Yesterday was my mother’s birthday and this year, we’re friends. I was not able to be with her, but there was a phone call. A gift in the mail with a card reminding her I understand, now, that everything she’s said to me as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, was right. And she would never say it, because I’m her daughter and forgetting birthdays is a long-held habit of mine, but I’m sure this attention was unexpected.
Growing up, Mom made birthdays important. I had a party every year, or a dinner. Gifts. When I moved away, there were cards in the mail, care packages, and voicemails when I missed her phone calls. It’s because she was an adult before her birthday became her own. Her sister was born on the twelfth, her mother on the twentieth, and every year, my Grandma Ann insisted they celebrate together. Mom didn’t like it. She has told me all she wanted was to have her own celebration, and when I was a child I heard her express relief at my sister and I being born in April and June—away from any holidays and away from each other.
Ten years ago, I’m sure we did celebrate her birthday, though I can’t remember the specifics. It was a Thursday and her gifts were probably wrapped and ready on the dining room table before she left for work. Maybe she opened them at dinner at the Pasta House or the new Colton’s Steakhouse. There’s no evidence on my Facebook of a celebration, but proof of my apathy: a status update-turned-debate with classmates about Jason Mraz and Garth Brooks, back-and-forths with a potential college roommate and a friend who is now running for sheriff back home.
It’s not that I didn’t have a relationship with my mother when I was a teenager, but until my twenties I could only see her as the enforcer, as boots on the ground, a seemingly constant invader of my territory and, as a teenager obsessed with her place in small town Missouri, I viewed these trespasses as unforgivable. She’s the dominant figure in what I can remember of my adolescence—the parent who told me, “No.” She was the one who delivered punishment, the first person whose trust I broke, and the first person who let me earn it back.
She’s also forgiven me for forgetting her birthday, and has never failed to celebrate mine. But since the last one, we’ve aged more than a year. Her mother is gone, and yesterday was Mom’s first birthday without her. One of the few without me or my sister. A week ago on the phone, she reminded me, again, that I can tell her anything, that grief is complicated and ugly and shows itself unexpectedly and that she wants to help, to be able to talk about anything.
So, I wrote her a card. Sent her a GurglePot. Called to celebrate, to ask about the dogs and her job and Dad, because that’s what friends do.
Originally from Missouri, Sierra Sitzes now lives and writes in Spokane, Washington. She is currently an MFA candidate in Fiction at Eastern Washington University, where she also teaches creative writing and composition, and serves as Fiction Editor for Willow Springs. Her work can be found in Crab Fat Magazine and The Esthetic Apostle, among others.