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  • Annual Letter: Birthday Edition


    Sometimes, it takes a while to put feelings into words; words into thoughts; and thoughts into an electronic email platform used to communicate with almost a thousand people. But just in time to celebrate my birthday this year--after a few months of uncommon silence-- I’ve found time to rehash some of my favorite, most taboo, and heartfelt birthdays.


    Let’s start from the beginning....

    Friday, October 1st: 1982, Day 1
    Most people aren’t able to retell with acute detail the story of their birth. But not me. No sir. I am the exception. I remember every detail from start to stop. After all, I was there. I was hot, irritable, and to boot, I suffered the most overwhelming, intense and stifling wave of claustrophobia. I’d simply outgrown the apartment. Therefore, I packed my bags, cleaned my dishes, left a note for the next tenant, and took down my paintings from the walls. It was time to leave. What does one do when confronted with such extremes of human discomfort, asphyxiation, and early onset infant paranoia? He kicks, naturally, and claws his way towards the first beam of light he sees and never looks back. While my graceful backstroke into the sterile but warm embrace of a one Dr. Wesley F. Prater on the third floor of the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center at 2:26AM was likely of grand stamina and Olympic merit, somehow my 22 year old mother and 23 year old father had an entirely different interpretation of my arrival. I didn’t care. Unlike most newborns, I didn’t have a first coo or hum. I, instead, communicated immediately in full sentences, “can someone get me a fresh towel… and a martini?”

    Thursday, October 1st: 1987, Day 1,825
    By this point, my memory was fully developed, sound, and completely unshakeable. I loved Heman, adored She-Ra, and hated their nemesis Skelator. This brisk afternoon at Our Kids Treehouse Preschool in Terrell, Texas around lunch time, not far from my mother’s job as a substitute teacher at a local high school, out of nowhere, a cake! It was mostly purple and themed after the sinuous cartoon hunk, his athletic Amazonian honey pot, and their bony-- yet incredibly muscular-- rival. I thanked my mom for having the cake baked in my favorite flavor-- martini.

    Days 1,826 through 4,744
    While I was an 80s baby, I was most certainly a 90s kid. The next several years were a wash, with all the typical celebrations one might expect during his young formative years: balloons, singing, sweet things to eat, family and friends. Yet while I was safe in a microcosm of love and protection, my awareness began to grow. I remember things like the War on Drugs; Just Say No; the rise of the AIDS crisis; beanie babies; pogs; Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner; and I recall on TV one day lots of people speaking German and a big wall falling down. Was there an entire world beyond our little home at 1715 Rocky Place Court, in Dallas, TX, 75227? But moreso, how are some people able to buy gin, vermouth, and queen olives, but not me?! The world became big, confusing, and radically unjust.

    Thursday, October 1st: 1998, Day 5,840
    Sweet Sixteen. Belle of the ball. There I stood, happy and surrounded by my closest friends and peers atop the rooftop deck of The Green Room Restaurant and Bar. Thank you mom for out doing yourself and completely spoiling the heck out of me and my friends with pizza and a DJ. It was a magical night that I’ll remember forever. Why you didn’t allow us open bar, I’ll never know. But no matter. Two of my friends and I did shots in the bathroom with liquor stolen from one of their dad’s cabinets. It was like a bad Saved by the Bell episode. Slater kept watch for Principal Belding while Zack and I dared the other to go first. It was all so dumb but sort of lovely too. Why does no one ever tell you that human metabolism is so high at 16, that alcohol in small amounts is basically water? I felt nothing and at the same time felt that I betrayed my dearest friend-- the martini. 

    Sunday, October 1st: 2000, Day 6,570
    I got a call from my dad to come over and spend the weekend with him. While I was an older teen, attending an arts high school, and by this time student body president, spending too much time with the parents would totally cramp my style. Ego aside, I went to spend time at my dad’s. And guess who got a 1995, White Ford F-150 out of the deal?! My dad. I, instead, was gifted his old 1984 Chevrolet Tahoe. My first car and gas prices the lowest they have been in my entire life! Super unleaded was 98 cents a gallon! Thanks Clinton. Now… about the legal martini age.

    Wednesday, October 1st: 2003, Day 7,665
    Well well, guess who can finally buy alcohol and drink it, legally, and in public? No more stealing away to the restrooms. No more asking wet nurse for a refill. No. Instead it was I who held the keys to the booze wagon dag’nabbit. And it was I, who on this birthday, was going to drive it until the wheels fell off, damn it! I proudly walked into Ponce de Leon Liquors in Coral Gables, FL, near the university where I was a music student. Chest high, I casually roamed the aisles for what felt like hours. What would it be Travis, I’m sorry, I mean… Mr. Whitlock? Smirnoff, Beefeater, Jack Daniels? Each bottle seemed to tempt and entice me in just the most nuanced and individualized way, “Pick me. Take me!” A completely indifferent cashier rang me up. “$13.47...anything else?” But wait. My ID? Doesn’t he want to see it? My inner Pretty Woman screamed, “Look, I got money to spend in here!” But nothing. No greeting. No “it must be your first time to buy liquor for yourself,” grin. Nothing! He didn’t even check my ID. That bottle of Bacardi Razz sat on my bookshelf for a solid month, a symbol that, with age, hope is bust; nothing has meaning; and eventually I'd probably have to shop for my own coffin. But hey, the silver lining… I could finally order a martini--- anywhere in the world.

    I’ll spare the details of all the birthdays that followed. People tend to have some sort of crisis at 25. I, instead, had to find my own health insurance, and if I wanted to rent a car to get to the appointment, I could. 28? I don’t remember ever being 28. I do remember having finished two graduate degrees and was well into my Chicago years by this point. At 30 the world just became dumb. I didn't see what the big deal was turning 30. At the time I was working two jobs and owned a 2008 silver Milano Scooter that I keenly named Delphine. Turns up Delphine needed an oil change on my 30th birthday and the weather was nice. So, I did that in my neighbor’s backyard all while listening to him grieve over a sister who died the week before of multiple sclerosis.

    31-35? Meh. Let’s just call those The Blurry Years, with no particular highlight worth mention. I did plan a dinner for my 36th. But it took the group of 12 so long to sort the bill and pay, that I just slapped $40 on the table and announced that I was leaving to get drunk across the street. In grand Travis Whitlock fashion I yelled, “If you’re coming, see you there. If you’re not? Thanks for whatever this was... see ya later!” Three of my friends were waiting for me-- Martini 1, Negroni, and Martini 2. The dolls that they were, my dinner guests eventually wrapped up and joined me across the way.

    Right now...Tuesday, October 1st: 2019, Day 13,505
    While a lady never tells her age-- I’m no lady and hardly a gentleman for that matter-- today I celebrate another year. I’ve dropped enough clues and dates that I would seriously wonder about your math skills if you are not able to deduce just how old I am. But for the impaired or mathematically disabled, today I’m 37. Yep. I’m basically dead. I’ve started to codify my will, a sustainably equitable 401k, and I wonder whether or not this weird mole under my arm is diabetes, fiybromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis! I’m pretty sure I have both dementia during the day and Alzheimer’s at night. You don’t even want to see me at the grocery store nowadays. I tried one of those shopping scooters, the motorized kind up front near customer service, just to “get an idea.” And hand to Jesus, I am certain that rheumatoid arthritis keeps me up at night along with the hypertension, the IBS, and the acid reflux. I’m a mess. That’s life, right? One big, ugly, lovely, beautiful, gone-too-soon mess. I’m starting to be ok with that.

    Happy Birthday, me.
    I love you, me.
    You’ve come a long way, me.
    There is so much more you will accomplish, me....

    But first… martini?