She waited on the front porch on her 16th birthday. She waited for her friends to arrive and for the party to begin.
Instead, the calls came in, one at a time.
The “sorry, I can’t make it” calls. The “not coming, after all” calls. The “oops, I double booked” and the “something came ups” and the “I have to wash my hairs.”
In the end, no one came.
And she left her porch to go practice driving with her mom.
Heart… well, as you might imagine.
I don’t know how long it took my friend Melanie to start telling the story of her 16th birthday. How long it was before she talked about what happened and what she thought it meant about her value as a person and a friend.
I remember she told me last year, at the beach, in her quiet voice as we watched the waves crash, their magnitude powerful and overwhelming. And it’s a funny thing about stories; when you listen to the true ones, they crash over your heart. Powerful. Overwhelming. And my heart broke for 16-year-old Melanie, even though it’s been 30 years since she lived it.
I knew it was a gift Melanie offered. The vulnerable things always are. The ways we unpack the pieces of our soul and hold them delicately in our hands, like the small, wild things with nervous eyes and twitching wings and hearts running away in their chests. We hold them carefully, trying to communicate they’re safe. That we won’t hurt them, at least not more than they already have been. And then we whisper to our most trust-worthy friends, so softly we can barely be heard, “Come look what I have,” and “Shhhh… don’t scare it.” The best friends look. And are gentle. And say, “Oh, sweet thing.” And try to help.
I don’t remember what I said to Melanie when she told me the story of her 16th birthday. Probably wow. Or I’m really sorry. Or that sucks. Or some other inadequate thing to acknowledge that 30 years may pass, but it’s still important to nod at the pain. To hold the vulnerable pieces. To communicate, somehow, “This piece is precious. Do you know it? I’m so sorry it was broken. You didn’t deserve this. You should’ve been treasured.”
My friend Melanie turned 46 recently, and I was invited to attend her birthday party last weekend.
Her friends threw her a Sweet 16 Party.
Another shot at a Sweet 16, except they called it a Sweet 16…+30.
And here’s my guess: I bet there was a part of Melanie that was afraid. I know a part of me would have been. Because what if no one shows up again, you know? After they’ve seen the piece of her heart, held carefully in her hands. They have the power to hurt it.
But Melanie said yes to the party.
She took the chance at having her heart handled with care, which is the most trusting move I know, to say, “This part was hurt, and I’ll let you hold it with me.”
We brought Melanie little, ridiculous gifts, like Hello Kitty loot. And nailpolish. And candy and socks. And sparkly bags. And cards that said stuff like, “I’m so glad I got to come to your party! My mom is such a bitch. It’s not like she said I couldn’t take the car to go out with Jake. I thought I’d be grounded forever.“
And we laughed and played and laughed the night away… until we got tired and went home before midnight because we’re old.
And we sang happy birthday, the twenty or thirty of us who came. The twenty or thirty of us LOUD women who came. But first, to the light of a birthday candle already lit, my friend Leslie asked Melanie to tell us about her 16th birthday. And so, in the candle-lit kitchen, with the lights dimmed low and all of us crowded around, she did.
She held out her heart. And she let us hold it with her.
And then we sang happy birthday. Loud. Because that’s who we are. And because we meant it. And Melanie buried her face in her hands and wept. And laughed. And wept.
And I know I say this every time I talk about authentic, compassionate community. I know I do, but I mean it.
It was a holy moment.
A holy, redeemed, painful, precious, beautiful moment.
And then someone yelled, “FUCK THOSE BITCHES who didn’t come to your party!” And the rest of us chorused, “YEAH. FUCK THOSE BITCHES.”
And we laughed and laughed. Not because they were bitches, necessarily. But because we were together. And life gets better. And we find our tribe after too much searching. And we find out we are, after all, deeply worthy of love, and worthy of celebration, and worthy of people who show up.
And that was holy, too.
In honor of Melanie’s birthday,
and in honor of holding pieces of each other’s hearts,
please use the comments to let us hold a piece of yours.
What’s your story?
If you need a gentle friend, this is your space.
I’ll monitor the comments section closely, but I have a suspicion, based on the kindness you continue to show each other here, that I won’t have much monitoring to do.
You are some of the very best heart-holders I know.