Some people tend to get touchy about their birthdays as they get older, and I can certainly understand the reasoning behind it.  We all celebrate the important touchstones of our transition into adulthood at eighteen and twenty-one because each birthday that came prior served as “one more” toward achieving independence, becoming self-reliant, or maybe just buying our own booze.  Once you’re solidly into your twenties, however, birthdays begin to lose their luster for many, as they instead begin to serve as “one more” toward far heavier concepts like eternity, mortality, and these grey hairs that keep popping up in my beard.  Once your cross the barrier into your thirties, some folks can get downright touchy.

I’ve never been bothered by that sort of thing on birthdays.  Maybe it’s a product of growing up poor, or as the middle child, or just faulty wiring, but my birthday has never been much more than another day for me.  I don’t like asking for attention (though after a few beers I’m not opposed to demanding it), and it makes me uncomfortable to have the people I love put themselves out on my behalf.  While my home is certainly not a patriarchy – my wife will always be the commanding officer – I have this (perhaps dated) sense of masculine responsibility that tells me that my job is buy her flowers, change her oil, and make sure she knows each birthday after thirty has only made her prettier to me.  Doting over me on February 4th of each year just isn’t in keeping with that mindset, so I usually ask that we do something quiet and alone for my birthday; preferably as deep into the woods as we can get.

But there is one date each year that chews me up inside in a way I have to imagine is similar to those who come to rue their own birthdays: the anniversary of the date I joined the Marine Corps.

The first time I tried to enlist was in 2003, but as I’ve noted in other articles, I was only about a year out of having a pretty serious injury to my right leg that resulted in adding a whole lot of hardware to my ankle and spending a little over a week in the hospital.  Although I felt like I was ready to get into the fight, the Marine Corps recruiter I met with told me I’d need to secure a medical waiver for all the pins, wire, and screws holding my leg together.  He also told me that it likely wouldn’t come because they weren’t recruiting aggressively at the time.

Fast forward to 2006, when a twenty-one-year-old Alex found himself in love with a crazy chick from Connecticut who was practically the now-clichéd “manic-pixie dream girl” we see in every romantic comedy about a man trying to find his way in the world.  She was irresponsible, barely employed, smoked the dreaded marijuana I always feared would compromise my college football prospects if I even smelled, and of course, had no health insurance.

For twenty-one, I was trying my best at being forty.  I was in college on a scholarship (after a brief quarter-life crisis over losing my chance to play football), studying to become a journalist and with aspirations of wearing a derby with my press pass tucked into the band, lurking in the dangerous corners of Gotham City and illuminating society’s darkness through my writing.  I had a five, ten and 30-year plan and most of all, I was absolutely certain of who I was and who I was going to be.

You guys all know how this story goes, because we probably all lived it to one extent or another.  It turns out, having everything “figured out” at twenty-one actually means you have no idea what the hell is going on – and it took a brunette from Connecticut that drank like a sailor and kept loose cigarettes tucked into her bra to make me realize it.

Before I knew it, I was no longer a college student with a plan, I was a dropout with a girlfriend and a job turning wrenches.  I was happy and bereft of forethought; just plunging headlong into this romance that engulfed me and relying on fate to see me through.  This is the second time the older generation of readers will likely see my mistake.