The Missing 10

Birthdays are a strange thing. To celebrate momentous occasions such as graduations, retirements, and anniversaries seems fitting. After all, there was a worthy accomplishment that drove the event. But birthdays? I had literally nothing to do with mine. All of the precursory work was done by others. My only job was to breath and cry after the doctor slapped my butt.

At fifty, the doctor has other posterior procedures that bring me to tears. Life has come full circle.

But birthdays do change along the way. They no longer mark status changes – I can drive now, I can vote now, I can legally buy Billy Beer. Officially over the hill, birthdays mark descents into new decades. Why celebrate the slide down the hill? Some people do celebrate to the fullest – I’ve just never been one. I have always found it odd to say: “Congratulations! Well done on being born!”

And then, after so many birthdays, life inevitably deals us all a great loss and things like birthdays seem monumentally unimportant. Festive occasions are no longer the celebrations they should be. While there can be great fun, they also seem to highlight absence. Something is missing.

This year brought my fiftieth and my wife spearheaded a campaign. The girls wrote notes reminding me of the 50 times we had laughed together over the years (most of which were initiated by my stupid or immature behavior.) These were placed around the home and I stumbled on them throughout the day. With just the prompting of a few words, I relived memories that brought many smiles to my face.

 

Sister Bombs

Silly stories with Magoo & Bongo

Teaching daughters to pee on a tree

Jumanji

 

But the absence.

I did the math. As originally constituted, after removing the recipient (me) from the equation, our family was perfectly divisible by five. The fifty notes should have been divided up ten per member. But that’s not the way it works now. When divvied up that way there is a remainder of ten. Someone had to pick up the slack to get to fifty and it’s killing me to know what would be on the missing ten.

The missing ten. What would Kylie’s be? What made her smile? What did I do that brought her joy?

Sucking helium and singing show tunes

The bald buddy head butts

Building her dresser together

 

Those are some of my thoughts, but what would hers be?

I don’t doubt they existed and likely overlap some written by her sisters. But I yearn to know what hers are and I never will. The missing ten will forever haunt me. Somewhere inside, I know what she would say…

a

 

Daddy, don’t you remember that time? That time we ____?

Yeah, I remember. That was fun but I haven’t done it in years.

Why not?

It just isn’t the same anymore. Nothing is the same.

It’s only a little while until we can do it together again.

A little while? Wait, do you know something? Am I going to die soon?

That’s kind of a dumb question. Everyone is going to die soon. The question is, are you going to live now? Stop crying over the missing ten and make fifty more.

 

I wish I could, baby. I wish I could…

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The Tenuous Gap

I walked to a familiar place and she was there. Ten years old, not a care in the world. Happy, bubbly, effervescent. I tried to keep from hugging her every second because I knew what she did not: I knew her existence was impossible. Even asleep I knew. It could never last long enough. But I didn’t want to act like I knew for fear something would change.

She glided – her full, long hair bouncing as we walked. We talked about everything and nothing. She held my hand innocently – that little hand threading itself into mine. I felt a stillness and a stirring love, immutable passion toward this thing that was and is no more. This family, forever changed. Still living, breathing, loving… but different than before. My restless soul felt peace.

Friends came to us and marveled because they knew what she did not. And I asked, “Do you see her? Am I crazy?”

They affirmed her presence and we strolled on. Blissfully and mercifully we strolled on.

And then, she left. As quickly as she came, she is gone and I am awake immediately. Morning light peeks around black curtains facing east. I roll onto my back and blink away tears because she is gone. Gone.

The distance between her visits has been too long. I lay awake, cursing the cruel ceiling that won’t let my mind drift back to sleep. It can’t rest now. It is focused – those bygone days of completeness… that little hand threading itself into mine. Long minutes pass. Cursing rolls to acceptance of what cannot be changed and the dream that will not be resurrected. I am keenly aware that the pillow is wet, past damp, it is wet. Are the tears rolling down my face of longing? Or are they tears of happiness? Because for a moment, for just a brief moment I felt it all! The hope… the love… the completeness… the sadness of loss.

“I love being here with them, but I hate being here without her.”

Without her is the way we now live. When loss digs its heals into one’s soul, life becomes a struggle to find stasis. There is a tenuous gap between happiness and sadness. The two are intertwined. Happiness is a possibility, sadness inevitable and thus there exists a fight for the zero point while being pulled at both ends – the little flag on a tug-of-war rope. Most grievers would say that happiness is the underdog. It never wins for long.

I am a griever. Yet I am a dreamer, too. I dream, and she is there. And I am happy for a moment. Eventually I must wake up and pull the rope against the big brute of sadness for my share of happiness – however small the portion. I will pull. I will smile. I will win… at times. I will also lose. But until my dying day I will pull. For even a fleeting victory is worth the struggle.