Today, May 21st is my birthday. I am forty years old.
For the last few years, I’ve found myself surprisingly sentimental towards my mother on this day — for she gave me life.
I have many memories of birthdays with mom. When I was little, she was the one responsible for orchestrating parties; making or buying cakes. When I was older and living out of state, she always sent me a card and a gift or money. In the last few years, it has been more bittersweet. Last year, she sent me a handmade card she made while in jail (I don’t think she had any money on her books to buy a commercial one). She traced Winnie the Pooh and Tiger and colored them in like a child would for her mommy. A few days ago, I found a card she sent me on a previous birthday, in which she inscribed, “You were the only thing in my life that came easy.”
Two birthdays ago, when she was not in jail for a DUI, we went for an early dinner to Red Lobster. While leaving in our separate cars, my car pulled up to hers’ at the light while she was unaware. She looked astonishingly depressed without the pressure of putting on a social mask. I felt deeply torn; part of me was so glad to get away from that sad energy while the other part felt moved that she wanted nothing more than to take me to dinner despite some financial struggles. My favorite birthday dinner was with her three or four years ago. We went to the Brigatine and had an unusually close and normal time.
This year there will be no card from her and we won’t be going to dinner. I’m ashamed to say that last year, when she said she wanted to take me out to dinner as soon as she got out of jail, I bulked because it seemed an avoidance of the seriousness of her life. And now she is gone.
A school teacher of mine warned me not to reject my mom entirely despite the severity of her drinking. “She did something right,” he told me while driving me home from school one day. “You are a wonderful person and I don’t think that is all because of your dad. I think you got a lot of your goodness from your mom.”
It’s funny that I should remember that comment after all these years. I was but eleven years old. But he was right. Much of my sense of decency and gentle spirit I inherited from her. My mom was kind. Gentle. Never swore or raised her voice. She was Bambi with big brown eyes. She taught me to read and write and made sure I was always bathed and in bed on time. She loved buying me gifts and my favorite foods. She was super fragile, but oddly, could pull it together at times and astonish me with her strength. Without a doubt she loved me and for that I am grateful.
The gift of my mom’s death last July 18th was that with the nightmare of her depression gone, the old mom came floating back into consciousness. Going back through old photographs, I remembered happier times. Before things went sour. Before alcoholism ruined her.
A few nights before my mom’s memorial service, I went out on my back porch. An exotic form of cacti crawling along the fence was in bloom – its blossoms yellow – my mom’s favorite color for flowers. The telephone pole nearby distinctly appeared as a cross.
Saturday night I had a big birthday bash. This would have made my mom very happy. She was always worried that I was too serious and that I didn’t have enough fun.
Happy birthday to me; happy mother’s day to mom.