Yesterday was my ex-husband’s birthday; his third one post-us. For some reason the date snuck into my subconscious and stayed there for over a week, checking in periodically, counting down the days. “Four days until his birthday” a little voice would mutter. “That’s this Wednesday” it would continue as if, for some reason this was important information which, really, it was not. Honestly, I could care less, at least that was how I thought I felt, until that little voice began to chime in and I found myself listening.
The first year we were apart and his birthday arrived I was torn about how to react. Should I shun him or casually call? Send a card? Buy him a drink? At this point we were hardly speaking but the guilt had come creeping in, grabbing me from behind and when I imagined him sitting alone in the dark, feeling all sorry for himself it actually stung.
Although this took little stretching of my imagination, as brooding was something he did on a regular basis anyway, it was his birthday and I thought, magnanimously, I should at least wish him well. I argued with myself for a few days, finally giving in to the guilt. But before I picked up the phone, I told myself, there would have to be some birthday-phone call ground rules.
1. Be civilized. Don’t use this as an opportunity to be all snarky and cold and then
say “Oh yeah, and happy birthday by the way.”
2. No singing! When we were happy and in love I used to sing this silly little birthday song the second he eked into consciousness, before he could even imagine having his first cup of coffee. “I’m so happy I don’t know what to do. I’m so happy I don’t know what to do. I’m so happy I don’t know what to do. Your mama had a baby and it’s you!”
The whole thing was really, really silly but we all need a little silly on our big day if for no other reason than to counteract the question we will be forced to endure, “How old are we today?” which many, many impolite people will ask over and over ad infinitum. But the point is, singing to him, even the traditional “Happy Birthday” song would have brought back happier times which would have broken my heart and I simply couldn’t have that.
3. Don’t ask him out or invite him over or offer to go over to his place and turn on a few lights.
4. Keep the conversation brief. Get in, get out and nobody gets hurt.
I steeled myself and dialed him, only to get a happy sounding person on the other end of the line. I almost hung up, thinking that I had the wrong number but since I still had him on speed dial (the last thing to go after my rings) I knew it had to be him. The guilt-induced friendliness of ground rule #1 was draining out of me at a rapid pace. Why was he so cheerful? Didn’t he know he was supposed to be sulking in a corner somewhere still mourning our torpedoed marriage?
It was all I could do to sound equally as cheerful, because I was so taken aback and frankly, kind of pissed off. Here was another fundamental thing he was changing about his behavior, topping off a list of other behaviors I had wanted him to change when we were still together. Soon after he moved out he had not only quit smoking but he’d also started working out and was saving money instead of pissing it away. These changes had really irked me but now, to top it all off, he was cheerful on his birthday. It was really unnerving!
Defiantly, I decided I had to fight fire with fire and putting my best fake-cheerful attitude forward I jumped in with a happy birthday greeting. I did refrain from singing, just barely, and when I asked about his plans for the day I tried not to act overly surprised to hear that my ex-curmudgeon was actually going out with friends. I did manage to extricate myself from the call in under a minute, however and once it was over, I vowed never to do it again.
Last year, his birthday came and went without a whisper. I didn’t even realize this until about a week after the fact which is why I find it so curious that this year I was counting the days. Honestly, I guess I feel a bit sad about the whole thing because I have no desire to see him or wish him well, on any occasion, not just this one, and I wonder if that will ever change.
Forgiveness is the one ingredient that’s still missing, even after all this time and thinking about contacting him without it feels like a recipe for disaster. So I keep my distance, at least my physical distance, but I guess today I have to accept the fact that there’s just no shutting off that calendar in my mind.