I remember thirteen. I remember twenty-six. If it occurred to me then to look ahead to thirty-nine, I’m pretty sure I thought I’d have everything wrapped up by now and that I would feel well and truly grown. That I would know who I was, instead of just knowing a handful of things that I’m not.
Birthdays are as weird and arbitrary as can be. These days, they aren’t about me so much as my mother—it was her big day back then, when I was coming into the world while General Hospital was on. (Ruining your plans since Day One, that’s me.) I’m sad to miss out on her telling me my ridiculous birth story every year, I’m sad to spend the day without her singing “Buon Compleanno” to me in her I-will-do-anything-to-make-you-laugh voice. My friends swoop in and remind me how much I am truly loved on a birthday without her. My grandmother calls and lets me cry to her about the pain (my god! the pain) in my shoulder and the dozen things that have gone so expensively wrong already during this moving process. She remembers just enough of the birth story to recount it for me, to laugh at my dad’s devastating comic timing and the way he lightened the mood while everyone else panicked. I haven’t cried to my Grammy in years, but it felt okay to be thirteen upon thirteen upon thirteen and doing it just then, and to believe her when she said that everything would be all right.
My mom didn’t get to keep my dad very long and she was very careful with the treasures he gave her during their time together. In her photo albums, she kept the little florist’s cards from every bouquet he gave her, and there were many bouquets in that short time. (There were not enough; there could never have been enough when you lose your husband young.) I used to read them and trace my fingers over his signature when I was little. So precious. This is something people throw away, some people.
By the end of the day, I had my own bouquet and my own florist’s card, and I do not have thirty-nine figured out, or much of anything else, really. I do know that more ill-equipped people than me have sold houses and survived a pinched nerve (my god! the pain! you think I’m kidding!) and that once upon a time I myself was one of the Together People. I lived that delusion. And now I am okay with the fog of mystery and tiny orange roses and the weight of this year. If I had everything figured out, there’d be nothing to entertain me for the rest of my time here. You can build a lot of life out of knowing a few things that you’re not.