I’ve missed you. I really have.
I’m sorry I’ve skipped so many of your recent birthdays. There was the time I was digging in Italy in 2008. And that other time I was digging in Italy in 2009. 2010 I made it to New York! In 2011, I almost forgot it was your birthday at all and spent it in Rome with friends, trying to find a good burger (for the record, that was not my idea that time). We had figured Hard Rock Café was our best bet; when we arrived, we realized it was more crowded than usual because it was July 4th. The wait was 90 minutes. We ended up eating at a bar near Piazza Bologna.
And last year. Well, last year I didn’t technically miss it. I saw your fireworks from the plane as we departed the capital; on the tail of the fireworks was a storm, I think. Booms filled the air, in any case. Your favorite colors did, too.
It was your fault I left, you know. That overwhelming sense of optimism you’ve always had set quite the example for me. I can pursue my dreams, right? Even if I become dirt poor, if I work hard and play fair, I can make it. Right?
At first, being away felt good. It was so liberating. I forget how young you are sometimes, how different your perspective is on what “old” means. On what life should be like. Sometimes on what rights should be like. We disagree on those issues occasionally, and it can get frustrating; we need to keep working on communication.
And those other countries were so charming; they oozed history and elegance, even the ones that had a lot of baggage.
But the more I stayed away, the more I realized how I had taken you for granted.
Like just how lucky I am that you encourage me to be myself.
That I can walk around publicly in flip-flops and yoga pants and that’s not a big deal.
That I can talk smack about you, and you’ll let it slide.
That you tend to surround me with all kinds of people so that I can learn how to live with others, even if they look different or believe in different gods or like different reality TV shows.
That you are usually friendly and helpful.
And your cooking. Lordy, how I missed your cooking. Anyone who doesn’t believe you have your own flair for cuisine is kidding themselves. We should invite them to dinner sometime. Or Thanksgiving. Or—better yet—to breakfast!
And I don’t care that you don’t dress as well as some of the other countries, or that you’re loud. Besides, whoever says Europe isn’t loud has never been to an Irish pub. Or a Spanish football match. Or a German disco.
I missed your freeways and your (dare I say it?) chain restaurants. I loved that I could go to an IHOP in Cincinnati and know exactly what I’d be getting even though I’d never been there before. If that makes me a horrible person, so be it.
I missed your wide open spaces and sunsets and skylines. All of these things tower over us.
I missed the sweet twang of your Southern accent and the shifting vowels of your Northern.
Maybe I missed a little bit of your crazy, too. That’s what love is about, isn’t it? Loving despite the flaws? Trying to inspire each other to become better?
Not that I had a bad time everywhere else. Quite the contrary. It’s just…America, you get me.
Now, your birthday has become an important anniversary for me, too: the anniversary of the biggest choice I’ve made in my life so far. And isn’t that what you’re all about?
I’m not sure yet how I’ll celebrate today. A few ideas have been tossed around: baseball, making red, white & blue popsicles out of Gatorade, eating pie, grilling meat. Watching Jurassic Park. Just know that whatever I end up doing, I’ll think of you.