Happy 51st Birthday, Bitch
Last year, I told myself, “Buckle up, bitch, you just hit fifty.” I didn’t have a clue.
This column marks one year, 52 weeks, since I turned 50. On Thursday, I will be 51. The first essay I wrote for this column, Sleepless in the San Fernando Valley, was Happy 50th Birthday, Bitch. In it, I welcomed myself to this 6th decade of my life. I promised to publish a piece every Monday for the entire year that I was fifty. Today, I have met this goal.
Realizing this brings up a mix of emotions: pride, that I did what I said I was going to do; sadness at the fact that the year went sideways in ways I could not possibly have imagined; and fear that I can look back on the year, week by week, essay by essay, and see myself moving through it. Knowing what is going to happen, I don’t know if I want to.
Of course, I am referring to losing my mother. That remains the hardest, saddest, most painful thing that has ever happened to me. For me, my mom was like the sofa in your favorite living room: she was always there, always available, always comfortable and welcoming and soft. I took for granted that at the end of any day, I could fall into my favorite sofa and cuddle up and watch a show. That’s what my mom was like — an absolute given.
Now, of course, I feel like I didn’t appreciate her enough. I wish I would have spent more time with her. I wish we would have had weekly lunch dates at the Magnolia Grill where she would order her California Sunshine Salad with the dressing on the side and then take the Tupperware shot glass out of her purse and use the raspberry vinaigrette that she carried with her everywhere, just in case if she ordered a salad.
I know I should not do this to myself. The truth is, I did everything I could for my mother and she knew it and she told me –over and over again — how much she appreciated it. We were close. We were there for each other. There is nothing to regret. And still I do.
I have dreams about my mom. This past Saturday night, I dreamed she was here helping my serve the cake for my son’s, her beloved grandson’s, 18th birthday. In the dream, I was thinking, As soon as I serve this cake, I am going to hug my mom because I thought she died and she is here at this birthday party. Then my real-life son called my cell phone and woke me up. I never got to hug my mother in the dream.
Last night, she came back. She was walking up a staircase toward me. When she got to the landing, I threw my arms around her and hugged her hard. I inhaled her mom smell and I felt her soft cheek against mine. I don’t remember the rest. When I woke up, my heart was full knowing I got the hug.
My 51st birthday will be my first birthday without my mother on the planet with me. Her loss will define the rest of my life. My grief counselor has helped me understand and accept this. For me, it’s as if the sofa in the living room is missing. There is now a big, empty space where the sofa used to be. It is that emptiness that I am allowing and feeling and making peace with.
For our family, there are new adventures swirling: my son is going off to college in the fall; my youngest is getting their driver’s license; my oldest will be twenty-one. I am working on a new book. My husband has been vaccinated and I look forward to when all five of us will be. We have a new president, which is the best news I can think of. The country’s problems are not going away but I am cultivating hope and optimism.
I know that I don’t know what this year will bring. But today, right now, I acknowledge myself for keeping my commitment to posting this column every single freaking Monday, regardless of the fact that my Girl’s 50th Birthday Wine-tasting Weekend got cancelled and there was a global pandemic and my beloved mother died and I spread her ashes in the ocean and I grieved and I wrote and I quarantined and my dog sat with me and I started running for the first time in my life and I still sit on the floor of my office and open up all the pockets of my mother’s purse and stroke her Mah Jongg card and her two bright pink lipsticks and her Tupperware shot glass (I poured out the raspberry vinaigrette) and her wallet and her pens and her leopard-print glasses and the array of business cards she collected.
On Thursday, I will get my favorite chicken piccata from my favorite neighborhood restaurant and have a birthday party around my kitchen table with three of my four favorite people on the planet and that’s dank (dank is good). I will toast myself with a birthday pour of Chardonnay and say out loud, “Happy fifty-first birthday, bitch.”