01 Aug Another Birthday Letter
By Anna Sweat, Mother of Evelyn (06/10/77 – 08/02/17)
My beautiful girl,
Your birthday is only days away. I haven’t written you in some time. I can’t say why. I walk around with my head full of thoughts I want to share with you. But when I open my mouth, it seems like the only things that come out are “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “I miss you.” You must be so tired of hearing that.
In the beginning, I wrote to you every week. Do you remember? Always on a Wednesday – the day that you died. I think it was a way for me to mark time, a way for me to stay connected to you. I would count the weeks for a long time. Somewhere along the way, I stopped counting. It became too painful. And I believed I had your permission to stop punishing myself. If only so I could be a better mother to your brother and sister.
We used to have such deep conversations. You were always my “big question girl.” We could talk until our throats got sore, laugh until our stomachs hurt. I delighted in you. I hope you know that. I hope I found a way to let you know. Between the constant reminders to do your chores and doling out motherly advice, I hope I stopped once in a while and said, “You are a marvel and a delight and everything about you is perfect.” I’m not sure I did. We always think we have more time.
I don’t have a plan for Sunday. That is what the therapist worked so hard to impress upon me when it comes to the BIG days – birthdays and holidays and the anniversary. “You have to have a plan, Anna.” But here I am without one. I think my brain pushes it away until it’s right on top of me.
I hate that actually. It feels like I’m pushing you away. Like you’re an afterthought. You’re anything but an afterthought, baby. You’re in my heart constantly, a refrain it can’t stop reciting.
The only thing I want to do for your birthday is spend it with you. Isn’t that cruel? When the one thing we want is the one thing we can’t have? When our only real comfort is somehow beyond our reach? I think you would understand the wanting. Maybe you experience it too. I hope not. I hope that you are too busy experiencing the fulfillment of every desire. That is my prayer for you. Fullness. I can’t give to you anymore, so I pray that someone or something is. It’s one of the worst things for a mother, not to be able to give to her child.
These days always shine a light on a particular facet of my grief. This year it is the guilt. Terrible feelings of failure and inadequacy. My heart tells me I’m not to blame, but my mind is chasing a solution at all costs. A solution that will never come. And the cost is my sanity. It is a constant exercise to redirect it. So many missed opportunities, it says. Where might any one of them have led? We’ll never know. But it is convinced that the right detour would have saved you if only I’d taken it. All those sayings about hindsight are so haunting now. I kind of despise them.
You would be 23 this year. I imagine 23-year-old Evelyn would be just as fun and bright and delightful as 18-year-old Evelyn. Maybe busier. Probably more traveled. Definitely not taking any of my shit. Full of laughter and high hopes and an enormous amount of love and sarcasm. God, I miss the sound of your voice. What I wouldn’t give to hear you speak a wholly original sentence to me in real time instead of replaying your videos and recordings.
I may not have gotten everything right, and my brain likes to argue that I got the most important test wrong, but I loved you with a fury. With an immensity of feeling that just cannot be equaled anywhere in the universe. The way a mother loves a child, the way that I love you – it’s such a force. I think I live in daily astonishment that it has not brought you back to me, knit your cells from the ashes, and filled you again with life and breath and verve. I know that somehow I have to find a way to start looking forward and stop looking back. And I am. I am. I build a future in my mind for your sister and brother, your father and I. I see it until it makes my head ache. I want that bubble of joy for us. But when it comes to you, I can’t seem to look anywhere but over my shoulder. That has to change, I know. Help me understand what a future with you looks like. Help me believe we have one still.
I should wrap this up. It’s long and it’s pitiful and it’s divergent. I think all I really wanted to say was happy birthday, baby girl. My heart is yours. Forever and ever. We’ll be celebrating beside you on Sunday in whatever way we come up with. Holding you between us with all the tenderness, all the affection, all the reverence we can muster. Keeping you close in whatever ways we can. Show up. Show up for us, Ev. Let us know you’re still right here. Because however we get by, we still need you. We still want you. We still love you. Desperately. Fiercely. Doggedly.
We are one heart.