I keep your card by my bed. Twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh, I can’t remember. Though that isn’t what counts. What counts is the curvature of your penmanship– the half-cursive swoops of “Love, Mom.” What counts is how I imagine your pen gliding through a happy birthday, and how you probably sang along as you wrote it out. I’ll admit, my throat closed up when I thought about how I’ll never again get that embarrassing voicemail of you singing happy birthday. At least I’ve got it in writing.
My mind is still a topsy-turvy mess when I consider what I would possibly say to you. It’s either willfully blank or overwhelmingly everything at once. If there’s a middle ground between those options, I haven’t discovered it.
Remember when we met for lunch before I left Arizona? We brought up some shit history we shared, and I looked into your face as you cried and said I forgave you for everything. It was so hard to get those words out. Not because they weren’t true, but because they were covered for so long under years of resentment. And what does that matter now? I thought for so long that it was a choice to live without regret, but now I’m not so sure. Because regret has latched on to me in a form that will forever go unresolved.
Over the years I convinced myself that I didn’t need you. Because I was afraid of disappointment. Because the sting of abandonment never really healed. But isn’t that pointless now? That doesn’t matter now that this pain opens up every time I think about how I can’t call you. I should have tried harder. I should have spoken up. I should have been a better son. The sad part is how all of those “should haves” don’t matter and they never will, but that won’t stop them from keeping me up at night.
I would say sorry. Sorry that I stopped believing you. Sorry that I stopped defending you. Sorry, sorry, sorry, that I did not try as hard as I could have. Now I’m just sad and sorry, and the one person it matters to will never hear me say it.
Then again, I know you would just wave it off. You would forgive any of us kids in a heartbeat, for anything. You were proud of us. You believed in us always. There was not one second where you stopped loving us. That realization both comforts me and solidifies the guilt. It’s kind of fucked up, isn’t it? How I can’t seem to separate the guilt from the positives. Guilt trails along after all of these memories, and I have no idea how to lose it.
I keep thinking about when you came to visit me in Chicago. You were so excited to see the snow. I love the picture of us downtown in front of the giant Christmas tree. It reminds me of how we laughed at each other being bundled up against the cold. It reminds me of how kind you were to that weird girl on the bus. It reminds me of how we stopped in the alley outside of my apartment, and even though it was probably filthy we laughed and made snow angels. I held so much against you for so long, but you were a gentle and kind soul. I’ll never forget.
I would say I love you. I love you for doing your best with the light you were given. I love you for being my mom.