Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthdays

I usually celebrate my Birthday Month.  Once the calendar gods conflated Washington and Lincoln into Presidents it seemed only right that I continue the tradition of celebrating all through the month of February. 

Or, it might have started when the Cuters were very small and I was feeling invisible and unappreciated, giving all the time and not finding much in the way of personal rewards.  Not that I didn't love being their mother.  Not at all.  I was just missing the fact of being ME.  No labels, no attachments, no roles.... just the girl who was born on the 27th of the month.

G'ma liked to tell the story of my birth this way : "And when I felt you coming 2 days early I said 'No! Just wait a little longer and you'll be a leap year baby'"  I rued my impatience as a child, and I think I still do, today.  One blow-out celebration every four years - what fun!  "How old are you" would take on new meaning.... do you mean how many years have I been on the planet or how many birthdays have I celebrated?  It was just the kind of conundrum my family and I would have relished.

Alas, there I was, smiling up at Daddooooo from my bassinet in French Hospital early on the morning of February 27th.  He swore that I smiled at him and nodded when he welcomed me to the world.  I never argued with that story; who would complain about being labeled exemplary when only a few hours old?

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Birthdays were sacrosanct in our family.  You were the special person and people tried to please you.  TBG was born on January 2nd and his mom on December 26th; he still doesn't understand my need for hoopla and spirit and joy.  He was always driving back to school or starting school on his natal anniversary, and Nannie was so wiped out from creating the best Christmas ever that all she wanted was a nap on the couch and to be left alone.  

But the end of February was a great time for a party, I always thought, and I made sure that I had one every year.  At 35 I spent the day cleaning out our condo to prepare to close the sale on the 28th..... but I made sure to order my strawberry filled yellow layer cake before I donned the plastic gloves.  I picked up champagne on the way home, ordered dinner from a local restaurant which delivered, parked the kids with the sitter and TBG and I toasted our good fortune.  

From then on, I took charge of the day.  Hikes, lunches, a good book and no interruptions..... whatever I decided that I needed that year I made sure that it was there for me.  If you take care of yourself you don't ever feel disappointed.  

This year was different, though.  Big Cuter wondered about the absence of my Birthday Month Obsession.  I kept forgetting that it was in the offing.  Watching the sun rise on a new day everyday and relishing the fact that I was there to see it had over-shadowed my self-absorption, it seemed.  I was surprised at myself, but I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the event.

And then it was upon me.  The Golden Gopher and his lovely wife (who deserves her own blogonym but I can't seem to find one that fits) drove down from Phoenix the night before - to SuziSit and to celebrate.  They'd not seen me since I'd been shot; we relived the whole experience once again.

They are among my oldest friends.  There were lots and lots of tears.  Lots of long silences.  Many head shaking moments.  And the looks.... piercing, comforting, questioning, consoling, frightened and frightening and ultimately just very very sad.  There was a dead child in our thoughts and my perforated body on the couch and suddenly it all became very real to me:

I was very lucky to be celebrating this birthday at all .

PDXHeartman, who comments here from time to time, must understand this.  A transplant recipient, he, too, faced the stark reality that life is often not under your control, that birthdays are not guaranteed.  I re-read his comments while TBG turned off the lights and straightened up the living room before we went to bed.  It's true, denizens, you do help me heal.

My high school classmates have begun to turn 60 this year.  I, who skipped a grade, am a mere 59.  It's not much of a number.  It has no significance beyond marking the passage of time.  I neither looked forward to it nor dreaded its arrival.  It was just another birthday.

Except that every time I thought about it I also thought about my perforations, about my collapsed lung, about my shattered hip, about Christina.  He-who-should-be-slapped was in my thoughts, too.... and I didn't like it at all.  I try to keep him out of my living room, out of my head, out of my life.  He's already done his damage; why should he occupy space in my life?  But I just couldn't get rid of him this weekend.  His actions forced me to reevaluate my place in the world, my actual physical occupying space in this world.  I was almost not here to blow out my candles.  He tried to end my life.

Believe me, that is a sentence you never want to type.

So there I was, trying to sleep, trying to feel grateful for the fact that I was alive, that my children could sing Happy Birthday instead of weeping uncontrollably when the sun came up, that TBG could rub my achy hip and know that the passage of time would heal me.  And all I could do was cry.

I've been pretty good about keeping the door shut on the horror of it all.  Having been medicated through the initial very scary to look at stages of my hospitalization I think that I had the easiest time of it all.  Little Cuter and SIR and TBG and Amster watched tubes and monitors and swollen body parts and worried, without sleep or real meals, day after day.  The doctors assured them that I would be fine, but their reality was listening to me cry out for my mommy and Christina, watching me inhale and exhale,  seeing me in pain and marveling that bullets had torn through my skin.  It must have been awful.  I remember almost none of it.

But something happened to me as I watched the clock click closer to midnight.  I began to feel grateful.

I was here.  In bed, with pillows propping me up and half a pain pill coursing through my system, but I was here.  The fates and a fool had conspired to try to prevent it, but I was here.  I wasn't celebrating something that happened 59 years ago, I was celebrating the here and now.  

Suddenly, 59 felt like a great number.

And so I slept and woke up .... which I might not have done but for the grace of God or the doctors or something or somebody.  I showered and dressed and opened presents and ate yogurt and reveled in the presence of old friends.  There were looks, no doubt about it there were looks.  We were all just a little spooked by the whole situation.  We're aging, we're experiencing surgeries and excisions and medications and aches and pains but bullets were never supposed to be a part of the scenario.  There was extra juice in our hugs, a certain something in our looks.  This was a special day, indeed.

We shoved our guests into the back of our 2-door car and drove to Wildflower and stuffed ourselves silly.  Our waitress had served us at my mini-reunion of high school friends in January, and she was thrilled to see how much stronger I looked.  The restaurant had sent me a free birthday dessert coupon, but one was just not enough.  We had creme brule and apple pop tarts with their own cheesecloth decorating device and cookies and chocolate covered strawberries and ice cream and HAPPY BIRTHDAY was written in edible chocolate and we over-indulged and laughed and grinned and laughed some more.

It was really the very best birthday I've ever had.  I was here to enjoy it.


14 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday AB! You deserved to have a birthday to remember. I loved reading this post today. Not only because it was so heartfelt, but because you are able to put into words what so many of would not be able to do. I don't really know how you do it. Sending birthday hugs and wishes.

    MS

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  2. Mmm. Dessert looks just right.

    Have you seen the new American Cancer Society ads yet? They have famous people singing happy birthday. Very subtle and yet hard-hitting. Just like your post today, they mean to remind us that every birthday we're here to celebrate is a special one.

    It's lovely to read your description of coming into the moment: neither stuck in the past nor ignoring it, but simply coming through it into the moment and into a celebration of "the here and now."

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  3. I am so very glad that day turned golden for you. I'd been aware of a certain, tiny, barely discernible change in my awareness of you that I think of as A/B. And wondering how the seesaw would settle on Your Day.

    As I age, birthdays take on additional and unaccustomed significance that I find hard to name; yours rightfully has additional layers...upon layers, upon layers. Fill them with strawberries, ice them in chocolate, lift your glass every chance you get. There are so many, many of us who feel fortunate that you are here to celebrate--and that you are glad to be.

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  4. A belated Happy Birthday. Although a day late, I raise my glass to you and all those who care for you.

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  5. Happy Belated Birthday and the dessert looks ever so yummy. Glad your friends came down gave you that special day. It's always so much fun to be around you long time friends. We have many and I love it when they visit....debbie

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  6. AB~

    Shouldn't every birthday feel this celebratory? I mean, yes, you got the lesson of a lifetime in this department; but each of us owes ourself the grace and respect to say "Yay! I got older today!"

    Now~ HOORAY! I'm so happy that you got to get older, too.

    ~K

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  7. I think it's simply marvelous that you had such a wonderful day on your birthday!
    Happy day after your birthday, and I wish you many more happy days.

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  8. Happy Birthday. I hope your year ahead will be a great one in so many ways.

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  9. Happy Belated Birthday! We can celebrate--and have dessert all over again--when we are together. Little Cheese xoxo

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  10. Wow, so much to think about. I look forward to what you will say each day and always I get surprised with how much it effects me to know the details. HAPPY BIRTHDAY a day late! This year it seems you are spelling Happiness.......A P P R E C I A T I O N. I think there must be real richness there........Carol

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  11. Happy belated Birthday Ashleigh Burrows aka Susie Heilman. I am glad my responses to your blog post brought a new perspective to your birthday celebration this year. Although I am a mere 5 years younger than you I truly appreciate anytime my original (October 30, 1956) and my second birthday (June 13, 2005: my transplant date)come around because I was almost not here to celebrate my birthday back in June 2005. I know how fleeting life may be and what impact I have had on individual family members, cousins, family friends, my fellow transplant recipients and donor families whom I have met, my transplant team of doctors, nurses,and hospital support staff and co-workers at my place of employment have been since that glorious spring day in June of 2005 when I was given a second chance at life. A/B, there is a reason we are still here on planet Earth which is to let everyone know how to appreciate everything in their lives on a daily basis even when it is not going well for them and how truly blessed we are to have caring families, relatives, and friends who will drop everything to be by our side in our time of need.
    You are a beautiful writer who speaks from her soul about the relationship of individuals to their community and how everyone can have a hand in your recovery process just by reading your blog post and responding to it.
    I want you to know Ashleigh Burrows, when I meet you I will hug the heck out of you. You are an incredibly strong women who has many friends and strangers pulling for you.
    Finally, God Bless you A/B, TBG, your family, friends, and especially John, Roxanna, and Dallas Green, Jr.

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  12. I marvel how each day unfolds for you with a new realization and insight into life! I'm so glad you had a wonderful birthday celebration with special friends, and as you said, made the day great by taking care of yourself.

    Oh my gosh, did that dessert ever look mighty good! I think I'm going to have to break my diet and bake up a batch of famous a/b brownies this week.

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  13. Lump-in-throat reading. Thank you for sharing.

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