The Birthday Cake Tradition

The Birthday Cake Tradition

It has been going on for quite a while now I believe, twenty four years to be exact. Her life had only spanned eighteen years and so, the past twenty three years her father has gone out, purchased a cake and remembered the gift and life of his daughter. That is a lot of birthdays with no candle blowing, a cake, yet no exuberant celebration. Just the method of counting seems to add a half dozen years to the space of time we have missed her. Oh, how I have missed her.

Missy. Shell. Kimberly Michelle Armstrong. Today is your forty first birthday and I weep with the loss of you. Our friendship was a pivotal turning point in my life and your influence has followed me and transformed me a long time now and it was not until this year that I realized how deeply. Your faith, your honesty, your spirit, your glee, your Light, all traits kneading my soul and my thankfulness has come twenty four years too late. Do you know how I loved you?

She was the one that kept me afloat as we watched my brother go down in the ship of death. She had never learned to swim but still, she could have dog paddled to shore if she needed to escape the friendship that never even made her blanche. No, she wrote me nearly daily letters while I struggled with being a freshman at a girl’s boarding school as my mind was on the brother in his hospital bed and the family living at a nearby hotel, a block away from him.

We talked nearly every night through that Fall and Winter and Spring and the letters arrived like clockwork. Missy, just a child herself, loved me and she loved Adam. That summer I was back home and yet, I saw not a lot of her. My time was spent with the brother who lay quietly and yet, she was always nearby. My vigil was broken by a beach trip with her family and on the morning of July 18, 1990 I rode back home with her dad from the beach. Within fifteen minutes of walking up the flight of steps of the small room in our local hospital, my brother was gone.

Missy. My best friend. You came home from the beach the following day, leaving your summer week at the beach and your family did it for mine. You came to that terrible funeral home and you waited for me on the couch outside the room where my brother lay forever quiet. We sat and cried and laughed and you told me that you wished it could have been you. Do you know you’re the only one that has ever said that kind of thing to me? It was a glimpse of the way I would feel myself when I became a mother. Your love was so big when I was so small.

Our friendship continued as it had for the past seven years and as we approached the joy of completing high school three years later, the unthinkable happened. It’s cancer, you called to tell me and never before have I pulled it together so well and cheerfully offered we would get through it together, you would be fine. We hung up and I ran out the door and wretched in the gravel parking lot and then I sat in my car and listened to music, the same music I embraced as I watched my brother slip away. Was I strong enough for you? Did I offer you the same love and consideration you offered me? Had I told you that I was so proud of you and how much you inspired me when you shared your plans of adoption after your ability to have children was destroyed by the cancer? Oh, how I admired you.

I loved you and I don’t remember saying that. I have learned to say that so often these days and I wear my heart on my sleeve more than you may approve. I hope you know that I learned it from you, your love for me and your words. I remember that winter night I slipped home from college and let myself in your house and crawled in bed beside you and we talked until we fell asleep. I wish I had told you that I would have traded places with you. I would have, you know, but life doesn’t play fair and so I am left and you are gone. Today I shall take the children as I did last year and we shall drive to the familiar house and go through the garage and walk in the red side door where your mother will greet me with her typical surprise and chirp of my name, not to forget the smile that was your own. We will eat cake and we will remember and we will give thanks to a life well lived. Happy birthday, Missy.

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