Birthday Blues
Thursday, January 11, 2007

I can’t really say that this birthday is one that makes me feel “old”. Nor is it one that normally registers on anybody’s “landmark” birthday list; what’s special about the number 47? I’ve been doing what I always do and consider myself whatever the next “landmark” is, “almost 50” in this case. I used to be almost 45 for at least two years running. It’s how I prepare myself I guess. By “being” the age before it’s here, it doesn’t feel bad when it actually gets here.

So what about 47? I’ve had a feeling of dread about it for years. Decades in fact. Does it inform my every thought? Does it motivate my every action? No. Usually, I don’t even notice it’s there. Once in a while it crosses my mind and I scowl it away.

It’s like this. I am about to turn the age my mother was when she died. Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m going to die this year. I should have died several times over half a lifetime ago. But I didn’t. It wasn’t my time. I believe everyone is assigned a certain number of heartbeats or breaths or some other measurement unique to them, and when that number expires, you’re done here. That’s why some people seem to live so very much in a short span and others linger on in seemingly endless tedium. I’m still here, I still have living to do. (Much of it at D*C, I’ll wager.) But the number still haunts me. 47 is just too young to die. But what is the right number then?

I had just turned 15, finished my first semester of high school with all A’s. I was growing up and starting to figure things out. My mom was my best friend. And my oracle. She was a single mom before the concept was even acknowledged. She worked and raised me with the help of her parents. Sometimes it was like we were more brother and sister in a way.

My grandparents and my mother were immigrants to America. Before that they were refugees from Yugoslavia in Austria. For 12 years. They lived in a one room flat and worked in the camps. I have no idea except from some pictures how hard life was, because when they talked about those times, my family being who they were and are, told funny stories. Every ugly facet of their lives was fodder for the comedy cannons. Except perhaps the worst of the memories which were never discussed. At least not in a language I understood.

When the time finally came when they rode over on the boat to the great land of opportunity, like every cliché you’ve ever heard of, they arrived with three suitcases and three wooden trunks. In a matter of a few years, they had a house, solid jobs and bank accounts. My mother met and married my father during their second year here. Four years later she had to leave him. Alcohol and abuse. Old story. Nobody messed with the family. My dad would never fit in even without the booze, in a way it ended up speeding things along to an inevitable conclusion. So there we were, we four. And little did I know that everything they had ever done everything they had ever lived for was for me, even before they knew who I was.

Ironically, I wouldn’t even be here if my dad hadn’t insisted on an heir. My mother just couldn’t see bringing another child into such a crazy, mixed-up world; a view she passed on to me. But he talked her into it and there I was. Even though she may not have wanted a child , she certainly did love me . And so while everything my grandparents did was for her, stifling though it was at times, everything my mom did, she did for me. Single minded, completely focused when traveled life’s route. Which for me included a lot of television and for my mother included very little. She enjoyed the Pink Panther cartoons on Saturday morning (it gave her a break from vacuuming, she said), and Masterpiece Theatre featuring Upstairs, Downstairs, every Sunday night. She never missed an episode. Except one.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007 12:29 PM


My birthday is in two weeks, and I'm not too worried about staring down the big (approximate) four-oh. I feel for your family, a worldly and tough clan, specifically for your mother, who sounds like she was an extraordinary woman. I grew up under different circumstances, not possessing that sense of...camaraderie in your family.

I don't believe in a predetermined life expectancy for many reasons. I can't find any pattern in it, like that which you have discovered. I haven't seen a realization of purpose, no grand last moments, just tidal breath and eyes dimming with a terrified uncertainty.

Here's to you and your family, Mr. Quest. May you find the purpose that I lack, and the certainty and direction that I cannot discover.

PS: Sim-sim, sala-bim!


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