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The Birthday Letter

Updated: Jan 10, 2020


My beloved girl, today you would be 19.

A year ago, I never dreamed that this is how I would be celebrating your 19th birthday.

A year ago I was elbow-deep in jackfruit trying to prepare a recipe for your birthday dinner that it turned out called for canned jackfruit. Do you remember? I can still feel the ache in my knuckles, the sticky sweet latex on my fingers. We must have spent hours bent over the kitchen island tearing into that mystery fruit only to discover after all our efforts that we couldn't make your special dinner with it. And there we were, a couple of punch bowls worth of hard-harvested jackfruit before us and no clue how to eat it. I don't even remember what we ended up doing for dinner instead. Probably because no sooner had we navigated that fiasco than I had to dive into to making the raw vegan raspberry cake you requested. Which, fortunately, did come out edible, no thanks to the actual recipe we tried to follow.

We put that jackfruit in smoothies for days afterward until we were so sick of its syrupy bubblegum flavor we thought we might puke. We griped about it to each other continually, but neither one of us dared toss it out. I can't say why now. It seems so silly how we kept eating on it, torturing ourselves morning after morning. Something about being in it together made it bearable.

I don't think I can eat a jackfruit again. I don't think I even want to see one. I will add jackfruit to the list of triggers, the list of otherwise neutral things that through no fault of their own have become sharply embedded pebbles in the tender recesses of my heart.

You should know that we faced this day together, your father, brother, sister, and I. We woke up with tear-wet eyes and lump-filled throats and we said, "Happy Evelyn Day," with only half-pretended smiles. We watched you and talked about you and talked to you. We lit your candle and gazed at your picture. We made your favorite dinner for all your favorite friends and we baked the most obnoxious unicorn cake roll I could find. And like last year, we forgot some steps and skipped some others and generally researched and prepared poorly and ultimately ended up with a bit of a fail on our plates but with much to laugh about instead. And it felt just like you—the not-planning and the free-wheeling and the belly-laughing and the good company.

I won't pretend these last 31 weeks have been easy. I am hungry for you in a way I could never imagine. After you died, I composed poems to you in my mind for days on end—great, long, thunderous epics in which I poured out my grief in a quaking stream of consciousness. Did you hear them? I didn't write them down. They did not belong on paper. They did not belong to the eyes. They were ours and ours alone, a love letter from my heart to yours.

Some days I am wild for you, feral. I puff out my chest and beat it. I bellow. I walk the floor. I am a beast mother howling. I scream inside and out. I scare people. I scare myself.

Other days, I am sunken, my heart dipping in on itself like one of those lunar craters named after seas. I am a crater inside, a sea with no water. I concave. I ring hollow. I empty. The tears flow into oblivion and I am poured out again and again.

In the moments between I distract myself.

With the dog in constant need of care and attention. A white-wolf girl who is a Husky by breed but a timber wolf in her soul, who is part clown and part healer and part pack animal and somehow all you. We picked her for you, named her for you, love her for you.

With trying to fill all the gaps in your brother and sister's hearts that you left behind. Best friend, life coach, chauffeur, math tutor ... I know I can't be you for them, but it doesn't stop me from trying. Their wounds wound me more than my own.

With strange obsessions I can't explain and that, on the surface, seem to have no direct connection to our life or your loss. Permaculture, Snoop Dogg, Ramesses the Great, Youtubers with too many pets ... There is an endless string of random subjects like these that fill my days and nights now. I stopped looking for the connection, the rhyme or reason, a long time ago.

I miss you with a fire under my skin, with a burn that cannot be described, with a scream that never dies. It is like peeling the skin from your bones and scrubbing your insides with hot sand. It is like laying down at the center of a labyrinth drawn in your own blood and washed in your own tears. It is like riding the sun naked to drown in a black-tar underworld at the end of every day. It is all of these and none of these and totally relentless.

But every day, no matter how broken, I am still so very much in love with you. Perhaps love is the only constant.

So despite it all, know this: I will never stop celebrating you. Today and every day is Evelyn Day to me. Happy birthday my beautiful baby girl. Now and always, we are one heart.


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