August 24, 2016 by Melanie L.
It’s our birthday month, August, again; the fifth since you’ve been gone. I used to send you a birthday card every year with a standard, “Happy Birthday! Best wishes for the year ahead!” But, even if you were here to receive it, the sentiments were superficial. I’ll blame social convention which proscribes mushy protestations of love in favor of breezy salutations. In your absence, though, I’ve gained the courage to buck convention and tell you what my birthday wishes are and just how much I love you.
We met so long ago I have no memory of the occasion, but I know it had to be around March, 1980, at age 2 1/2, when our families moved onto the same street across from each other. Maybe, we met when our mothers made polite apologies after we collided our big wheels. While I may not know the exact circumstances of our first meeting, I am certain of the ordinariness of the occasion, which stands in stark contradiction to the extraordinariness of you, the person you were to become, and the friendship I would develop with you.
When I think back to that first encounter, I imagine our mothers’ delighted surprise in learning we each were born the same month and year and would eventually be classmates together. As the years went by, though, it became evident our similiarities may have been eclipsed by our numerous differences.
Not only were we of different faiths all together, but I fiercely identified with mine while you were torn between two. I had an aptitude for English while you cleaved toward mathematics. You applied yourself in school while I underacheived. You were a platinum blonde while I was a bronze brunette. You loved purple; I relished pink. I was socially awkward while you were ever ebullient. Your adventurous spirit lead you to try new things, while I preferred to stay in my comfort zone. I quested my future while you rejoiced in your present. I was talkative, but you were the most loquacious human in the history of humankind – ever.
Despite all the differences, or more accurately because of them, I love you. You pushed me to try new things. You put your heart into every activity you tried even if that meant looking silly or falling on your ass. Consequently, you excelled at everything.
You nailed the salchow and sit spin while I lumbered on a hockey stop. You mastered an iron cross headstand while I retreated to child’s pose. You were so fearless, in fact, that you accidentally skiied the black diamond slope (though you walked away with both arms in casts). Later in college, you even gave rugby a whirl. You gave your all to everything you attempted.
You taught me how to persevere. And I love you for it.
I love you because you never sweated the small stuff. Whole books are written on how to but you were born with that ability. You valued strong relationships over trivial matters, and it was so effortless for you. If I failed to return a call, you never once stood on ceremony. If you caught me pretending to listen when I wasn’t, you didn’t get mad. If we drifted apart for a few weeks, you always reeled me back in. You nurtured our relationship and the relationships you had with everyone else around you.
You taught me what loyalty looks like. And I love you for it.
I love you because you forged bonds between the others around you. You found not just friends, but BEST friends, wherever you went, be it elementary school, high school, or college, and you were not content until we each formed friendships with each other. You glued all your friends together and we’ve now created a bit of a sorority in your absence.
You’ve taught me what acceptance looks like. And I love you for it.
I love you because you listened as intently as you talked incessantly. You heard, acknowledged and validated anything I needed to express (I just had to wait long enough to get a word in). Whatever advice you offered was always the best advice. You had a sixth sense when it came to giving relationship advice; it was as if you could divine it.
You taught me how to listen. And I love you for it.
I love you because you cared deeply. Even when you were at your sickest and needed your friends to be there for you, you were still there for me. You continued teaching, trying, supporting, validating, listening, gluing, forging, advising and loving me and everyone around you even from the confines of your hospital bed, and at the very end, even after your words failed you, you conveyed your lessons with gentle pats and kind gazes.
You taught me what selflessness is. And I love you for it.
I love you because you saw the real me, flaws and all, and loved me back.
You taught me how to love what you saw in me. And I love you for it.
After all this teaching and loving, however, at one point (my family will recognize that I mean 2008), I wandered away – not away from you, you made sure of that, but away from myself, from what defines me, from what made me who I was. Some years later, in the midst of being so lost, when I was in the thickest of nowhere, I turned to you for guidance but you were gone.
Like that. Or, so it felt. There I was on November 7, 2011, lost without my beacon.
I now believe it was the shock of your disappearance that jarred me into noticing my surroundings. Your absence from this world was so sobering that I could suddenly see how lost I was. I ran like hell out of the woods. I’m home now, though I’m still shaking the twigs from my clothes and scraping the dirt from my shoes. Now that I’m home, all your lessons came flooding back to me. After all these years, I’m beginning to apply all you have taught. Thanks to you, I’ve found myself again.
And I love you for it.
I hope I have conveyed, better than I ever have been able to do in your lifetime, just how much I love you. My true birthday wish for you, is that I never forget what you’ve taught nor the beautiful, chatty, WISE soul who taught it.
Happy Birthday, Dearest Ali!
With all my love, Mel