There are no balloons or cake. No gifts or decorations.
My mother is dead and has been for almost six years.
But today is still my mother's birthday.
I see the date on my computer - October 22 - and I feel a rise to my throat and I swallow down hard.
I will cry, but not yet.
First, I want to - let me correct that, need to - swim through this pain that I am feeling. I must bathe in the mixture of guilt and sorrow and sadness and loss.
I force myself to imagine what my sweet gentle mother's birthdays must have been like when she was locked away at Rockland Psych. I hear the screaming down the halls and human smells and violence fill my nose and I see her little body, not even five feet, on an iron bed collapsed into itself.
There were no balloons or cake. No gifts or decorations.
I need to feel what my grandparents must have felt on their daughter's birthday, their baby's day, year after year as she descended deeper into her schizophrenia. The pain that hits me is too real, too present. I shove it back to the past, a coward.
Instead I let self loathing wash over me for not knowing my mother's favorite flavor cake or asking her what her birthdays were like when she was a child, still free. For not flying out from California. For thinking sending sneakers and t-shirts via Amazon were the same as being there.
I swallow again.
Today is my mother's birthday. Today will always be my mother's birthday. And today I will look for her, as I have done every day for the past five years and eight months, in the skies and on the ground. I will call out to her, silently and aloud. And I will pray to God, as I always do, that she will answer.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.