Thursday, February 22, 2018

An Awkward Chocolate Cake

On Sunday morning I took the train into the city to get brunch with an old friend of my mom’s and her daughter, who just turned 18. They were in the city for a birthday celebration weekend. My mom’s friend, whose name is Ashley, reminded me that it was my mom’s birthday: February 18th. I was caught off guard — surprised and sad that I’d forgotten. Ashley teared up talking about my mom, who'd been one of her best friends, so of course I teared up too. The 18-year-old sitting with us, who doesn’t remember my mom at all, looked at her omelette uncomfortably.

After brunch I walked to a nearby cafe to cry and work on more Hall of Fame nominations. A few hours later I walked to Whole Foods and bought a chocolate cake.

“Do you want me to write anything on it?” The woman behind the counter asked.

“Um… Happy birthday Lisa?” I said. “Or maybe just ‘Lisa.’”

“Is that spelled L-I-S-A?” the cake woman asked, ready with her icing gun.

“Wait, no, don’t write anything. Thank you,” I blurted.

I was taking the cake to a dinner party with new friends. They did not need to blow out candles for my dead mother.

Six of us ate together: my friend Mo and her partner Brennan, who was in town from D.C. Our friend Daniel, who went to Duke and whom I’d met at Radio Club in January. His girlfriend Mari, a singer/dancer/actor who just landed her first gig in NYC. Their roommate Michelle, who works in real estate. (I wasn't 100% sure how Michelle ended up there, because) Daniel, Mari, and Michelle live in an arts collective. All the walls were beautifully painted with giant flowers and faces, and over in the corner a traveling tattoo artist was working on a large arm tattoo for a man whose wife had just had her own large arm tattoo done. They were on a tattoo date. The buzzing was the backdrop for our tacos.

We sliced the cake during a silly card game called Go Nuts for Donuts. I didn’t mention my mom.  How do you interrupt a card game called Go Nuts for Donuts to talk about a birthday cake you bought for your mom who should be 54 but instead died in a car wreck at 40? 

When it was time to leave, I couldn’t figure out what to do with the leftovers. Did I want to leave it for the arts collective, or did I want to take it home to my roommates, or did I want to give it away to a homeless person on the subway? I felt like it was somehow an important decision.

“What does your heart tell you?” Daniel joked.

“I think my heart wants me to share it with as many people as possible,” I replied, too seriously. “It’s a birthday cake for my mom. I'm trying to figure out what she'd want me to do with it."

“We could wrap it up and ship it to your mom?” he suggested, still lighthearted.

“Well, she’s not living,” I said flatly.

“Oh — sorry — dang it.” He winced and smacked his forehead. I’d told him in a conversation a few weeks earlier that my mom had died when I was little.

“It’s ok, I didn’t say that, because I felt awkward.” 

This was not the situation I'd envisioned when I bought the cake. In the vision, I presented the cake eloquently, in a brave show of vulnerability and inspiring symbolism. I'd honor my mom and everyone would eat cake while thinking about how much they appreciate their own moms. Everyone would sit thoughtfully as they chewed, savoring the chocolate and ruminating over life and death and love and grief. Maybe one or two others would share their own stories of loss. It would be somber but life-giving, soul-filling.

That is not the situation I created. “I’ll just take the cake home to my roommates," I mumbled as I grabbed the box. 

Thirteen years later, and I still don’t know how to celebrate the life of my mother in any kind of casual or comfortable way. The next day I wrote a post for Instagram that was a lot more eloquent. Turns out some things make more sense in writing than in reality.

We planted this shrub next to my mom's grave. Amazingly, it grows in the shade and blooms in mid-February. 

No comments:

Post a Comment