“Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.” — James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
You were my garden of Eden, my paradise, home. And today I will betray you. I will celebrate — for the first time in years — my birthday. I am attempting the heroic: choosing to remember you, in your death and that of my innocence; while trying to deny that my pain is eternal.
One of the few memories I have of you is of my third birthday party. It has been twenty years since then and that memory is now faint, and probably distorted. But I have hung on to it for so long because I dreaded the possibility of not being able to remember you at all. Not only that, but I distinctly remember how happy I was on that day, and how I have since tried to experience that same elation, to no avail.
The months of September (the month you took your own life); October (the month of your birthday) and November (mine) have always proven to be a difficult time for me. It pains me to say, in these latter years, I have forgotten your birthday. My birthday has always been a sad and lonely time, and for years I did not celebrate it. For me, there was nothing to celebrate. But more gravely, I was afraid of the possibility that there could be happiness for me, without you. It was to my mind, the greatest betrayal I could ever commit.
All of me died, that night in 2003. I am hollowed out and the void is all consuming. I carry the loss of you with me everywhere, I am overwhelmed by melancholy all the time. I am an effigy of sadness. And I can conceive of no existence save for the one that this universe has cruelly dealt me.
Against my will, my memory is failing me. I can no longer claim to still remember you accurately. I am also tired of being sad. I am letting go. I will be celebrating my birthday in an effort to create new memories, to find happiness — no matter how fleeting. I do not know if I will succeed; if I will ever have what the Apostle Paul called “peace that surpasses all understanding”. But if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that I love you, mother.
Happy birthday to me.