The Last Birthday

Photo: My father, circa 2003. Taken on a visit home during my first year in college.

I wrote the following short story (non-fiction) for my Ethnography class. It’s too personal and emotional for me to really edit, alter, or attempt to submit for publication, so I’ve opted to share it here.


September 20th, 2006:

For my father’s 55th birthday, I take him to a Japanese steakhouse. You know the type: giant stainless steel hibachi grill, a chef flinging knives with false enthusiasm, and a volcano made of onions. My father orders a cognac, no– a bourbon, on the rocks. I’m thrilled to see him drink but secretly hope it’s happy hour. I haven’t been able to pick up as many shifts the last few weeks.

I order the seafood combo, he orders the surf and turf. The blurred faces around the table babble, but all I hear is my father’s voice, stronger today than it has been in weeks. The chef tosses a shrimp into his hat; I laugh, but secretly wish it would’ve made it to my plate, considering I’m paying for it.

My father eats. Really eats. His steak is perfect, bloody and cool in the center, just like he likes it. I inhale the rice, a treat I’ve denied myself for the last three years, and I’m stunned that I’ve almost cleaned my plate before the other guests around the grill can dent theirs. I graciously accept another helping of the white sauce as my father sips his bourbon between bites. A chef by trade, he enjoys his food with canonical devotion.

For a moment, we both forget the tumors on his kidneys, the cancer spreading in his lungs. For a moment, it seems like recovery is imminent, weight gain is possible, and a rebirth of this life is ours for the taking. For a moment, we’re father and daughter, celebrating his birthday as if there are a million more to come.


Thanks for reading,

~ Victoria Elizabeth


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