The Best Birthday Present Of Them All

by Gurpreet Sihat

Last Tuesday, I turned 28.

My 27th birthday was wonderful. I spent it in Paris with two of my favourite people in the entire world. We had breakfast opposite the Moulin Rouge, walked through Place Colette (who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, fun fact!), visited Shakespeare and Company (the gathering place for such writers as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein), marvelled at the Medici Fountain, climbed the Eiffel Tower and had dessert at Le Grand Colbert (a writer in Le Grand Colbert on her birthday… all that was missing was Keanu Reeves walking through the door!). 

This year was meant to be just as spectacular. A trip to Sicily this time, to celebrate with good food, glorious sunshine and history that ranged from being colonised by the Greeks in 8th Century BC to Mafia in the 19th Century. But then COVID-19 laughed at us and locked us away instead. I was gutted

A lockdown birthday. Wonderful. NOT!

So I planned nothing. I spent my time off doing admin, filing my tax return and doing the occasional job for a client even. I didn’t even touch a book unless it was to rearrange the ones on my shelf. I had little expectation of the actual day. The week that preceded it was boring me senseless. But then June 30th came around and everything changed. I spent the majority of my day curled up on the sofa watching movies or napping, but it turned out to be one of the most important birthdays of them all. Because despite the restrictions and the hardships and the inability to physically be there, I was being bombarded by love. 

A bouquet of flowers from Amsterdam.

A collection of Brontë-Austen-esque notebooks from Germany. 

Peaky Blinder’s from Romania. 

Mjolnir covered in carvings of Jormungandr, Fafnir and Nidhoggr from Scotland.

A retelling of Les Misérables from England. 

An intervention for a cat from Vancouver. 

A wish bracelet from Toronto. 

Phone calls, text messages, video chats, voice messages, Facebook messages, from all over the world. The most important people in my life were there. They told me I was loved. They made sure I remembered it throughout the day. They announced it to the world. 

I was loved. I was worthy. I was enough.

So when shit hit the fan in the days that followed; when issue after issue arrived – personally, professionally, emotionally – and my mood fell drastically, I didn’t step into the darkest of the shadows. I remembered all those messages instead, my Pride telling me how much they loved and appreciated me, and I went to them. I told them of the hurt I was feeling and cried to them when the tears became too much to hold in. I opened up, because I knew they loved me, and people who love you don’t judge you for not being able to stand up straight from the pressure that’s been thrown on top of you. They get angry on your behalf, and rage against the injustice of everything going on. They send you gifs of Alex Høgh Andersen as Ivar the Boneless to see a smile crack through the tears, followed by laughter and a shaking head. They remind you that you’ve been through worse, and whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger – or becomes bloody good drama for your next book. 

So I turned 28 last week.

I had an incredible birthday, followed by a terrible week.

But I am not alone.

I am surrounded by people who understand, who want to help, who are there even when they’re not.

I am loved. 

That’s definitely the best birthday present a girl could ever dream of receiving. 

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