In My Mother’s House
by WHO on Sep-13-2003

When I was a little girl, my father bought me a card for damn near every occasion. My favorite was a valentine card. It featured the saying, “Violets are blue. Roses are red. If you won’t be mine, I’ll put knots in your head” and it was accompanied by a picture of a cartoon elephant angrily stomping his feet. I thought it was clever as hell.

A funny thing happened after my father “died,” though: I stopped getting cards. In fact, when I really think about it, I quit having birthdays, too.

Of course, that is a slight exaggeration. I grew older. And I always remembered my own birthday. But damn near everyone else forgot. And on the off chance that they remembered, it was obvious that no one gave a shit.

Take, for instance, my eighth birthday. It was the first birthday I had ever had away from my father and I guess I had anticipated too much. I expected a card and a few modest gifts. At the very least, I was hoping for my Mom and little brother to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. What I didn’t expect upon coming home from school, was the demand that I pack a bag…I was spending the night with a babysitter. Shocked, I wailed, “But MOM! It’s my BIRTHDAY!” She kneeled down before me, put her hand on my shoulder, and replied, “I know that. But it’s also Ladies night. So pack.” And with a quick wink, she was back in the bathroom applying an obscene amount of make-up to her face.

Dejected, my brother and I went to the babysitter. My brother, na´ve in his youth, excitedly told the babysitter that I had turned eight just that day. The babysitter inquired about presents and parties, but quickly realized that nothing had been planned. She shot me a look a pity and then disappeared into her bedroom. She came back with a plastic bracelet and a string of cheap beads. She put the beads around my neck and informed me that they were my birthday presents. Now at eight years old, I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that it was junk jewelry that she had laying around in her room. But I was thrilled anyway. That night, I made up my sleeping bag on the floor, clutched the jewelry to my heart and cried knowing that the only thing that would make my presents better would have been receiving them from someone who had knew me longer than a couple of hours.

When I turned nine, I asked my Mother to show me my birth certificate. A girl in my class had brought her birth certificate in for Show and Tell and I thought it was really neat. It was framed in gold and it featured her little baby footprint. I wanted to see what my little baby footprint looked like. My Mother informed me that she had lost my birth certificate, but it didn’t really matter because ‘it’s not like it was important or anything.’

I was excited about my tenth birthday because I remembered my father telling me about how important getting to a ‘double digit’ was. However, I remember the day being spoiled after I got into a screaming match with my Mom who insisted that I was turning two years younger than I actually was. The day ended with my Mother calling me a ‘dirty liar’ and sending me to my room.

On my eleventh birthday, my home economics teachers noticed that I, along with 3 other girls in the class, shared the same birthday. The whole class sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to us and we baked cookies. Although, I shared the tidings with 2 other girls, it was the first time someone had sung to me on my birthday in years. It was easily the best birthday I had had since I lost my father.

My twelfth birthday, my Mom disappeared. On a weeklong alcohol binge, I suspect. My brother had not yet learned to read a calendar, so he didn’t remember either. I never mentioned it to anyone.

By the time my thirteenth birthday rolled around, my Mom had moved another father figure into the house. My brother told the man that it was my birthday and quick to impress him, my Mother replied, “That’s why we’re letting her cook anything she wants for dinner.” I decided on hamburger helper and when the meal was finished, her boyfriend looked pointedly at my Mother and said, “Since it’s her birthday, it would be nice if someone else did the dishes for a change.” My Mother, engrossed in the T.V, vaguely answered, “Oh, her brother never does a very good job with housework. They’ll never get clean if he does them.” On cue, I retired to the kitchen to finish my chores.

My fourteenth birthday was remarkably similar to my twelfth. Only my brother had spent a night at friends house and I was completely alone. Once again, I got to choose what I would make for dinner.

The last birthday I spent in my Mother’s house, I was torn between hopelessness and idealism. My Mom quit remembering my birthday years ago, but that day, she was in a particularly good mood. She was walking around the house humming and had enlisted in my help in getting ready for a party that she was planning on attending that night. Now, at that age, I wasn’t gullible enough to believe that the party was actually a surprise party for me or anything. My standards had significantly lowered. But I was hoping that if I helped her get ready (All the while dropping hints, of course), that she might take the time to acknowledge me. So the entire day, I followed her around like a puppy. Eagerly fetching hair spray and pantyhose and jet-black eyeliner…all the while hoping for a pat on the head and a ‘Happy Birthday.’ I stood in the hallway of the bathroom watching my Mom spray her hair a final time. Enthusiastically, she spun around and said, “So what do you think? How do I look?”

I broke down in tears.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked irritably.

Lazily, my brother called from his bedroom, “Well, Mom, it IS her birthday and everyone is acting like they don’t care.”

“What? It’s her birthday?” My Mom questioned, “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”

Sobbing, I ran to my bedroom and slammed the door. I buried my face into my pillow and fantasized that any second I might hear a soft knock on my door. Instead, I heard my Mother’s car start, rev, and peel out of the driveway. I chastised myself. Obviously, I had watched too many episodes of ‘The Cosby Show.’

As I said before, that was the last birthday I spent in my Mother’s house. And after I left, I did what all broken hearted kids do: I avoided pain by denying myself pleasure. I refused to celebrate my birthday. I refused even to tell my friends when it was. I suppose I thought that if no one knew, no one could forget. Never mind the fact that if no one knew, no one could remember, either.

I’m older now. And I have wonderful friends that went through all kinds of crazy antics to learn my birthday. After having my driver’s license stolen a couple of hundred times, I’ve learned to lighten up. Now, I probably won’t fly into an irrational rage if you wish me a ‘Happy Birthday.’ In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say that you would probably make my day.

I’m not greedy, though. I’ve never had a birthday party and I never expect an extravagant gift. I’m happy with acknowledgement and maybe some bath beads. And since my husband has been in my life, I’ve managed to score not one, but two Birthday cakes…one of which was made from scratch.

But ever since I was a little girl, cards have always been my favorite gift. I know most people just take a quick glance, check them for money, and throw them aside, but I keep mine forever. To me, they are little paper reminders that someone out their cares that you exist. They are proof that someone is happy that you managed to live another year. I scatter my cards around my house. And when I’m alone, I’ll open them up, read them over and over and smile.

But even though I’ve made my journey from a broken child to a mostly healthy adult, I still spend a portion of each Birthday dreaming and wishing and hoping that someday…my Mother will remember to send me a Birthday card.

In case you’re wondering, my Birthday is January 21. All good tidings are welcome.

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