Yesterday was quite the red letter day. It was Walter’s birthday. Walter is our now seven-year -old cockapoo. Ellie got him in 2001, brought him home, and said that he would be my companion as she prepared to leave for college. How right she was. Walter and I are joined at the hip, much like Ellie and I were when she was a baby, a child, a teen and even now as a young woman.
Walter was groomed yesterday, had his check-up and vaccinations the day before, and last night we celebrated with him at The Tribeca Grand Hotel, one of the few New York City restaurant/hotels that welcomes dogs since they’re owned by Hartz Mountain. Walter was duly feted with biscuits, and offered table scraps which he ate with delicacy and not his usual fervor. I think that somehow he knew that this was an occasion.
Yesterday was also my mother’s birthday. Her age is questionable. I was under the impression that she turned 87 yesterday, although my sister says that rumor has it that it was her 90th . Somehow it mattered to me – the not really knowing. Under different circumstances, her age wouldn’t have mattered to me as much as it did yesterday – but it was just another mystery that surrounds this woman who is my mother and who I view more like a woman these days than a mother since she’s been absent in all ways but a physical presence for nearly the last four years.
But more, yesterday was the first time in my life as an aware person that I did not either send my mother flowers or candies, buy her the lacy handkerchiefs she loved, or worse – wish her happy birthday. She and my father are in Florida now and whereas last year the phone was an option as she answered the phone with a wavering and uncertain ‘hello,’ this year that line of communication was fruitless. Instead, I asked the care giver and my father to please tell her that I called and kiss her for me. And despite the gala we held for Walter last night, I cried because the birthdays yesterday were all too poignant for me.
How prescient was Ellie when she presented that little puppy to me as my companion. I remember calling my mother from my cell the day that Ellie held him in her arms at the pet shop (and please, no letters from those telling me we should have gotten a rescue dog…I know. But in fact, he was rescued from that dreadful playpen in the pet shop). We already had four other dogs at home, and getting Walter was near insanity.
“He shares your birthday,” I said to my mother, seeking her approval and sanction.
“Well, then by all means just get him,” she said.
I am a firm believer that when someone dies, we need to celebrate the person’s life. Yesterday, it dawned on me that I could not celebrate my mother’s life on her birthday because she is still living it, although not in the way that should be. It is this limbo, this abeyance, as she hangs between what was and what will ultimately be. It riddles me with guilt as I wish for both her sake and mine that she would be truly gone so that I can not only grieve with finality, but celebrate in my grief with memories – memories that are realistic, good and bad, sweet and bittersweet. And yet, although there was a time right after her stroke that I whispered to people that it would be better if she would just have died, now I remain uncertain and question how I will deal with that finality when the time comes. There is also my nearly morbid fascination with the machinations of the brain, both damaged and intact, that make me question whether or not the absence of my call or gift yesterday was felt on some level in her psyche. My obsession with truth drives me crazy. And yet I have to make peace with the notion that some truths simply remain mysteries, and the lack of an answer in the domain of what we embrace as reality has to be sufficient.
So this one is for my mother – whether you’re 87 or 90: I toasted you with a Cosmopolitan last night. You probably would have tasted it and liked it, and then said that you get drunk if you simply smell a cork, and pushed it aside. You would have said that the skirt I wore was too short for “someone my age.” You might have chastised me for having that glass of wine after the Cosmo, and made the remark ” you’d better take it easy.” You would have complained that the music was too loud in the restaurant, and that the couple engaging in a very public display of affection at the table next too us were rather crude. You probably would have said that the waitress was dressed too scantily, and that eating at what was a coffee table in the hotel lobby (the only area where the dogs can be) was a bit uncomfortable. But you would have had a good time. It would have been different – not the tony places you’re accustomed to, and secretly I think you would have liked to have been in a place that was a different slice of life than that which you know. I have come to embrace those idiosyncracies about you. They used to make me really angry. Now they make me smile and shake my head. So, there’s one truth I can put to rest.