It’s almost my birthday.
Some dear loved ones have made thoughtful plans for me. But birthdays, like holidays, are on the list of things I’ve had to re-examine.
Once upon a time, in my youth, birthdays were celebrated with dinners and piles of gifts and my favorite kind of cake as orchestrated by my dear aunt, Sissie. Even in later years, those times when I was not able to see her because I was busy trying to make a life in other places or other ways that resulted in distance and absence, there would be a card with money tucked into it, and the magazine subscriptions; Interview, Vanity Fair, and New York.
Then, one year, living in an elder residence and having lost not just her sight, but her track of where and when and, even sometimes, who, my birthday came and went without a card from Sissie. In eleven months, she died.
I have never been the same.
Sissie died nine years ago and every year on her birthday, December 17, and her death day, March 12, I would travel to Libertytown, where her ashes were interred near my grandparents and father, and I would sit, visit, and sing.
Yes. Sing. Embarrassing story. I have never been a fan of Mandy Patinkin. His performances strike me as scenery-chewing, over expectorating exercises in neurotic neediness. So, it came as some surprise when once, on the phone with my aunt, she started referring to her favorite of all my performances. In “Sweeney Todd.” This pleased me. I liked (okay, LOVED) my Sweeney. I had a great director, great Mrs. Lovett, and it was my favorite role. As Sissie started to describe the moment she had in mind however, it went something like this;
“You were up on that cliff, looking down into a canyon, remember? And you sang that ‘Nothing’s Gonna Harm You’ so sweetly, just on the precipice, just weeping and the audience – we didn’t know if you were going to plummet to your death or spread your wings and fly away like the angel you were meant to be.”
What? There was no cliff in the set of my “Sweeney” and Mr. Todd didn’t sing that song. No, you see, her favorite performance of mine was – in fact – a guest appearance Mandy Patinkin had made on the television show, “Touched By An Angel.”
Life lesson, that. The sweetest, kindest thing she remembered about me was not me, it was Mandy Patinkin. And so, each year, since she died, on December 17 and March 12 I go to her marker and sing “Not While I’m Around.”
I don’t, however, spit. I do, needless to say, weep.
Until this year.
It has not been a particularly good year for me. After years of having looked at the shit life has tossed my way and trying to practice a sort of cosmic-I-ching divination to determine “what it all means” – I have finally reached a level of almost complete disinterest.
I don’t care what it means, or, rather, I don’t – now – think it actually means anything at all. I pretend to. Some days. I am adept at radiating what appears to be weary but rapt attention, as in, “been there, done that, wrote the self-help book about it.” It is often mistaken for wisdom.
What it is, is ennui. I am almost completely disconnected. So disconnected, in fact, that I did not realize until March 29 that I had missed my March 12 visit to Sissie’s ashes.
It is almost my birthday. Some dear loved ones have made thoughtful plans for me. But, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, my birthday is now about who’s not there, and what I haven’t done, and who and how I’ve failed, and when March 12 came and went without me remembering the day, I am afraid that the last little piece of my soul – that tiny portion I had hidden away, there to regenerate should I ever again find faith in something – should I ever again come to believe there was a point to any of it – to anything; when March 12 came and went, it died.
I miss you Sissie, and I wish I believed that one day, somehow, we would be at Schrafft’s again, or finally, the Algonquin together, or – hell – I’d even settle for watching Mandy Patinkin together. You see, my dearest, the thing is, without you, I just can’t seem to believe I will ever find a way to spread my wings and be the angel you believed me to be; all I see – all I can manage to believe in, now, is the plummet.