Today is Allison’s 46th birthday. I don’t want to conjugate that any other way.
I didn’t make my 2022 goal of posting here once a month, but we’re still here. As always, some days are harder; some are easier. Today was hard for me. The kids and I talked frequently over the previous week about what/whether we wanted to do something to commemorate Allison’s birthday. One idea I had was for all of us to eat at Gocciolina, which was one of our favorite date night spots in Durham. I made reservations for the four of us and made sure that all of the kids knew that they each had veto power. As it turned out, I was the one who wasn’t up for dinner there. I haven’t been to Gocciolina since Allison died. I love the idea of taking the kids there, but the more I thought about the reality of it, the more I felt an eye-welling sense of being overwhelmed. I vetoed dinner there myself and canceled the reservation. I’d like to think that I can take the kids there eventually, but I’m trying to give myself the space to be not-ready.
We started the day with donuts from Early Bird. During the first lockdown of the pandemic, I was terrified of bringing COVID home. Since I was the only one leaving the house with any regularity, I felt especially responsible for keeping everyone—especially Allison—safe. The very first restaurant food during that lockdown was donuts from Early Bird. I remember being nervous and excited for that return to normalcy. This morning, I woke up before the kids to surprise them with donuts. The familiar place and taste felt connected to Allison. Tobin and I went to a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so we didn’t all eat donuts together, but it felt unifying to share that treat on Allison’s birthday.
I had a teacher workday and needed to go in for a while. The new semester starts tomorrow, another firm reminder that the earth still spins, the seasons still change, and inertia keeps us moving no matter how much I’ve wanted to freeze and rewind time. I usually like to visit with friends and colleagues on work days. Today, I just needed to be alone. I was grateful for a steady stream of text messages from people telling me they were thinking of Allison and the kids and me on her birthday, but each message added a little bit more emotional weight to a day (week? month? year?) heavy with it. I listened to music while I worked and made copies and prepared for new students. I listened from beginning to end to the first album I bought after we moved to Durham: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People. Every track was a stream of memories. I listened to that record on the drive to work during my first year at Riverside. It was on the stereo frequently in our first apartment in Chapel Hill. I remember it playing while I graded papers and Allison worked on law school homework with our newly-adopted Hannah in her lap. I teared up a few times, thankful to be alone in my classroom.
I finished enough work to justify going home. When I got home, the kids were making music, playing games, reading, and making the day their own in numerous ways. The weather was rainy and dark and cool. I was tired. I decided to lie down for a while. Meggie joined me for a nap under Allison’s favorite “magic” blanket. I fell asleep in my room to the record Eno Axis by H.C. McEntire.. Allison introduced me to H.C. McEntire after she and Danielle saw her open for the Indigo Girls at DPAC years ago. Falling asleep to a record that we both liked with Allison’s dog against my hip was more important than just a nap.
Most years, on Allison’s birthday, we would get takeout or go out to eat. I presented the same options to the kids tonight. I think Allison would have picked Naan Stop or Thai Spoon if I had to guess, but I didn’t want to dictate choices for the family tonight. The kids decided on burgers and fries from 5 Guys. We ate together and joked about the enormous servings of fries and gave Evan a hard time about eating so quickly.
After dinner, we watched a movie, then there was still enough time for some more games and play. I put up my dartboard, which I had been meaning to do for years. We had it up in our house in Woodcroft years ago. I’ve played on it with a lot of the people who sent loving messages about Allison today. It felt good to see it properly installed and to throw a few darts at it. The kids tried it out, and we even put our first small dart hole in the drywall to make it official.
The night ended like hundreds of nights ended with Allison: watching college basketball. Tonight we watched Kentucky beat Georgia. The conversations that padded the color commentary of the game ranged from the dramatic swell of the 6th grade group chat to whether Apple computers were better than Windows and everything in between. It felt almost normal. Now everyone is in bed. We’ll wake up and start new semesters at school tomorrow. It was a day of food, work, play, rest, more food, and more play. It all ebbed and flowed on memories and reminders that leaned more toward bitter on the bittersweet continuum. But it was still a day for which I’m thankful.