By the time this is published, I will have missed being with Carol on her birthday, and it makes me sad.
Generally, birthdays are a non-issue for me. We did not celebrate them in my house. I never even memorized them. I was off by three days about my mother’s birthday until a couple of years before she died. On the up side, she always got her card early. So I’ve got that going for me, in the event of some future cosmic reckoning.
I was 50 before I realized my brother was born only one year after me. I blame my parents for holding him back from kindergarten, which made him two years behind me in school. I don’t think a 6-year-old should be required to do math to figure out how old his brother is. My sister and my father are still a problem. Their birthdays are three days apart in April, and the only mnemonic I have is that one of then shares a birthday with Adolf Hitler. It makes asking the birthday question awkward:
“Refresh my memory, Patti. Is it you or Dad who was born on the same day as the most famous villain of the 20th Century?” (A word to the wise: goose stepping and using the comb under the nose as hints? Equally awkward.)
Carol introduced me to celebrating birthdays. They were a big deal to her, so in a few years I went from saying it was just another day to wearing an eye patch and brandishing a plastic sword to lead a treasure hunt at my son’s pirate-themed party. Carol was kind enough to preserve it on video, in case I ever tried to deny it. Several of her close friends in Los Angeles have birthdays in June. This led to a tradition of group birthday dinners that Carol helped to plan. They were always delightful, among the handful of memories that make me miss the Left Coast.
I have been at least 700 miles away from Carol since March 30. I have been miserable about that most days. Carol is probably my soul mate, although the word reminds me of two things that make me a little nauseous. Maybe I’m cynical, but it seems like a shorthand way of being a smidge more connected than other couples: “Yeah, we’re married and everything, but basically, the Universe brought us together. Soul mates. And where did you two meet? A bar? How fun!”
Spiritually, claiming to be soul mates is also a pretty bold statement unless you are, say, the Dalai Lama. He spends his life seeking eternal truth. He has done the homework. I am a little more skeptical of a guy standing in the parking lot at Whole Foods wearing Birkenstocks and carrying a tote bag from that latest WMPG pledge drive. Being Counterculture Lite does not automatically qualify you to judge your relationship in terms of The Infinite.
Here is my defense for using the term about Carol. I met her two weeks after breaking up with a woman who kept saying we were soul mates, and it felt like a noose tightening around my neck every time. So I knew about the incorrect usage. Carol and I broke up often, but something kept throwing us back together. We were like sumo wrestlers who couldn’t knock each other out of the ring. I asked Carol to marry me after three years because it was the only way to break the cycle. She said yes, perhaps for the same reason. Come to think of it, I never asked her why she said yes. Maybe I was her project. During the early marriage we argued a lot, some might say constantly, but even at the worst of times, she always made me want to be better. I think I did the same for her. In two crazy, unstable careers, Carol was my biggest fan and most demanding critic. So soul mates it is.
I am also sad about missing the chance to celebrate with my soulmate in our chosen home. Despite being from Away, I feel I belong in Portland more than Toronto. I’m not mad at it; it just does nothing for me. I think I have been away from being from Away for too long.
Anyhoo (she really hates when I say that), happy birthday, Sweetie.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.