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Jessica Runck, Published November 07 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Friends make birthday a celebration

This week I turned 30.

For any woman, this tends to be a big milestone.

As a woman living in Hollywood, surrounded by other women who are young, and beautiful and YOUNG, it can feel like an even bigger deal.

As an actor, I’m forced compete with young 20-somethings for roles like “sexy roommate” or “hot friend.” The 20-year-old inevitably shows up wearing what appears to be a few rubber bands strung together while I’m in a dress that hides my soon-to-be-30-something thighs.

I spent a lot of the time leading up to my birthday pretending I was OK. Pretending I was above all the cliché worry of moving into a new decade. But as the day crept closer, I started to feel a squeeze of panic in the back of my chest. As a distraction, I threw myself into planning my party.

I had thought a lot about how to celebrate the big 3-0, and it occurred to me that what I really wanted was to be home, celebrating in the Midwest. So, I decided to throw a “Midwest Style” birthday party.

To make it really authentic, my parents flew in with 26 pounds of deer sausage and 5 pounds of lefse.

The morning of the party, my dad grilled up the meat, my mom made five of my favorite hotdishes and my best-friend, Noah, made meat cigars.

It was a big hit.

My L.A. friends were impressed with the “organic” deer meet and the “grass fed” beef, and I floated around in a dirty martini and tater-tot hotdish dreamland.

So when my boyfriend, Jason, started ushering everyone into the living room I was confused. This was not part of the plan. We were supposed to eat our weight in deer sticks and fall bloated into bed.

Jason sat me on the couch, turned on the TV, and two of my very close friends appeared on the screen. I immediately downed my martini and looked around for tissue.

As they screamed “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” into the camera white letters flickered across the screen and straight into my heart.

“Jessica, you’ve often talked about missing a place that feels like home. But home isn’t a place. It’s the people who love you. On your 30th birthday a few of those people wanted to remind you that home is already with you wherever you go.”

Oh no. I had not planned to cry on my birthday, but I figured it’s my party and … well, you know. My eyes burned as I watched friends from childhood, friends from L.A., family back home and roommates from college wish me a happy birthday.

I was stunned.

I thought about the secret panic I had felt, the worry about competing with rubber band-dressed women and the emotion of leaving behind a decade that has been pretty great. As I sat watching the video, I really thought about whether or not I was terrified to turn 30. And the answer was so obvious.

Not at all.

If turning 30 means I have spent that time fostering these friendships, finding these people and shaping my life into what it looks like now, then 30 is nothing but a gift.

Sure my 20s were exciting and adventurous and life-changing, but they were also incredibly exhausting. And I’m ready. I’m so ready for the next decade.

As the last images faded from the screen I took a big bite of hotdish and smiled.

Because I have a ton of friends who love me and the perfect dress to hide my thighs.

Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.