My apartment is too quiet, and I find myself unable to sleep. Peppa is at the vet, where they tell me that it won’t be long now. Nothing could have prepared me for this. For years I have always had someone with me, but not this year, not tonight. When I moved in with you, it became our tradition to stay awake, close together, as the date changed. You wanted to be the first to wish me Happy Birthday. You always were. You won’t be anymore.
As midnight arrives, Momma calls me to sing Happy Birthday.
“Happy Birthday, Nicole Rae!” Momma sings out, and then launches into the full song. Her voice is a balm to my nerves. Our conversations have been short lately, but she has tried to be there in the aftermath. She thinks this is temporary, but I know there is no going back for us. Also, I don’t want there to be an “us.”
“What’s the plan today, baby girl?”
“It’s a half day, so after work I’m going out for drinks with Mandy, Jackie, and some of the others.”
“That’s good. I hate for you to be alone today. How’s Peppa doing?”
I can’t help it. The words spill out past my lips as I seek comfort from my mother. She listens, and sighs. She’s the one who saved Peppa, after all. I cannot imagine how much this must hurt her. I don’t want to hurt her.
“I don’t want to bury her, Momma.”
“I know, baby,” she says. “Is it okay if I tell Josh about this?”
“Josh? Why would you tell him?”
Another sigh, and then my mother tells me that she has been talking with you. She loves you, so I should not be surprised that she would check up on you. You love her, having developed a soft spot for her early on.
“You can tell him if you want,” I say. Momma wants to know if there’s any messages she can pass on. There are none, no words left for us to say. Besides, I have your number. All I would have to do is call.
I won’t call.
When you found out that I was born the day after your parent’s wedding day, you told me that would be confusing. By the third and fourth year you had it down. You thought I made a weird Pisces. I told you that you were the perfect Gemini. We laughed and were satisfied with each other. That’s how it was for a time.
February 24th, twenty-seven years ago, your mother and father married each other. Five months later, you were born. The statue we bought them for their anniversary is still sitting in a box in the kitchen. I packed it and forgot to leave it with you, so now it will sit wasted in my kitchen. What use do I have for a statue, after all? I could give it to Momma, but what use would she have for it? We’re not Catholics. We’re Christians, but all not Christians were created equal. My upbringing was songs, dances, and speaking in tongues. Yours was solemn ceremony and quiet worship. Is this why you hate church but yet still find mine so remarkable? It was like you discovered God in the pews of my church. It was where we were supposed to get married.
My phone rings when I’m crossing from the bar’s bathroom back to the table. I don’t look at the caller id. A mistake. I can see my friends at our table, and I can hear your voice in my ear.
“Nicole?” you say, as if it hasn’t been weeks since our last text, and longer still since we last spoke. I’m silent, but I can’t hang up. I’m hovering, wavering. My friends haven’t seen me. I step back into the bathroom.
“I just wanted to say… I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday.” I can’t tell what emotion is in your voice, but it’s not one I’m familiar with. How can I not know what it is you’re feeling when I know you best? You used to be the second one to wish me a Happy Birthday, and now you’re one of the last.
Where did we go wrong?
I don’t understand what you want me to say. We aren’t obligated anymore to each other. Why are you calling me now of all times? I want to understand, but I also don’t want an argument. Not tonight. I look at the bathroom tiles and say, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” An instant reply, and then silence. Should I mention the statue? “Have you gotten to go to brunch with your mom, yet?”
“This weekend we will. I’m having drinks with the girls now.”
“Oh.” Your voice is tight with disapproval as you ask, “Did they take you to a bar?”
You’re silent for a moment, before you uncharacteristically declare, “I won’t keep you any longer then. Have a safe trip home.”
“Thank you. Goodbye.”
You barely say bye before disconnecting. Why did you call in the first place?
More importantly, why do you still have the power to shake me like this?