I have been caught in a crazy Halloween whirlwind this year – a Halloween party at Ruby’s school, a bake sale (candy corn cupcakes), two costumes for the kids, a Halloween party with Georgia’s play group, a last-minute costume thrown together for my work, Halloween cupcakes for Ruby’s class party (witches’ hats), trick-or-treating in the rain. I was so busy that I forgot to eat lunch one day. I was so busy I forgot to buy milk at the store and had to beg my upstairs neighbor to spare a cup for Ruby. I was so busy I forgot it was about to be November.
Forgetting to eat lunch was bad; I came home at 5 and immediately ate whatever was handy, which, because I have a toddler and a 6-year-old, was Cheerios, Cheddar Bunnies, and several spoonfuls of peanut butter. (Plus a glass of wine because wine is always part of a balanced diet.)
Forgetting to buy milk was worse. My husband was pissed because he wanted milk for his morning iced coffee, but I can live with that; it was Ruby literally crying for milk that made me feel like a completely crap mother. (For the record, she was not starving. She was just cranky. If I had had milk, she would have wanted juice or chamomile tea. But still.)
Forgetting it was about to be November, though, was actually a good thing. November depresses me. My sister’s birthday was Nov. 16, and I never know how to commemorate it. When she was alive, the celebration consisted of an awkward phone call and, sometimes, if I had my shit together enough, a shoebox of homemade chocolate-cherry fudge that I’d FedEx to her in Florida. After she died, I had no idea what to do.
The first year, I cried a little bit and had lunch with my dad and dragged some friends out for dinner to Ye Olde College Inn, her favorite restaurant, where I drank too much and got all maudlin. The next year, I was pregnant and sick and didn’t mark the occasion in any real way, and last year, I tried to do College Inn again but just couldn’t get out the door with the baby in tow.
I always talk to my dad on her birthday, but our conversations don’t go anywhere.
Dad: “So, you know what day it is.”
Me: “Yeah. Here it is again.”
We’re both haunted by the fact that we mourn her but don’t really miss her. And so we spin our wheels, sad but aimlessly so. There is sadness that can bond you together. There is sadness that can galvanize you into action. There is passionate, cathartic sadness. This isn’t that. This is just useless sad sadness: sadness at her death and sadness at her life and sadness at our respective failures to save her and all of it overlain with a thick pall of guilt.
It sounds crazy to say I wish I felt worse, but I almost do. I wish I had more memories, more traditions. I wish I had some way to celebrate her and more people to celebrate her with. But instead it’s just the same phone call with my dad. “Yeah.” “Yeah.”
I have written before about how I will always remember her on Beaujolais Day, and that’s true. It wasn’t her favorite wine (is it anyone’s favorite wine? Tim McNally, weigh in), but we split a bottle the last time I saw her, and that memory, of us staying up too late and drinking and giggling like the sisters we were but rarely felt like … that is probably my favorite memory I have of her, of us, certainly of us as adults.
But her birthday still just leaves me floundering, without even so much as a grave to put flowers on and no clear outlet for feelings I can’t even quite define.
I want to plan something this year, mark her life in some way, make some good come out of the whole thing. I want to rustle up some passion and some outrage. I want to do more than eat gravy-soaked veal and get drunk. But honestly? I can’t even remember to eat lunch. I can’t even remember to buy milk. How on earth am I going to find the time to grieve?