At 25, I had almost forgotten the essence of birthdays. What are they about? One day I found an old picture tucked in a book, dust-covered by time. The picture is old, its tone in sepia and there were white marks on the surface. But, the story the picture tells feels like it holds true today.
At the picture’s center was a baby boy with psychedelic boxes heaped from behind. I suppose there were toys inside those gifts, which the boy would love to take. He grabbed the lighted candle in the middle of the cake while showing off his most innocent toothless smile. There’s a glow in his eyes. The sight of it was contagious and makes you feel all your wishes were granted that day. I felt relieved thinking of the story for that was my first birthday.
For more than twenty years, I have not celebrated my birthday the way I celebrated my first. Of course it’s inappropriate for a 20-something to celebrate birthdays just like his first. I would not look good in a conical hat worn by tots on their first birthday. As I grew older I do not make it a point to remember my birthday altogether. There were years I wished July 25 never existed at all.
I don’t know. Maybe because of that one gift I wished I have. Every 25th of July, I used to go to church to pray and remind God of that one wish. I never desired parties, cakes, or similar worldly gifts, I don’t need them. I have always wanted to see my mother.
In 1997, I was freshman in high school then. A week before my birthday, my father told me to go home from school on the weekend. His friends and relatives were coming over. Though I have celebrations, I was happy to know he cared for my birthday. As far as I recall, that was the first time he offered that—in 13 yrs!
I don’t know if a jinx hit me by Friday afternoon. I was not able to catch the last trip. So, I spent my 13th birthday in the boarding house, alone. Though I used to be in that kind of scenario wherein nobody would notice my birthday, it was different that year. I thought something would happen—but, it did not.
On my way home the next morning, our neighbor told me they had fun in my “one of a kind” birthday for the celebrant was absent. He also said that my father who was carrying luggage and traveling bags had just arrived . I saw malice in his smile. I ran as fast as I could towards our house. I thought it was my mother with my father. I would say to her “Where were you during the last 4 years? I know you are busy, but why haven’t you sent us letters? Why weren’t you in my commencement programs or my graduation to pin my medal? Imagining that my mother had gone home the day after my birthday, I said softly to myself, “thought I spent my birthday alone in my boarding house, at least the day after, God granted me my wish.”
When I passed through the door, I saw the luggage on the floor. “These must be the bags of my mother from Malaysia.” I thought “These must be the luggage my neighbor referred to. But the dining room was empty. I went to the kitchen where I thought I heard whispered conversations. I saw my father talking to a woman holding a baby boy on her lap. Cold shivers gripped me as she turned around to look. I felt the ground opened to suck me in. She was not my mother! She was my father’s mistress and they have a baby!
Years passed and slowly but surely I learned to accept her as part of the family. Though I have considered the possibility that my mother could have been dead for years, my father’s mistress can never take the place of my only, and true birthday gift.
Lately, a shocking event came to me. I received a text “Sorry not to inform you I’m here in Surigao. I love you.” I did want to expect but I already knew where the message was from and who sent it. It was the very first message I received from my mother. Shaking, it took me hours to touch the keypad of my cell phone. I was literally trembling. I just can’t believe my eyes reading a message from my mother whom I thought was dead for 16 years.
When I regained my composure, I managed to reply, “I wish I knew that before!” I felt rage, and remorse, and grudge engulfed me all at once that day. She owed me the 16 long years living with my false hopes and all she could say was plain “sorry” and “I love you”!?
I cried the whole night and the next morning I wanted to pour out to her all the bitterness I had, so I told her “I have no idea what you are talking about! You have no right to say that!”
As wound needs time to heal, I also needed time to heal the pain she had caused me.
My mother’s birthday was on September 22. That was the day I told her “I can never accept your ‘sorry’!”