Yesterday was my birthday. I haven’t been excited about a birthday since I turned 25, but this one was especially difficult. I remember crying when I turned 25, upset that I wasn’t where I thought I would be. I was living in a cramped apartment with my then-husband, we had no money, and I was overweight. I had thought by that age I would have a family, own a home (or at least be renting a home) and have somewhat of a substantial amount saved up in the bank. Instead I was watching him drink his life away and deciding that if I couldn’t put an end to it I would just join him.
26 came and I was finally renting a home but we were on the verge of separation. 27 came and I was already divorced. When I turned 28 I was working two jobs and going to school full-time, so it was no different than any other day– getting up at 6:00, coming home at 10:00, going to bed.
But there was one thing I had for all those birthdays that I didn’t have yesterday. My mom. Mom was all about making birthdays special. It wasn’t just a celebration for us, I feel, but a celebration for her, too. A celebration of the day she gave birth to us, brought us into this world, and looked down at our wrinkly, pudgy little faces with a smile on her face. She would text me or e-mail me on my birthday, “Happy birthday, slick!” or, “Have a great day, birthday girl!” And always end the messages with, “I love you, sunshine.” On her birthday (December 15th) I always tried to make her feel just as special, calling her an extra couple times to see how she was, calling her birthday girl– she would always giggle when I said that.
Chef told me at the beginning of September that he was booking us a room in Atlantic City for tonight to celebrate my birthday. It was probably the best gift I could get because I spent all month looking forward to a night on the town with the man I love, instead of sulking about the upcoming birthday. In fact, the only time I remembered my birthday was coming was when someone would remind me. Whether that was because I was trying to push it out of my mind or because I was focused on going to AC, I don’t know. Either way, it helped me get through the month.
The girls at work, they knew how difficult it was going to be. They already know how I feel about birthdays– especially since I didn’t tell them when my birthday was last year so they weren’t able to decorate my station. But they made sure they did it this year. They went all out with spider webs and skeletons (in their words, because I’m not a girly girl so they couldn’t do streamers and flowers and other ‘girly’ things) and even bought a small tombstone-shaped chalkboard to write Happy Birthday on. They bought me a cake, a gift card for Jersey Mike’s so I could buy lunch, a ton of little knick-knacks, and a brand new blow-dryer. It’s the same one as my friend (and coincidentally, co-worker) Amy has, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since she purchased it for use at work. They all chipped in and made it such a great day — and people wonder why I have no problem working on my birthday!
Oh, there was even a pinata involved, which my manager let me take outside, tie to a tree, and bash the crap out of until Snickers and Milky Ways flew in all directions.
So all in all, a good day. But still that one element missing that always made my day. Mom would always mail a card, usually with some lottery tickets, and she’d even mail one that was supposed to be from my dog! She’d order a gift online for me, since she didn’t get out that much to do shopping. At some point when I’d go to see her, whether it be on my birthday or at some point surrounding it, she’d ask me to drive her to the store so we could pick out a cake (she didn’t bake much in her later years… although she used to make whatever cake we wanted. I usually picked the chocolate cake with her homemade whipped cream in the middle.)
I saw Dad on Thursday and he gave me my birthday card. There was $50 inside, although he’d already purchased my gift as far as I’m concerned– a tattoo I got earlier this month in memory of Mom. Opening the card was a bittersweet moment. In Dad’s capitalized scribble he’d written his nickname for me since the day I was born on the envelope. He always pressed the pen hard into the paper, leaving an indent on the other side– in contrast to Mom’s writing in which she barely touched the paper. Her elegant, large cursive was absent from the card, obviously, and my chest ached as I opened it.
I joked with Dad that he’d have no idea what to buy any of us for our birthdays or Christmas now that Mom was gone. The running humor in the family was that when we went to open our gifts, Dad would peer over our shoulder and say, “What’d I buy you?” It’s sad to think that along with Mom, a lot of other things died as well…. Inside jokes, special birthday wishes, those random free samples that would show up at our doors for everything under the sun…
I sit here now, the day after my first birthday without her, and I can’t help but wish she had given me a sign. Just something. To let me know she was there with me. Maybe she did and maybe I missed it. But there was nothing that stood out to me, and it made me realize, she’s truly forever gone from my life. Wherever she is, it was the first birthday in my life that she wasn’t with me. That I didn’t hear her voice. That I didn’t receive that text. (Oh, how long it took her to learn to text!).
I’ve been told the first year is the worst, so hopefully next year, maybe I’ll be able to smile a little more.