birthdays in wartime.

today would have been my mother’s fifty-sixth birthday. instead she died, as many of you know, in january. i take some amount of pleasure from your momma jokes, especially informing the person once the punchline is delivered that my mother has passed away. i enjoy the awkward moment created much more than the apologies that ensue. certainly none of them were the cause of her demise. they were merely responsible for a bad joke, which is not a punishable offense, or else i’d be writing this from humor death row, which is to say nothing about where david sedaris would be.

recently a friend told me her mother wasn’t doing well and that she may have to move in with her. i remained empathetic, even after learning the lady was in her seventies (seriously, people, how long do we expect our parents to live?). after all, i myself had basically moved in with my mother toward the end and it allowed us to gain some closure, if such a thing is honestly possible. we continued the conversation as i learned that not doing well meant she hasn’t paid her mortgage in a year and was risking foreclosure. perhaps i’m being too harsh, i’ll acknowledge, and this represents the actual definition of someone old not doing well. it’s certainly possible that some unfortunate turns and unlucky breaks have skewed my mind to the point that i hear six months to live when someone means may have to move to an apartment. oh, and one on the first floor at that because, did i tell you about her ankle? well, she sprained it cleaning the garage and it’s still bothering her. that was two weeks ago — can you believe it?

i took this incident, as i have all those concerning life and death in the past year, to my sister for further study. she said that it annoyed her when friends talked about their mothers, when they complained about them and when they celebrated them, when they rolled their eyes while talking to their moms on the telephone and when they answered gleefully telling their moms they’d see them soon. honestly, don’t even get her started about her friends’ grandparents — it’s unfathomable to her that our peers can have so many relatives remaining while we are ostensibly half-orphans.

i don’t think i share my sister’s (quiet) rage. inside me exists a mix of bewilderment and indifference. on one hand i’m shocked by the different levels of doomsday predictions and their meanings conjured (and felt) by other people, and, on the other hand, i don’t care about the problems of others, whether real or imagined. the latter, i feel the need to explain, because i have a hard time quantifying the problems, placing them along a reasonable scale, so i just list them all beside each other, where someone’s declaration that they lost a ten-dollar bill while walking to work occupies the same space as someone else having to have a piece of their hip removed in order to reconstruct parts of their face. i’m no longer able to question what is worse — it doesn’t matter, as long as each person treats it as devastating. i’ve let people be themselves and speak, where i listen sometimes in a semi-daze, wondering how it’s possible that their thoughts could diverge so much from mine.

my sister confided with me recently that she’s no longer able to cry. it seems pointless. further she said if she developed cancer right now she wouldn’t care. i think we’ve learned, all too hard, the absurdity of life, how devastating it can weigh on you but also how you have to adapt, poking fun at its inconsistencies, preparing yourself for anything, and finding humor in the inadequate sources you can. such as:

your momma’s so fat that whenever she goes to the beach the tide comes in


your momma’s so poor that she goes to kentucky fried chicken to lick other people’s fingers

anyway, happy birthday, mom. i wish we could have spent thousands more with you.


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