By Jia LimNovember 28, 2016
Once, I wrote a birthday poem for her forty-second. It described her love of wine, and how she was so very fine. Exceedingly satisfied at the neat rhyme and my infinite untapped potential, I awaited glowing praise.
Instead, she offered her thanks: muted, painfully cavalier.
Once, I skulked into her darkened bedroom, and hid the card for her forty-sixth under her wallet. I was too antsy, announced my fatigue too loudly, and retired for bed too early. I was proud of the vivid colors and the “happy birthday mama” outlined in shaky black lines, but I was not sure if it was enough.
She summoned me the next day, and gently but archly pointed out the jagged streaks of crayon outside the lines. I hung my head.
Some years were good. I was delighted to bring her joy.
Some years, I forgot. Or to be honest, I always remembered; but I dreaded, hesitated, agonized, and let the day pass. The swell of my love dueled with teenage angst and stubborn pride. The half-finished cards found their homes in my drawer, a palpable presence.
This year, from my first job in my new home in a new city, a twenty-four-hour flight away from home, I will distill my most uninhibited love and gratitude, my most desperate desire to please, my most vulnerable longing and emptiness and pain. I will fold it all into a handmade birthday card for her fifty-fifth. And I will feel like a child again.
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