19 August 2014

8/19: Today is the Day.

On my sixteenth birthday, she gave me her last birthday card. She was still alive for my seventeenth birthday, but too sick to commission someone to take her to CVS - or to even sit upright at the kitchen table to pen a birthday wish.

That's ok. If there was one last and final card to receive from the person I loved more than anything, the card I received on my sixteenth would be it.

You are sixteen today! About four years ago, Papa got this card for you. He didn't understand why I said it would not do, so we put it away for a later time. Papa is smiling at you thinking, "Today is the day." You are big enough, old enough, and pretty as the picture he would love.
The card is old now - cat bite marks, mildew stains, and the ink is fading from the hundreds of times I've traced my fingers over her handwriting.

We made plans that summer she died; lists. There would be a week that I would stay with her 24/7, not that I wasn't already doing that, with just her and I and we planned it out. Monday, we would make oatmeal with brown sugar and whole milk and watch this stack of old VHS tapes of us singing. Tuesday, we would play Crazy 8's and fall asleep watching Titanic. Wednesday she would teach me, albeit from the kitchen table, how to make her spaghetti from scratch.

I've attempted for years to tell the story about her, but every time it comes back to that fact that she was 83 and sick and I knew - like everyone surrounding me - that she was going to die. And despite the truth that resurfaced each day when I saw her and she took fewer and fewer steps, I still denied it.

Did she know like I did that this special week would never happen? How could it? With specific and itemized and incredible plans for a 17-year-old and a 83-year-old, how could we cross each item off our list? We couldn't. I knew what would happen all along, that spending every moment with her was horrible and spectacular all in the same breath. Holding a dying person is not an easy task, but clinging to them at 17, when you don't even know the insides of your own heart  - I've always had trouble writing our story because it's me - not her - that was the tragedy.

I don't write about her much anymore. There's nothing new. There's no hidden words in her card, there's no lingering fragrance or lesson to be learned in the other things of hers I've managed to hide in a box in my closet.

But every once in a while, those words circulate through my mind: Today is the day. This phrase has popped into my head a few times in my adult life without her, and I can remember each event so clearly. Her words echo through my head on days when I do something big - August 19, 2007: one year to the day after she died, I moved into the college dorms. Skip forward to December 13, 2013: the day I had not one but TWO job interviews - and was offered both. And today, August 19, 2014, her fancy cursive writing pops into my head as I receive an email from the editor-in-chief of a magazine I've applied to 3 times in the past 2 years, asking me to come in for an interview.

I wonder what she thinks of me - or even if she thinks of me. I wonder, as cliche as can be, if she's proud of me, if she likes the person I've become. And I don't know if she would. I don't even know if I like me.

And then I think maybe it's not about her liking who I am, but instead it's her encouraging me to be better and stronger, more grown up, more self-aware. Maybe what she tried to tell me in that card so many years ago is that there would be many days like this - that today is the day, but tomorrow might also be the day. That 5 years and 10 years from now may very well be the day.

Wherever you find yourself now, Nan, know that you still and always will belong to me.


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