Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s not about another year being tacked onto my age. It’s not about the price polio has extracted from me the last 10 years. It’s not about finding the strength to spit in the eye of the dragon. It’s about all of the people that I can no longer gather around me.
My MOTHER: She died 3 years ago. She was an extrovert! She gathered friends everywhere she went. She would go shopping and bring home phone numbers of people that she had met and invited over for a swim and a meal. She was the eternal optimist! She smiled through life and made those around her happy to be in her presence. She was brave! She once climbed a fire escape to blow me a kiss through a second story hospital window because she knew how frightened I was. She was funny! It was her habit to just go jump in the pool when she felt the call to cool off. Once she had a house full of out of town visitors. It was early in the morning and she thought everyone was asleep so she went in the backyard, yanked off her nightgown and jumped in the pool. What she didn’t know was that her brother-in-law the camera bug was awake and when he heard a noise he grabbed his camera. He got a beautiful shot of my mother the dolphin, bare assed naked, diving into the pool. She was sexy! Everywhere I went with her a man would materialize to grant her every wish and ask for her phone number; even when she was in her 70’s. Once I had to go to Oregon for a speaking engagement and she went with me. After my speech a group of men staying at our hotel came up and invited me to go to dinner with them. I replied that I was a married woman and besides my mother was with me. They took one look at her and extended the invitation to the both of us. She was my best friend!
My FATHER: He died this past April. After my mother died I brought him home to live with me. He had dementia! He had been car-jacked when he was in his 70’s. A group of young people that decided to run away from home hit him over the head with a tire iron and stole his car. The hit on the head did some irrepairable brain damage and he slowly lost all of his memories, except his memories of my mother. Until the day he died he looked and waited for Bonnie. He was a wizard! He could do anything with his hands. He was more of an introvert! He was the calming balm to my mothers exuberance. He was the quiet man that everyone loved. The love flowed out of him and when it touched you you felt as if one of God’s angles had brushed you with a wing. In October of last year he came down with pneumonia and when the doctors realized that he lived with a daughter in a wheelchair they took matters out of our hands and released him to a convalescent hospital. The day that I had to escort him there I drove my car to a private place, rolled up all the windows, and screamed. I screamed and cried until I was exhausted, but I have yet to come to terms with my wonderful father being put there. I visited him every day, but I still have a pall of guilt hanging over me that that is where he died. They told me that he would get up in the middle of the night and wander the halls looking for Bonnie, my mother. He’s with her now, but God, dear God I miss him.
Together my mother and my father created a warm, open, funny, world filled with love for their children. I was so lucky to have been the child of these two people.
My BROTHER: He died last May. He was the sibling closest to my age. When my parents were told that I had polio they decided not to have any more children, but my mother was already pregnant with this dear brother. He and I had a bond that was only breakable by death. He served in Vietnam as a Sea Bee. He came home from there twisted and tormented. It took years for him to straighten out the demons that ate at his soul. His early death has been attributed to his service to his country. He eventually moved to Seattle, WA and found what he needed there. He married and had two children, but he was always there for me if my world didn’t feel safe. When his world began top fall apart I wasn’t able to go to him because I had pop living with me. My sister-in-law told me that when he was delirious he would call for me and it eats at my soul that I was never able to say good-bye to him. He was such a great brother!
My friend JIM: He died 1 month after my brother. He was my 6’8” protector. We met at a dance and danced through life together for 25 years before he died from an overdose. We were passionate lovers for the first 10 years of our relationship. Then he was diagnosed with manic depression and Alzheimer's Disease. It was sad to see a giant reduced to bottles of pills and no memories. He and my father had worked together for a period of their lives. Funny that he and my father both developed memory illnesses. When the two of them would sit together and talk they would spend most of the time trying to remember where and when they had become friends. If it hadn’t been so sad it would have been funny. I think in one of his lucid moments he realized what was happening to him and decided to stop the suffering. It took me months to come to terms with his ’suicide’. I‘m still working on it.
My friend POLLY: She died 2 weeks after my father. She was the aunt of one of my men friends. He took me to meet his only living relative one afternoon. She was a lesbian and had been in a relationship for 42 years. Many male female relationships don’t last that long. They were dedicated to each other. The day I met her we went out to lunch. I had gotten up to go to the ladies room and on my return I overheard her say to my friend, “Why haven’t you asked her to marry you?” My friend answered, “I have and she doesn’t want to get married.” Polly replied, “Well if I was 20 years younger I bet I could talk her into it! You men just don’t know how to go about it!” And that was the start of one of the most loyal and true friendships I have ever had. She was a unique person. She was full of love and giving and as strong in her opinions as she was willing to be a friend. Every time that we met or talked on the phone she ended the conversation with “I love you”. Yesterday I got a phone call from her partner of 42 years. Polly had written a reminder on Virginia’s calendar before she died. “Don’t forget to call Penny on her birthday.