At the last minute my daughter’s friend called to postpone our sushi dinner, the celebration of the third birthday since my daughter died. It didn’t bother me. It was actually typical of Marika’s birthdays. She used to make her birthday last a whole week.
But I was stuck. It was six on a Saturday night, not a good time to round up a friend or sit by myself in a crowded restaurant. So I decided to get a takeout and bring it home to eat by Marika’s life-size portrait, with candlelight, and her dog. Stepping into the car, I decided I would “listen” to Marika, do what she would do. For so many of her birthdays I had allowed her to lead me through shopping sprees at the Syracuse Mall, pond parties, … huge sushi platters.
“You can’t have sushi three nights in a row,” I’d laughed, knowing she could.
“But it’s my birthday,” she’d say with a silly pout. I couldn’t refuse a birthday wish. I was with her for every one of her birthdays and on those days she ruled.
Alone in the car on the evening she would have turned twenty-four, I headed for the sushi place where I would take her friend for dinner the following night. But suddenly I heard my daughter’s voice.
“Mom. Turn here. ZaZa’s!” There was barely time to check for traffic in the lane I crossed to turn into the parking lot.
“Did I ever take you here?” I wondered aloud as I parked.
“Mom, I love ZaZa’s.” So there we were. Before reading the menu, I knew we would walk out with the seafood stew and chocolate cake.
I knew that later my son would pour two glasses of scotch to toast Marika. I knew the next morning I’d hike with her dog in the trillium and trout lilies that herald in this season. I would blow bubbles into the wind and toss breadcrumbs to ducks on the pond. I’d light a candle and take her friend to the sushi restaurant the next day. And I knew Mothers’ Day would follow soon and I’d buy myself a gift “from her.”
What I didn’t know was how hard it would be still, to stand with her dog in the late night rain under a starless sky and sing happy birthday to her.