SIXTY-THIRD BIRTHDAY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
The hurricanes on the other shore have brought gloom to our coast. Strong breezes whip my hair. I pick up fallen fronds. I remember to thank God that we don’t have the damage and floods of years past, and I’ve come to enjoy the gusts. The wind counteracts all the humidity. I’ve come to enjoy the clouds. The dreariness feels like home. Each morning I point my phone to the sky. My iPhotos chronicle months of sunrises, all the more beautiful because of white haze. The darkness of my thoughts is another matter. I practice a morning walk, I keep a schedule, but I lose track of days.
When I scroll through the photos by months, the difference in each day’s light surprises me. My mother asks me how I could choose just one shot when I show her my files. On my birthday card from my mother, she’s written in her scrawl, “At least we won’t have snow like the day you were born.” Her eighty-six years show in the wobbles of her once-perfect cursive. The card has a cake on the front and a simple message inside, “Happy Birthday.” She can’t get out to the store to card-shop as much as she’d like. There is no “To my sweet daughter.” We both save cards long past the time we should have thrown them away. Unlike flowers, they don’t brown and drop their blooms. There’s no vase water to need freshening, just some handwriting that lives past the writer. I even save Christmas cards until one day I realize the children on the family picture with the holiday greetings have their own children now.
The reason the card from my mother makes me sad is not even what she’s written. There is too much she doesn’t say, that I don’t say, so instead she says, “Have another happy day, week, month—who knows, they may get better.” I know neither of us feels that’s true, but we tell each other words to convey that sentiment. I say a lot of “someday.” We’ve both moved down here where it doesn’t snow. Her apartment is overstuffed with hoarder clutter and things too private for me to dispose of, even though I often sit beside her with a Hefty bag and offer to throw the empty make-up bottles and crusty wrinkle cream jars away at my house. “I don’t want her garbage to be my garbage,” my husband tells me. I don’t blame him. We’ve started from scratch down here in this house designed just for this time in our lives, these grandparent years. This house holds almost nothing from up north. My mother and I both live in houses where the life we left won’t fit. I don’t let the clutter accumulate. Waste management comes to my curb twice a week. I can still lift heavy bags.
My phone fills with wishes from old friends, longtime friends reaching out to catch up. One friend tells me he is writing his life for his grandchildren from a website (www.storyworth.com). I tell him I write my life but it’s coded in poems. His enthusiasm reminds me of a project my son did when he was in fifth grade: “About My Grandfather.” My father and son wrote letters back and forth with questions and answers. How heavily I relied on those stories when I wrote my father’s eulogy.
When I was moving my mother and father out of their house into assisted living for my father and independent living for my mother, we found that fifth grade report. My father read the letter out loud about the night I was born, and the three of us sat at my parents’ kitchen table, weeping.
My friend said that he’d “kill” to have stories from his grandparents. I remembered I had a paper my grandmother had written for her senior project in the 1920s. I tell my friend, “I hope it’s in storage in Stamford. When we sold our Connecticut home, I hired help to clean out our house. I could see how that paper would have looked like junk to an outsider.”
The distance between where I live now and where I lived then, the years between my younger days and this sixth decade, seem far away and faded, especially when voices from the past call. Florida is a bittersweet sunset. My new life in this new house, void of all I had to let go of, feels like the moments when the sky loses all its blue, instead exploding into orange- and peach-colored clouds—a fleeting, brilliant prism before the sun drops beneath the line between the Gulf and the sky. I’m living in the pink and the clouds. I have too many “precancerous” spots on my skin that have been cut away. It would be unwise to bathe in the blue sky’s light, although I see it when I look out my window all day.