Dad’s birthday hit me hard, in a creeping sort of way. From the moment I turned the calendar to May, I felt it sneaking in. Birthdays are significant in our family, and were always made to be a big deal, even in the smallest of ways. It was a special day from start to finish, just knowing that everyone would make a fuss and you could choose whatever you wanted for dinner. On your birthday, you were excused from cleaning up the kitchen after that special dinner, and you had the distinct privilege of retiring to the den while your sisters did the dirty work. It was special in there, waiting with anticipation while the laughter and noise of preparations could be heard through the uncharacteristically closed door. When they were ready, mom or dad would quip: “would you please come in here for a minute?” and you’d enter to find your cake aglow and a satisfying heap of gifts wrapped in the funnies.
Dad’s birthday usually involved the procurement of some weird power tool that no one but he understood, but I know we all smile at the memory of him unveiling that year’s coveted item, peering down its length or width or scope or whatever the hell, and giving an appreciative “oooooooh. That’s nice” before launching into an explanation of what it would or could do while we smiled and nodded and eyeballed the cake.
So yeah, when May rolled around I started to feel sad about Dad not being around for his birthday this year. It wasn’t the first first, we’d already somehow managed to struggle through the winter holidays together. But May 18 wasn’t a day that could really be shared together, it was Dad’s day.
I was on the brink all day Tuesday, with tears were so close to the surface that I avoided thinking about Dad at all. I felt like I had to push it aside in order to carry on with my day. We went to dinner that night, and had a toast to Jidoo, and lamented together that we couldn’t call him to sing happy birthday the next day.
That night, I was startled out of sleep by my husband calling out to ask who had turned on their light. Neither kid answered, but the light soon turned off and everyone but me drifted off back to sleep. It was 3:30 am. May 18th. By 5, I figured I was up for the day. I didn’t mind too much, I had a lot on my mind and relished the thought of just hunkering down under my blankets with my tears and my memories and the world all dark and quiet and still. I could have stayed there forever. But eventually morning rolled around, and I had no choice but to face the day. I had to get up, put on a happy face, and get ‘er done.
Or did I?
As soon as that tiny window of possibility cracked open, I jumped through it. I called in sad. I explained that I was okay, but it was Dad’s birthday and I didn’t feel like putting on a brave face, I didn’t feel like pushing back the tears, I didn’t feel like doing anything but wallowing.
I got the kids to school, climbed back into bed and dozed for a while, then got up and immersed myself in Ellie’s beautiful blog post and the many, many lovely sentiments that streamed in on facebook. I talked to mom, emailed with my sisters, sniffled and shuffled and puttered about in slow motion, strangely enjoying the chance to just feel it. In the afternoon, I turned on the tv to find that Steel Magnolias was on. I dove headfirst into a total sob fest. Oh, the catharsis! Is there anything as powerful as giving in to a really good cry when there’s no one else around? I felt liberated. It was exactly what I needed. And that movie was so perfect, so campy and simple and fluffy and contrived and perfect and funny. Dad loved funny movies; he was famous for that big, shoulder shaking laugh that just filled the room. Aw, Dad. 'Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.'
I miss that dumb face.