This year, I spent the day before my birthday in bed with an evil stomach bug.
When I woke up on my birthday and didn’t need to heave, I felt giddy. I was alive; I had somehow made it to 39.
Not old, but not young. Certainly older than I’d ever been.
Older than my brother and a dear friend, who both died in their 20s. I greeted the day with gratitude, but with thoughts of those who died so young twisting through my mind. How strange to outlive these loves, to keep twisting through life while they stayed static, so impossibly young, in my memories.
Still weak from my accidental cleanse, I puttered around the house. The kids were both at daycare and I enjoyed the rare puddles of quiet.
In the afternoon, I went out for some pampering with three of my best friends. We descended the spa stairs into a dark room with exposed brick walls and shimmery curtains. It smelled like we had walked into a giant cup of tea.
We sat in big, comfy chairs that felt a little like thrones. Our legs dangled over the edges like toddlers in loveseats. One of the staff brought us each a big, warm bowl of water and essential oils to soak our feet in. I rubbed my toes and the arches of my feet along the smooth, hot stones in the bottom of the bowl. Next, we were presented with warm shoulder wraps. I could feel the heat and the weight of the wrap pressing my shoulders down, sinking my body into the soft cushions of the chair. My belly still unsettled, I ordered a Moroccan mint tea sweetened with honey and sipped it slowly.
Two of us indulged in shoulder and neck massages. I was mildly agitated that the young woman in charge of my shoulders and neck kept calling me, “My dear.” But I closed my eyes and shifted my focus to the feel of her fingers circling the knots in my shoulders, the tight cords of my neck. The places I hold all the little and big hurts that I gather through the day. I let go, rooting into the chair, into myself.
After the therapist was done, I opened my eyes. I looked around the dim room, taking in the faces of my beautiful friends; each of us was in the midst of some serious life challenges. I took in the sweet sight of their relaxed faces and smiled. How lucky I was to be here with them, with their faces and their stories that I couldn’t have imagined years ago.
Afterwards, I went home to my little family. My parents were supposed to join us for a fancy birthday dinner, but they had come down with the same virus I had. Instead, my husband and the kids ate pizza while I ate the traditional post-stomach-bug birthday toast.
After dinner, we somehow migrated to the kitchen floor. My son, Max, sat on my lap while my toddler, Violet, marched back and forth to the living room. Max faced me and sang, exhaling warm pizza breath into my face. I closed my eyes and felt the bubbles of evening sun through the window on my forehead.
Max got up and whispered, “Can I have my M&M’s now?” in Scott’s ear, which tickled Scott and made them both laugh. Then Violet marched up to Scott’s ear, imitating Max, and Irish whispered, “Ba ma blah blah blah,” which made us all laugh. We sat on the kitchen floor and laughed and I could still smell waves of lavender from my feet and I thought this is what all the work is for.
Then Violet explored my kneecaps with her cool, pudgy little hands and Max asked, “Why are they called… why are they called…” and Scott said, “Kneecaps?” and Max started screaming, “No! I wanted to say it!” and the moment was over.
And so this is my life. Little envelopes of sweetness that end in shouting. Eating toast on my birthday because my stomach is still gurgling from being sick. The smell of lavender and the faces of my friends and family. The prayers I exhale, over and over, to keep my sweetest ones safe.
There is a word I came up with years ago, when I was still fresh from my brother’s death, which cracked me open enough that I had to put myself back together in a different way. A way that left me paying closer attention to the moments, to the people in my world. A way that opened me to the sweet ache of knowing how temporary we are, and how being so temporary infuses our moments with meaning.
Half magic, half tragedy.
My life is not perfect and it won’t be. Ever.
I still struggle with that. I can’t cook to save my life and my house is always a disaster. Sometimes I yell at my kids, and part of me thinks I am the only one. I miss my friend, and I miss my brother.
But it’s all okay because just for today, I get to be here. I get to be here and feel hot stones on my feet and see the faces of my friends, soft and relaxed. I get to giggle with my family and watch my insane little angels stomp around and cackle. I get to be 39, while others didn’t get to make it so far.
This is my life, so good and hard. So full of magedy.
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Ed: Sara Crolick