Happy (would Be) Birthday, Mom

Mom and I, September 2015, Lewiston Idaho
Mom and I, September 2015

Dear Mom,

You should be 67 today.

I should be scrambling to get flowers, which I always forget, to go with your present, which I mostly didn’t.

You should be reading my sarcastic birthday card, trying to decipher my joke about your prime and this prime numbered birthday.

We should be chatting about about how you’ve been spending your day, the passing of time, your grandkids, movies we’ve seen and want to see, the books you are currently reading, how to get rid of the spyware in your browser, and maybe the latest quacky health ideas you’ve learned from some celebrity on tv or in a magazine.

There are so many things we could choose to be doing, but—I know it’s been more than three years now, and I am apparently supposed to be over it—you chose a scarf to wrap around your neck and a hook to hang yourself from, rejecting everyone and everything in your life.

I have to tell you—despite my own ongoing, constant experience with those dark urges and the muscled jaw and razor teeth of the black dog—I’m stymied. My deep empathy doesn’t mean I understand.

I can’t get over it. I can’t even get out from under it.

Despite my own ceaseless desire for self-erasure, to be done with all of this, to be done with a world I don’t understand and have never fit into, I am still here because I could never do to my children what you have done to me. I didn’t need to help lower your body into the steadily freezing, gravelly ground of a cemetery outside the remote Alaskan town I can never wholly escape to know that.

I can’t conceive of a way you could have hurt me more. How could you? How dare you? How could you not call me one last time? How could you not leave a note telling me it’s not my fault…unless, to a significant degree, it was?

Remember when you, at all of 5’ 2″, single-handedly carried my nearly lifeless 6’, 170 lb. body up a long flight of stairs and down another, saving by mere minutes the life I was trying to throw away? Remember how angry and hurt and bewildered you were? How could your last living act be to inflict all those feelings on me, tenfold?

Sometimes I lift something heavy and think to myself, “This weighs more than my mom did.” I imagine myself given the chance to lift you up, to claw the noose from your neck, to see your blue lips suffused with blood again, to hear you say my name one more time.

A few days ago I spent the afternoon on the coast you loved so much. I walked on the beach, listening to the same sounds of the surf you did, the waves licking the earth slowly into some new shape none of us will see. I pushed down my fear of heights enough to explore—trembling and racked with vertigo—a cliffside path beyond a viewpoint where we’d both once stood, your first granddaughter in your hands.

This time I walked right up to the precipice, my hands empty but my heart, as always anymore, at its heaviest. I nudged a rock over side and watched it tumble to the water’s edge, a tiny body lost among its brethren, drowned by the tide.

There’s a gift for you here somewhere, a poem of sand and sky, earth and erosion, bodies and time…but I can’t reach it, can’t draw a breath to call to it, can’t quite descry its shape in the veiled depths of the sunless, airless sea.


1 thought on “Happy (would Be) Birthday, Mom”

  1. Hey Chris, this is Alex. Nice post. I remember reading your essay in the early days of Eclectica where you described your mom saving you. I left a message on your Twitter last summer after you followed me on there but you never read it. My Mom died in 2017 and my Dad died in 2015. E-mail me.

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