Aunt Mona’s on Facebook. She wanted to keep up with her family and she took a computer class at the local community college, and everyone in the class signed up so she did too. That was six months ago and now she was hooked on the damn thing. Today was her niece Gretchen’s birthday (not that she needed a silly old website to tell her that!), and the pressure had been building for weeks. Mona had to write on Gretchen’s wall. She didn’t want to be too over-the-top or clingy, or any of the bad things that aunts can be. But she also didn’t want to be common or lame or write something with an obligatory, cold air, Happy Birthday, Gretchen. Ick. And should she text her in addition to writing on her wall, or should she just write on her wall? Life was more complicated all the time with the damn computers and the smartphones and the Facebook.
Aunt Mona yanked the sliding door open and saw the same San Diego she saw every day. Maybe that’s why she liked it here. The lack of seasons was a good thing for a gal in her sixties; you could forget that time was going by if you didn’t see leaves turning. She had a sip of her coffee and a memory flashed in her mind. When she moved here, Gretchen said she’d visit all the time. . “It’s only a couple hours from LA,” she gushed. “I’ll see you like every other weekend.” Mona thought she was serious and though she would never admit it, she still hoped that Gretchen might surprise her.
But Gretchen was busy. She was turning twenty-five. She had about a thousand friends and she was getting more friends all the time. She was in some sort of improv group that performed eight days a week, and she told Mona to come anytime and see a show. But when Mona asked for details—Which night is best? Do you need a reservation? Should I stay at a hotel?—Gretchen didn’t write back. She knew that Gretchen saw the questions; Facebook was cruel that way. Mona sighed and she had no right to be angry with her busy niece and she knew that. Kids are kids. But just the same, didn’t Gretchen want to see San Diego? Didn’t she want to go to the zoo and see Mona’s apartment and help Mona decide whether or not to paint the front hall?
Mona’s computer was all warmed up. Gretchen was just like her mother, self-involved—but this was not a day for thinking nasty thoughts. Everyone gets to have a birthday, even people on death row, and corrupt cops, and nieces that don’t visit their lonely old aunts. And just like that, a perfectly good day could turn to poop. But Mona wasn’t gonna let that happen. She went on Facebook and charged onto Gretchen’s page but she got that damn beach ball that meant that the computer was having issues.
“Come on, Kiki,” she said. She had always called her computer Kiki. How do you not name something you touch all day long, she wondered? “Kiki, Kiki, come now. Be good.”
Kiki complied and purred like a cat and Mona swore that Kiki was just as good as a pet. Kiki had moods, Kiki fell asleep when you left her alone for a while, and Kiki hummed and purred. Also, Kiki came with a mouse, which meant that she was a step ahead of most cats. Mona had things to do today so she decided to stop futzing around and start writing. She tried.
Happy Birthday, Gretchen!
But that was too plain.
Happy Birthday, Gretchen! Hope you have a great day! Lots of love!
But did she really hope that? And did she really need to spell out ‘lots of love’? Maybe she should just put LOL the way the kids do. Gretchen, I hope it’s a great birthday…Gretchen. I love you and hope you got my text! LOL
But she shouldn’t bring up a text; this isn’t the place for that, right?
Happy Birthday, Gretchen! I tried calling you but you’re probably busy. LOL
But that’s not fair either. Of course Gretchen gets to be busy on her birthday!
Love you, Gretchen, birthday girl. Every time I look someone just wished you a happy birthday. You are a popular girl! Miss you! Love, Aunt Mona. LOL
Mona groaned. What the hell was wrong with her? Why was this so hard? Breathe, Mona. Breathe and type.
This is your Aunt Mona saying hey Birthday Girl, loving and missing you today! Hope you got my card. Hope it didn’t get lost in the shuffle! Cards….shuffle…hahaha
But that was a lame joke and she wasn’t part of this generation of kids that laugh at their own jokes.
Hope you got my card in the mail. I hope it didn’t need extra stamps, it’s one of those singing cards and the postman wasn’t sure. Of course, he was also new to the job…Happy Birthday! Love, Aunt Mona!
Mona looked over the last message and she never felt older in her life. She deleted all of it. These kids don’t know about the postman. These kids don’t even get real mail, do they? She looked out at San Diego, still fucking sunny, still there. Gretchen’s page was filling up with wishes, all of them more personal and unique than Mona’s. So she tried again.
Happy B-Day Gretchen! I don’t want you to worry if my card got lost in the mail. There was no money in there, just LOL and the song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”! Wooh!
She deleted it though because it wasn’t anybody’s business, whether or not she gives out money!
I hope you’re having a great Birthday Gretchen! Hope you’re being showered with LOL and great cards! I hope my e-card didn’t get lost in the shuffle, too. Blue Mountain notifies me when my cards are opened but so far…maybe you’re saving some for later! I noticed you wrote on your friend Perry’s wall about her e-card and, well, okay, you have a great birthday!
Mona got a bottle of water out of the fridge. Clearly she was overly caffeinated and edgy, and she needed to calm down. It’s just a birthday message. Do it and move on!
Happy Birthday, Gretchen. I always love sending you a card every year. My birthday is just around the corner….you know you’re always welcome to visit!
But that wasn’t right. You can’t use someone else’s birthday to campaign for your own.
You should celebrate your big day by hopping on a train! I’m only an hour away! I know it’s not about me but I just miss you. Hope you’re having fun…whatever you’re doing.
Mona hit delete.
I forgot the most important part….Happy Birthday Mona!
Mona hit delete again.
Oops I mean Gretchen! My big day’s not until the 24th. Happy Birthday, Gretchen LOL.
Mona hit delete and got a bottle of vodka out of the freezer and poured a handsome drop into her coffee. When she returned to the computer, there was Gretchen in a brand new post, tagged in San Diego, at the beach, with the boy she’d been seeing. Mona spit out her vodka coffee and coughed. She looked out at San Diego and the city was lying to her because it wasn’t like it was every other damn day. Today it had her niece. Mona clicked on the picture because she wanted to see the comments but the picture had been deleted already. Clearly, Gretchen didn’t want anyone to know where she was. Clearly Gretchen didn’t want to see her Aunt Mona’s apartment. Clearly, Gretchen was a bad person. A true shit. And Mona started writing.
You know what? Screw it. You’re a little brat. You come all this way and you don’t call me? Shame on you, Gretchen, shame on you for ignoring your own blood and look at all these birthday wishes, you ungrateful moo cow. You have hundreds of idiots wishing you a happy birthday. I read somewhere that Facebook is a big fat lie because nobody can actually have hundreds of friends. I’m not even gonna say anything, because you don’t need to hear it from me on top of all these friends of yours. Do they even mean it? Do these “friends” even know you and do they know that you haven’t sent me a birthday card in your whole life? Do you know that I wiped your ass when you were too old to need your ass wiped so that my sister could go out for “me time”? As if you were soooooo difficult. And your mother can piss off because she should tell you to send me cards. I send you the nicest cards. Every year! When I gather that you’re going through a hard time because you put up song lyrics late at night and share pictures of animals in Tahiti or what have you, I send you cards about the family bond we share so that maybe one night instead of drinking a bottle of tequila and taking pictures of yourself that you share—WHY?!–well, thinking maybe you might instead call me instead of living this ridiculous thing you call a life. And when you seem good, you dated that boy Anthony for a while and that seemed like it was going somewhere, lots of fancy Tuna Tartare dates, I send you light, funny cards. But I don’t even know if you get these cards, let alone what you make of them. You hit the like button on all these messages on your page and take a picture of yourself in your new birthday dress—and really Gretchen, if you had 1046 friends, wouldn’t one of them take your picture and spare you the trouble? Those aren’t your friends. They don’t buy stamps and cards and deal with the nitwits at the post office to make you feel special. They don’t stand in Hallmark for an hour with their knees swelling up trying to decide between a classic rock hit and a pop song. They’re all talk. No. It’s worse. They’re all type! Like it takes effort and gas money to say Happy Birthday on Facebook. But they get a thank you?!?!?! Where’s my thank you? Where’s my birthday card? Did they all get lost in the mail? So honestly, Gretchen, just have a birthday. Whatever it is, I’ll see some pictures. Oh. My CT scan was negative. Thanks for asking.
Mona knew how to select all the copy and delete it all at once. That was one of the first things she learned in her computer class. At the time it seemed so unnecessary. She asked the teacher why they needed to know how to do that. She crossed her legs and typed.
Happy Birthday, Gretchen!
She was better than that. She would be the bigger person. She typed again.
Happy Belated Birthday, Gretchen. Love, Aunt Mona
She closed the damn computer and looked out at San Diego just sitting there being San Diego. She drew the blinds, grabbed her keys and got in the car and drove up the coast. She didn’t mean to keep going, to get gas, bottled water, more gas, more water, and go all the way to Los Angeles, but she did. She went to a bar in Hollywood, a bar she knew that Gretchen favored. It was easy to find directions because Gretchen checked into the bar on Facebook at least twice a week. She ordered a G &T and the bartender who was about twelve looked at her like she was insane and she had to say “gin and tonic”. After her second G&T the bartender slapped a bill on the counter. She told him she wasn’t done.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
“My niece comes here a lot.”
“Gretchen. She’s tall, blonde.”
The bartender laughed and picked up the bill and winked, “She’s like family. So, one of these is on me.”
Aunt Mona thanked the bartender and watched the young people get drunk and then she drank black coffee. She recognized some of them from Gretchen’s Facebook profile. It was sad to think of Gretchen in this loud, young, hungry bar night after night and Mona was relieved when she finally felt sober enough to leave. The drive home was nice; she played Billy Joel’s The Stranger and stopped twice and left the car running and walked out and left the door open so she could have her sea and her music all at once.
The next day, she wrote on Gretchen’s wall.
Happy Belated Birthday, Sweetie. I hope you find what you’re looking for this year! Love, Auntie M
A few hours later, Gretchen clicked on the Like button. She didn’t do that for all her birthday wishes, and Mona couldn’t help but feel special, proud. San Diego was the same today as it was yesterday and Mona didn’t feel like opening the blinds. She let Kiki fall asleep and she sat by the TV and soon fell asleep, too. She woke up and discovered a missed call from Gretchen. She listened to the voicemail. Gretchen and her boyfriend were in town—“Surprise!” they both yelled into the phone—and they wanted a late lunch or a visit with Aunt Mona. Mona didn’t call them back. She knew they were on the road already. These kids were as dumb as they were smart. When they called her, they also tagged themselves in a photo they took just outside of Dana Point. Mona liked the picture. But she didn’t like it, not really anyway.
Caroline Kepnes is also on Facebook. She’s a freelance writer who covers TV for Yahoo and is writing a racy YA novel for Alloy Entertainment. Her stories have most recently been in Necessary Fiction and Two Serious Ladies.