Written November 27, 2016
It’s a tradition we started when the children were small. When a birthday prances in, why just remember it for a day? We call that time, “birthday week.”
Every day I went hunting for something special for my beloved. Monday: flowers, of course; not just one type nor colour, but a flourish of fantastic bunched beautifully into a bundle. As long as there were daisies in there, I was set. It was a great start. But what to follow up with? My answer waited in line as I stood to pay at my favourite grocery store. There she sat, a pretty little package of her favourite pie, lemon meringue. It was just enough for her to eat. Since the weather is moving away from the heat and into the cooler, the pie remained in the back seat in my PT, while the flowers — oh, those fragrants of delight — made their way to the easy chair where my beloved received them, smile opening up her face to joy.
So every day that week following work time, a new present presented itself to her, walking on my legs, carried by my love for this woman I have known for so long. The only day that differed from all the others went like this. She had spoken lots of a sight she saw as a symbol of herself, the insect dominated by two features: its long wings that allowed it to hover as well as speed along like a highway driver of sports cars; and its enormous eyes that take up most all of the head. I wanted to search and find something that carried an image of the dragonfly. A tea towel perhaps? A decorative piece for the living room? I wasn’t exactly sure, but when I saw it I knew I would find what I was looking for.
I didn’t find it. I had to settle for a box of chocolates.
We came at last to the day of her birth. This would be the best of all, a full day of joys and gladsomeness. It turned out to be a day when I was out of sorts. I felt as if I were carrying a heavy load of paving stones, not in my arms, but on my heart, pressing down on my mind like the stench of the awful mill nearby, what you can smell when the wind is wrong. Leonard Cohen’s last album of songs released just before he died has a phrase that resonated with my mood that day. “I’m tired and I’m angry all the time” (“Treaty,” by Leonard Cohen). Just before I went to bed I was speaking to some family members about my life, and I said something that emphasized my despair, my hopelessness. “It doesn’t matter what I do, ” I lamented, “because sooner or later someone will say it’s not good enough.”
Sleep could not be found easy that night. Early the morning that followed the birthday, I was counting. I wasn’t counting sheep in attempts to fall past the line between awake and asleep. I was counting Sundays left in 2016. The birthday marked 7. That’s when the weight lifted a bit. That Sunday a year before was when my family sat with me to hear the announcement. It was decided that my services were no longer deemed needed. I would be released. From that Sunday to the last of 2015, 7 weeks would prance by like a warhorse in the rage of battle.
It’s interesting, on one side of this, how I had forgotten the trauma and the grief that came with it, of that time. It had fled from my mind, but my body — my heart, my deepest mind — had remembered. I have heard of others who saw such anniversaries approaching like a cloud of deep thunder, and dreaded the coming of it. Grief calls to deep, and the hurt lingers like a gnawing wound. The wave hits, and we didn’t see it come because we didn’t feel the earthquake that struck just before. Such sadness overwhelmed me, yet I wasn’t aware of why it suddenly appeared. Until I was shown the truth.
Usually birthdays and anniversaries are joyous events. Sometimes they are just reminders of times when life turns sharply away from what had been usual. And it becomes something completely different.