It is my birthday soon, in a couple days actually. It falls on Mexican Independence Day. I remember the last apartment I had--before the studio I’m about to lose--in Santa Ana, CA, and being unceremoniously woken up on the same day every year by dozens of plastic trumpets, being boisterously blurted by my equally boisterous neighbors. After shouting unintelligible profanities at my bedroom wall, that never seemed to reach much further, I would eventually find myself mildly amused by the ad hoc cacophony.
I miss that time in my life, as I do many others. I sometimes wonder if sentimentality is a genetic trait, with its own alleles, because it certainly runs in my family. I have been thinking of the past quite a bit lately, as this will be the second birthday I’ve spent in this nursing facility. Heavy stuff.
I tried to be cagey when I mentioned it to one of the CNAs, but I was transparent enough for her to see that I was having a hard time with my impending not-so-special-anymore day that was soon at hand. She was changing me at the time, which is always awkward and uncomfortable enough already. So more discomfort would probably fit like camouflage.
“Do you have plans?”
“No… no plans.”
“How old are you? You look so young to be sick like this.”
I hesitated, then looked away at the floor trying not to grin.
“Oh… you’re not going to tell me, are you?”
Too late, big grin.
“I’m old enough to know the difference, and young enough not to care.”
“Oh, you’re a brat!’
Even bigger grin, and I’m blushing.
“Sorry. I just don’t want to be reminded how long I’ve been here with life screaming past. I really don’t want to talk about it, it really depresses me. One, because there isn’t any cure that’s anywhere close; and two, that if I had better information years ago I would have been way more aggressive with my treatment.”
“But you didn’t know.”
“I know… that’s what’s so sad, because I’m smarter than that. But I acted like such a dumbass. I wasted so much time, and listened to all the wrong people—I trusted them.”
“Life is unpredictable. You’re trying to make sense of things that already happened, but you didn’t know everything that would happen at that time. You’re just making yourself feel even more bad.”
“No, I did know everything that would happen. I just didn’t believe any of it would happen to me.”
“So what’s the difference?”
Uh oh… logic. Can’t use reason when I’m being unreasonable.
“Oh, nevermind… nevermind! Why you always say that, Christopher? We are talking, then you get frustrated and say ‘nevermind.’ That hurts my feelings.”
“I’m not trying to hurt your feelings… I just get frustrated because I can’t explain myself. I’m just depressed because I’m still here and I’m still not getting better after a year now, and nobody has any answers either, and I’m going to be spending another birthday here, and it sucks!”
“Is there anything else you need?”
I know she’s really busy.
“No. Thank you for helping me.”
I still don’t know how I’ll feel other than sad that I’m stuck here for another birthday. I will keep ruminating about the past: spending time with family, hanging out with friends, and generally all the times I could do anything I wanted with very few limits.
Now I’m limited to just one foot on either side of me (in bed or in the wheelchair), how much fluid my adult diaper can hold, and if anyone is available to push me around for the whole 2 hours before the chair becomes too painful from poor muscle perfusion.
Or I could just give in and say ‘the hell with it all,’ and just stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. But Happy Birthday just isn’t the same when you’re lying in a bed listening to your roommate heave all night from hemodialysis.