I was pleasantly surprised in December when I received an invitation from Sigma Tau Delta, the National English honor society, to present a piece I wrote at their annual convention in Savannah, Georgia. I knew when the piece was accepted for publication that it was a possibility I would be asked to present it, but in my head I just thought, it’s me. No one really wants me to read. There was a moment of shock when I got the invitation. Then I noticed the dates. And I sent an email back declining the invitation without a second thought. You see, the night of the creative nonfiction readings is the day that would have been my son’s birthday. To me, in December, it didn’t seem right. It seemed like, in saying that I was going to go to Georgia, I was saying that he didn’t matter. Because if I’m not here to remember him on his birthday, who will? I knew that people were disappointed when they found out I had declined such an opportunity, but I didn’t tell them why other than that the date was a conflict.
The day, February 26th, has always been important to me, the three times so far it has come about since he died. The first year, A and I went to the lake first. The place where the memorial would be once the weather got warmer. We checked out the tree, and we released a balloon out over the water. I watched it, shooting a video, until I couldn’t see it anymore. After that, we went to the mall and did lots of shopping. I bought him a Winnie the Pooh bear. Even then, I knew it was silly. But it felt right to me, because I had so little of him to remember, that I buy him one last thing. The bear sits on top of the box that contains what little I do have.
The second year, A and I also went to the lake. We got flowers, we hung out. We went to see a movie. Every year, the day has come and been a giant stop sign. A giant, flashing “You. Must. Remember.” It isn’t like I don’t remember every day. I do. But that day is different. That day is about what might have been if he were one. Two. Three. And this year, four.
Last week, I received a second invitation to the convention. I took it as a sign, and I immediately accepted it. It felt like maybe he was up there somewhere, telling me that it was okay to move on and do good things. As I prepare requests for funding and decide on what pieces I will read and shop for a red and black dress to wear to the gala at the close of the convention, I don’t really feel guilty. I have this awesome opportunity to shine a little light on my name, to draw some attention to the memoir I’ve been working on for the last year, and to bring some good attention to my university. It is his day, but this year it’s mine. It doesn’t bother me like I thought it would.
Strangely, I feel guilty for that. I feel guilty for not feeling guilty, which I guess means that I feel guilty.
Last year on his birthday, A and I went down to the lake where the memorial is. The entire memorial was covered in ice, and we hadn’t brought any type of gear with which to clear it. We both chipped at the ice with our shoes in the general area of the memorial where we thought his brick might be. It was hard to tell with everything being frozen. I dug with my gloved hands to try and claw some of the snow and ice away, with little success. I didn’t see the brick that day, and we had had a fairly light winter. This winter has been ridiculous. Polar vortexes and snow storms and ice abound. Chances are, I won’t be able to see the brick this year either. So it shouldn’t matter if I’m here or there. I can be anywhere and remember.
This year on February 26th, I will be in Georgia. Where it is warmer than here; where there isn’t any ice. Where no one will know that I had a son once. I’m incredibly happy and excited to have the opportunity to promote my writing and mix with others from the English field. But part of me remembers this other life I had once. The one that I can’t get back. The one with a son that it sometimes feels like no one remembers.
After much deliberation, I will read this piece, because it was what they accepted for publication:
And I will read this piece, because it’s his birthday. Because I will always remember him: