Sarah’s birthday was this week, and I blew it. It wasn’t entirely my fault, though; it was her first birthday without her mom. [Editor’s note: two months before Sarah got pregnant, her mother died of lung cancer.] The pain of losing Mary Ann is magnified a thousand times now. To go through these nine months without her best friend, her confidante, her sparring partner, and her role model, is unthinkable. Mary Ann was a strong, funny, stubborn lady who could host an impeccable dinner party for 25 without breaking a sweat, and now she’s gone.
We really miss her on birthdays. She was the one who planned the party, cooked dinner, baked the cake, got the presents, and made the whole thing special. Her absence leaves a terrible hole during celebrations.
Instead of the traditional home-cooked birthday meal in Hyde Park, the whole family went out to dinner at Saiko, a hip new spot in the South Loop. The food-ultramodern Japanese-was pretty good, but the rookie waitress botched the festivities, forgetting to bring out the promised yuzu meringue tart with a candle in it. None of us made a fuss. We were all exhausted and going through the motions. Sarah, morose and detached for most of the evening, seemed to be reaching deep down for any kind of enthusiasm when she opened her presents, none of which were terribly interesting. The whole thing was lackluster.
To add to the somber mood, Jessica miscarried yesterday. I felt my chest tighten when I heard the news. Adding to the heartbreak, Jessica and Nick told everyone they knew that they were expecting. Sarah, feeling guilty that it hadn’t been her, hugged Nick and said maybe a miscarriage was better than having a kid with a load of health problems. He wasn’t convinced. I wanted to call Nick and ask if I could do anything for him. Men carry the same heavy load of guilt that women do when a miscarriage happens; what’s so wrong with talking about it? But I never called him, rationalizing that it would be too awkward. Chickenshit.
While we drove home from the birthday dinner, Sarah sobbed. For the first time in her life no one sang “happy birthday” to her; no one baked her a cake. How was she going to have a baby without her mom around when the rest of us couldn’t even handle a birthday dinner?
I felt like a lousy husband and decided to do something.
So on Thursday, I made Sarah a cake, put 30 candles on it, and sang to her in our kitchen. I’m the first to admit that it was a lousy cake, lumpy and too sweet. I think I forgot the baking soda. Sarah loved it. I’ll never be able to make them half as well as Mary Ann did, but when Sarah smiled at me through tears and squeezed my hand, I knew it was good enough.