about the lack of ceremony associated with my 18th birthday this year. I’ve always found birthdays rather bittersweet. Yes, they mark another successful trip around the sun, a major milestone to be sure, but they also mark the passage of time, something that bothers me for reasons I don’t quite understand. A quiet birthday in quarantine somehow meant I could forget about the negative sentiment I have towards my birthday while still enjoying some of the perks.

For my birthday this year, following my post-3rd period nap, I enjoyed a mini creme brulee I had bought at Victor Benes two days prior. I opened a card from my mom, then left to make the excursion to my dad’s house in Northridge, a drive that has been one of my sole sources of normalcy since the governor’s stay-at-home order.

As Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” blared from my car’s stereo, I came to the realization that while I would never again be 17, and that too many weeks of my 17th year were spent in self-isolation. There is something remarkably significant yet ordinary about coming of age in such a tumultuous time. Does every generation feel like the world is falling apart just as their lives are beginning?

After all, as my parents were turning 18, the Cold War was raging, President Richard Nixon resigned, and the oil crisis was threatening the world economy. Then again, none of that killed nearly 100,000 people worldwide.

I spent my 18th birthday in self-isolation, but in the grand scheme of things, this is an incredibly small price to pay to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. I took comfort in the birthday messages from friends old and new, the Instagram shoutouts, the quarantine–friendly gifts and the virtual birthday party via Zoom that my friends planned for me. The happy birthday sign I found pinned above my bed by my family was a small symbol of resilience in the most dire of times.

When this is all over, and we count our losses and try to move on, I have no doubt that doing so will be extraordinarily difficult. I suspect that for many years to come, any birthday celebration will be accompanied by a twinge of sadness and that bittersweet feeling I’ve always had toward birthdays will be heightened exponentially by the tragedy the world is experiencing right now.

Our world has been clouded by uncertainty, fear and loss for some time now. I was initially disappointed that my birthday had fallen in such a dismal time. But a birthday spent in quarantine turned out to be a bright spot in what has at times been a difficult few weeks. I hope that in our recovery, we can retain our gratitude for the small things — the right song playing at the right time, a thoughtful message from a friend or even a surprise birthday sign.

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