Birthday Letter (Belated)

Dear Jon,

Last Sunday marked 56 months. Too close to 5 years and too long since you have been gone. That morning, I busied myself with attending a bike race. It was an attempt to be social on yet another milestone day. My heart’s desire told me I would have rather stayed curled-up in bed, but my head and body overruled and persuaded me into being a “little helper” for most of the day. Your significant dates keep coming along, despite my brain’s protests of seeing a stream of endless numbers that suck me into dreading “one more” holiday or marked span of time from which you are so conspicuously absent.

Sitting under a tent in my pewter-grey 5-dollar fold-up chair while waiting for the race lineup announcement, I found myself staring ahead in the distance: eyes flow straight through the dusty-packed-earth parking lot lined with orange safety cones, tip-toe farther over motionless cycling helmet-topped riders, hop effortlessly beyond an unpainted-weathered split rail fence, and roll across an unmowed field.

Up. Up, my eyes climb higher, straight up to a blue-jeweled-toned sky, peppered with strewn-cotton clouds. Connecting ground to dome is a long incline of an ascending ski hill, broadly stretched like an heirloom quilt. June has made it grass-coated with corduroy-sand-stripes hinting to its past-winter snow-grooming. Sunshine and gusty winds bring dappled shade from clouds above across the towering landscape fabric, blobbed impressions of darker green dance like dueling heartbeats, pulsing on and off, up, down and chasing one another across the steep slope.

Snapping away my focus from resting on the slope’s highest point, where fuzzy ridge top is sewn to sky, a flapping-flash of a yellow-something appeared at almost a bike’s length away, parading past and interrupting my Bob-Ross-esque view. A playful swallowtail butterfly in black and warm-yellow is zipping back and forth, and zigging along like medium-tempo notes on sheet music, and if it could be heard singing, I’m sure it was a sing-song peppy-melody of, “Look at me! Look at me go!” all intended to draw attention to its free-spirited antics in an impromptu contemporary solo dance.

Leaning forward, my left arm juts outward unannounced, my butt refuses to lift out of the folding chair, and I barely keep my balance. “Come to me!” I not-so-quietly blurt out. My hand is opening and closing below this lovely creature that has floated effortlessly nearer and has narrowed the gap. The air itself in between us is briefly erased. The near-softball-sized butterfly hovers above my hand for a second’s pause as magnetic resistance puffs and lifts its delicate wings. Its body swivels and rests in a mid-air paralysis, and rather than land on my outstretched hand, it comes to life again and rises higher. Away it goes, as quickly as it had come.

Back and forth, over the next 10-or-so minutes, it continues to fly past. My teammate wonders if it is the same swallowtail or many. I impulsively shared a memory about mice you and I discovered in the garage of our first home in Chicago. Deep sigh. As for the butterfly, I believe it was the same one. However, if it were many, then the idea that we were sitting in the midst of a butterfly crossing was very remarkable. At the same time, is also makes me wonder if the placement of our tent was interrupting nature in progress, and we are in its way or blocking it from “the usual route.” The swallowtail butterfly seemed to be very purposeful and knew exactly what it was doing, and soon I had lost track of its zipping around. The race announcer’s voice is suddenly speaking with the lineup order for the start, and soon after, I did not remember seeing the butterfly, again.

Now, today is your birthday. Age is only a number, but today you would have been 59 years old. You will always be 54. It was always difficult for me to give you the perfect gift. Most things I had given to you were cooking and kitchen-related items. Your past-birthday gifts to you are still here, and before each use, I may announce to the kids, “I gave this to your dad,” which is usually followed by replies of their memories of you cooking or serving something with it. A playlist of yours pops into my mind hearing it as a side dish, and right now I could really use a loud-heaping-helping of your most-played Annie Lennox or Led Zeppelin tunes.

You always gave such fantastic gifts to others for their birthdays or meaningful occasions, you found that unique something that was the most unexpected, and what was always wanted. You gave sincere joy to-and-for all that you did for others you loved. Last Sunday, I left curled-up-me at home, and moving-forward-me was at the bike race. I feel you still give gifts to me. The gift of the swallowtail sighting was so obvious it was from you, but I did not think it was, simply because it did not come to mind at the time it was happening. Now I know. Yes. You were there with me, doing a dance to your favorite playlist tunes. Free and purposeful at the same time. So you.

I worry that I have missed gifts you have given to me in the past. What will I miss in the future? The future without you in it. Is it okay if I don’t find you in this unknown future? I’m so tired. Your birthday is almost over. I had received many kind notes throughout the day, but had near-nothing to give in return. All of my energy was needed for moving-forward-me and not much left to give for curled-up-me. I cannot be one or the other. It is hard to be both. I wish for the gift of time: time to pause any day and see you in my surroundings and find unexpected joys, time to give energy and acknowledge emotions of others, time to say, “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here.” ~Puskie ❤️

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