Tomorrow would have been Robert’s 64th birthday. We’ve celebrated every birthday, his and mine, together since I was 23 and he was 33. Birthday celebrations were always low-key with a couple of notable exceptions. I’d buy him a new shirt or pair of pants, make his favorite dinner and otherwise cater to him on “his day.” He looked forward to the extra special treatment, a day when he had a free pass to do just about anything.
I’ve actually been feeling sadder these past six or eight weeks than I had been before. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer on auto-pilot or task mode. Now I’ve got time to sit around and realize how lonely life really is without him in it. And try to figure out how to get by, one day after another. The least little thing seems to trigger tears. I seem always to be thinking about him. At work, at home, in the car, he will creep into my thoughts.
At night, when the house is quiet, I miss hearing him in the other room, a cough, him raising his bed up or down, changing channels on the TV. It was trivial, but it was reassuring. And no amount of mind games will let my heart believe that he’s away in the hospital, as he had been much of 2011. My soul isn’t buying that lie. That trick never seemed to work on me. Because it’s different. Having someone gone away in the hospital for an extended stay just made the anticipation of their return that much keener. Here, there’s no anticipation. There is just nothing.
Yesterday, while I was making breakfast, I started to cry because Robert never got to taste my great homemade blueberry pancakes. I never seemed to master the art while he was alive. So that made me cry. And because breakfast was always our favorite meal of the day. Every morning he would usually beat me up and wait for me to stir. Then he would tell me good morning and ask me what’s for breakfast.
The best birthday by far, at least to me — Robert might have a different opinion, but I don’t think so — is his 61st birthday, when my friend was visiting from Europe and I put together a surprise birthday celebration at a well-loved barbecue joint, with the big surprise being his baby brother’s arrival from Corpus for the evening. After dinner, we adjourned to a neighborhood coffee shop where I had asked the owner who knew and loved Roberto to make her famous carrot cake for his birthday while Fred played the guitar and sang. I’ve got some precious photos and video of this occasion, thanks to my friend, Ivan, which I will cherish forever.
The following year, his siblings gathered at our house for a cookout. All four were there, Roberto and his sister, Linda Lee, and his brothers Manny and Fred. Even though Robert was in the middle of home health IV treatment (twice a day), we were still able to sit around, watch Manny and Fred cook, eat great barbecue and enjoy one another’s company. It was so seldom that the siblings were all able to get together that I know that day is special to them as well.
His last birthday, 2011, was low-key, especially compared with the two that preceded it. I got him a new shirt, a birthday card that ended with our pet phrase, to libu dibu douchu, which was Robert-speak and Joni-speak for I love you and I cannot live without you, from his favorite Music Idol video of the horribly butchered Harry Nilsson song, “Without You.”
So tomorrow I will start a new ritual, a celebration. I will go to the cemetery and have lunch with Robert on his birthday. I’ll sit under the tree near his grave and catch him up on what’s been going on, tell him how big and sweet and beautiful Duncan is and that he’s every bit as good a cat as Sunny was. I will tell him for the umpteenth time how much I love him and miss him, and to libu dibu douchu of course. And I’ll probably cry, but it will all be okay. Yes, as each day passes, as each month goes by, as each year turns into the next, it must all be okay.
If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.
~~ The Crow (1994)