I celebrated my birthday last week too, three days after my mom’s. I spent the day itself in an all-day Content Management System training and then put on my new jeans and a top I got for five dollars one of the recent times I was in America, I don’t remember which, and met a whole bunch of friends for Cambodian food. They gave me a very nice present, I had an amok curry, and we all chatted amiably before repairing back to mine for tea and bickies. I wore the earrings Mom gave me when I graduated from social work school and the disco tennis bracelet, as I have taken to calling it, that I kept back from her jewelry. That weekend I had a little party at a local theatre where my band played and I received more generous and lovely presents and there were two types of cake–one in the shape of an otter, can you believe it?–and I wore the disco tennis bracelet again plus the orange dress I wore to her memorial service. That’s what I did for my birthday.
I knew what to expect, I guess. My sister must have too, as she texted on both days, just to check in. I knew, on some level, that I would wake up sobbing at three in the morning. I knew I would want to call her even more than usual. (I think, “Oh, I should call Mom!” at least four or five times a week, these days. Today I wanted to talk to her about the marriage equality legal stuff happening both in the States and New Zealand). I knew that I would recall her saying, last year on my own birthday, that she was very sorry she hadn’t got me a present because she hadn’t had a chance to go shopping. I knew I knew I knew, and yet there it all was, all the same, to be got through hour by hour: the lethargy, the wavering between forgetting and remembering, the silent ticking off of another milestone. Grief is so predictable. Grief is so tedious. Grief is so boring.
I did not know, though, that I would be sitting quietly on my couch the morning of my birthday party, feeling rough about the whole thing and trying to remind myself that the whole reason for that party was to have something nice to look forward to at the end of a hard week. One of my neighbours started playing, loud enough for me to hear in my house, this song that I had completely forgotten that Mom used to sing to me when I was very little. I haven’t heard it in years. She used to sing just the last part: “I looooooooove yooooouuuu, yeah yeah, now and forever.” Chronologically we would have been living on the island already by the time the song came out but my memory doesn’t care. It sees her instead like a yellowly distant Polaroid—younger than I am now— under a big tree at the house in upstate New York. She wears a halter top and short shorts and pushes her toddler in the huge tire swing that hung from the branches, under the hazy late-70s summer sun. “I loooooooove yoooouuuuu, yeah yeah, now and forever.” I must have thought she had made up the song herself, that she was singing it just for me.
Grief is predictable. “I love you too, Mom.” Now and forever.