It is four something in the morning. I woke up at the same ungodly hour yesterday – my 44th birthday.
I have always loved birthdays.
I’m a big celebrator in general. Ask any of my Weight Watchers members. I love to clap and give out Bravo! Stickers for behavior changes. Those subtle little miracles.
“Where else do you go that they clap for you?” I ask.
Well, 12-Step meetings. But I don’t bring that up as it isn’t germane.
Birthdays are like that. It seems the whole world is clapping, rooting for you, that day. Mostly.
This year I awoke feeling a little less clap-y. A little less celebratory.
I’d been aware of a low-grade sadness tugging at me for a few days. Aware this was my first birthday since my birth mother died.
We found one another in October of my 40th year.
Ours was not always an easy relationship. Some days I think she would have jumped in my skin if she could have, while I took a more tentative approach to our relationship. Timing. Expectations. Boundaries. Those were our lessons. And we were one another’s teachers.
She sent me flowers when I turned 40. A card the following year. And then phone calls the next two. She wasn’t well and it was difficult for her to get out – both physically and emotionally. This year there would be no flowers, no card, no call. I felt sad.
Like I did when her name was read at the memorial service on Yom Kippur. Like I did when I returned from Ireland last month and felt like calling and for the first time realized I couldn’t. I find myself surprised by the sadness, although I’m not sure why. It makes perfect sense – at least on a cellular level.
So there was that.
And there was the aloneness of being not-so-suddenly, but-still, single.
My ex was a great gift giver.
Birthday and anniversary mornings I would find a card on the bed, slipped into place when I got up to shower. A gift would come later. Usually something I had spied and mentioned in passing months earlier. Something I had forgotten about until I saw it again. A hand-carved wooden jewelry box. Strands of smoky quartz and hand-colored pearls.
He gave me a watch when I turned 42 – my last birthday with him. I had been wearing the same Seiko tank since I was 14, gift from my Aunt Betty. She had lost hers. Found it. And gave the original to me.
I replaced the band and battery several dozen times over the years. Until the crystal broke and a jeweler told me it couldn’t be fixed.
I didn’t like the watch he bought me. I don’t know if I would have liked anything he bought me at that time. He had recently asked me for a divorce – and then recanted the next day – but it was there. The truth about our relationship. It was over. We just hadn’t cut the cord yet.
He was hurt and offended that I didn’t like his gift, but offered to take me shopping so I could pick out something else, anyway. I couldn’t do it. I kept the watch. I am still wearing it.
When I woke up early yesterday, I noticed the absence of a card. Of a body in my bed. Specifically, my ex’s. I do not crave him being there – but I was used to it. To him, for so long.
I rolled off my mattress and dropped to my knees in child’s pose – both a stretch and a prayer. “modeh ani lefanecha. Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me.” I asked for several obsessions to be removed. And then, still on my knees, I opened Facebook on my phone. The messages had already begun to pour in. Old neighbors. Acquaintances from grade school. Family – by origin and by choice. From Africa. And from just down the street.
I wrote. Meditated. Showered and went to work. Weight Watchers. It felt life affirming. As did dance class. I made lunch and took myself shopping at my favorite resale shop. I bought a grey wool coat that ties at the waist. It fits as if it were made for me.
I talked to a few friends on the phone. Around five a girlfriend picked me up and we went to do what we do to make sure we don’t drink today.
I used to make a big “to do” out of my birthday. Or at least try to. Those expectations often left me feeling sad and frustrated. I was unclear why. But today was delightfully ordinary.
It ended with cheap eats at a large, bright Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue. The kind with a menu posted on a TV screen. Where you wait in line to order food and pick it up on a tray. Where you eat with plastic utensils.
Where I feel conspicuously white.
There were eight of us. Among them, my divorce buddy – the man I walked lock step with through the dissolution of our marriages. And then watched my friendship with him dissolve. I hadn’t invited him. But there he was. I was delighted.
“Of course he’s here,” Kristin said. “He loves you.”
I decided to believe her. And to believe in all the love around the table. JB’s. Tom’s. Matt’s.
Rebecca’s. Brian’s. Kristin’s.
And to focus on it. To focus on who was there, instead of who wasn’t. The calls, texts, cards and Facebook greetings I did receive. Instead of those I didn’t. (Well, mostly.)
We took pictures and ate fried bits of goodness – both sweet and savory. Drank lassis and tea with evaporated milk.
I came home and ate the last of my sweets. I felt a little overly-sugared. Overly stimulated.
And I fell into bed. Alone. Sated. Full.