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The Happiest Birthday

   "Shh! Non vi dire niente, lei sentirà!"

   A couple of girls giggle, clearly struggling to follow Elena's instructions. It wouldn't matter; at this point, I already know what's going on. Hands placed over my eyes the moment I walked in the door (nearly pulling me to the ground, I might add), shuffling ballet slippers, the cryptic text urging me to be on time for dance... all surreptitiously on my sixteenth birthday? Forget modesty, even I know what's going on.

   There it is⏤the sound of a lit sparkler, paired with light shining through the cracks between Elena's fingers and one girl fussing about her hair, which I suppose was in proximity to the flame. And, of course, the song, delivered as some hybrid between Italian and English, "Tanti auguri to you, happy auguri a te, happy birthday dear Gizella, tanti auguri a te..."

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    This is just where the festivities began.

    In the final few days before I embarked for Italy, I was asked at least fifty times if I was nervous for anything (though perhaps that's more creative than, "So, are you excited?"). My response generally remained, “Not really, though I’m a bit worried that I won’t be able to do much for my birthday.” Normally, this wouldn’t concern me: it’s just a birthday, after all. The past few years I’ve done something small, if anything, and asked for nothing more than an SAT prep book and brownies.

    But this was different. This was my sixteenth birthday, and, as an American girl with access to Disney channel, I’ve been conditioned to believe that it holds some great importance. Now, logically, I know that it’s just a number, just one day out of the multitude. Nonetheless, the damage had been done, and I wanted to celebrate.

    However, “Sweet Sixteens” aren’t celebrated in Italy. Far more important is the “Festa di Diciotto,” or eighteenth birthday, at which age all legal privileges are granted unto minors. Thus, my original fears were legitimate; chances were, this year we wouldn’t make a fuss.

    Maybe that’s why it was so rewarding when the opposite occurred

    I’ll spare all of the gory details, but I can say with absolute surety that this was the happiest birthday of my life, whether that pertains to the perfectly catered lunch at home, the surprise party thrown at my dance studio, or the late-night snack session with my friends from school. I suppose, all things considered, it wasn't the birthday-bash of the century; I had three cakes, but other than that it was rather unexceptional. Then again, as they say with most things, it's the thought that counts.

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    (Party #3, with the girls from my school)

    I've only known these girls for about a month and a half. They were under no obligation to give me anything more than a cursory "Happy Birthday," maybe a kiss on both cheeks, but they went above and beyond to make me feel loved. I don't think I went three minutes without receiving a hug, don't think my cheeks have ever been pinched quite so hard. It's as if, for twenty four hours, each cog was superbly placed⏤neither too well oiled nor dry⏤and worked in unison to create the perfect night.

    Maybe I can't describe the emotions this "perfect night" evoked, but I can say this; when I came home on Thursday, I couldn't sleep. For all of the pure kinetic energy bubbling up within, for the smile plastered on my pillow, I couldn't sleep... and I didn't care in the slightest that I was exhausted the next day.

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