In the midst of jury duty over lunch break I received an e-mail. “So I made a spontaneous decision to go to Ottawa today and come back Monday evening. Here’s my flight info.” The price of the ticket was a pretty hefty sum for T, a college student trying to pay down huge loans, but I understood perfectly. This may well be the last birthday. Who knows. I’ve only found a couple of blogs detailing the course of this kind of cancer; in one the blog stops abruptly, leaving one to guess the outcome, and in the other, he lives for about five years after the diagnosis. N has now lost seventy pounds, and the orally taken chemo pills make it next to impossible to eat as his mouth is filled with sores. He feels cold to the bones just about all the time, and a week-long trip he took to Cuba with his wife to soak up the sun helped somewhat. Phonecalls with me are infrequent now—we may have spoken at most three times since the debacle on Xmas Day when I was told I would never be forgiven along with some choicely worded character traits that say more about anger than they do about … Ok, I digress—and in the last call, I suggested looking into palliative care. Not a suggestion that was taken well, for surely, if the doctors thought that was necessary they would have suggested it. I backed off.

But I digress again. It’s not surprising that T would be the one to go. S put together a gift for T to take with him. I sent mine a few days ago, trusting Amazon to deliver close if not on the day. Have no idea whether or what R will do. T decided the gift of presence would be best, and acted upon it.

And for seventeen years I thought of ways to delight N on his birthday. Surprise parties. Gifts hidden in places he would chance upon unexpectedly. Hours spent in bookstores looking for books he’d like. Old Spice. Marzipan. Cake that was definitely not ice cream or chocolate. Who knew that those were numbered opportunities that would suddenly, seemingly without indication or cause, just end. I remember the last one—taking him out for a steak dinner and trying to wrench out conversation that dead-ended even before the sentence was fully formulated. Perhaps that should have been a clue; I just thought that he found me boring, heaven knows, he said that often enough, so I didn’t think much of it.

Quite a time of reckoning when one has tried so hard to please and has had so little success. It’s bad enough not to have been acknowledged, and worse to have been made into a monstrous, Caliban-like ugly creature. And so a birthday dawns, and as it rises, the sunbeams of birthdays past must be treasured, remembered, and allowed to dance and fade away.

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