the number that’s loomed so large
my mama tells me every day’s a blessing. and i know that. of course. usually take my birthdays like a skier takes to snow and mountainsides combined. schuss right down those slopes, delighted. don’t mind the face fulls, nor the frosty air. not one bit.
but not this one. not this birthday that’s about to come. this one i take with murky soup of gulps and trepidation and not a shallow sense of dang, that was way too soon.
you see, i’m turning the age my papa was when he no longer lived.
nearly long as i can remember, 52 was trouble. 52’s a hump. and i can’t quite see to the other side.
it’s a mixed-up thing.
i’ve had my eye on this a long, long time. years and years ago, i figured out just what day would be the day that i’d live longer than my too-young papa did.
i know, to the hour and the minute, just when my life begins past his.
i remember, 28 years ago, all the clucking ‘bout his age. 52? they’d ask. oh, God, that’s way too young. too too young, they’d cluck.
and now, after all these years and years, one tumbled ‘top the other, here i am. just days away from 52.
i’ve a sense i’m not alone.
oh, not in that my birthday’s right around the bend, but that the dread that comes with this one, is a dread shared by all of us who’ve lost a parent way too young.
when one minute your papa was on his way to a tennis game, and the next minute he was gone. and the doctor mumbled something ‘bout, he’s so sorry. and you had to ask out loud, there in the chilly hospital hallway, you mean he’s dead?
when the undeniable hole in your heart sears you in a way that won’t be shed. never does lose the scab.
when, while you do get on with living, do learn to laugh again, there is forever a piece of you that’s marked.
oh, lord, you’ve walked the aisle, birthed babies, rushed a broken child to the ICU. you’ve done all that without your papa at your side. but you’ve never ever stepped beyond the frame of time that once was his.
it’s a knot that won’t be loosed. it is a truth as deep as any shred of DNA buried down inside you.
your papa lived till 52, how will you live longer?
it’s a piercing sort of question. in some ways, fresh-trod snow. in others, a trapeze without a net.
there is certainly a dash of, is it fair? and lots and lots of thinking, this was almost his very end. did he feel finished? did he feel as new at this as i do?
there are, truth be told, some days when the weight of it feels like a rock dropped on my shoulders.
if i’ve the gift of extra days, how will i live each blessed one?
as i type here, i see a string of question marks.
i suppose, like the brink of any year, what’s to come is all unknown, uncharted, still to emerge from the mist ahead.
it’s only that this year, the year i reach my papa’s end, the questions stir more deeply, and they come in cloak of deep, deep sadness.
more than ever i do know this: my papa didn’t live nearly long enough at all.
forgive the sadness. forgive the shadows. but this table comes with dark and light. and even though the candles burn, they drape their black-lit silhouettes on the slab below. i wonder, those of you who’ve lost a mama or a papa younger than you are, did that one singular birthday pose a steep steep slope? or, for those of you who aren’t there yet, does that one stark number loom larger than the rest?