This week was my birthday. I turned seventy-seven. A DJ announced a song by the Indigo Girls. I heard their name as the Evening Overalls. Senility has its perks.
I was born in 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor, of which I was unaware, being politically indifferent at the time—my only concern was nipples. My mom was in Denver, my dad somewhere in Washington state, working construction, and the marriage was soon to dissolve, partly due to my existence. My grandmother took the bus from Iowa out to Denver to be with my mom and tell her how stupid she was.
William Butler Yeats had died two years before, but I’d been unaware of that until many years thereafter. Nor was he remotely aware of me, sorry to say.
About age four, my dog Ragsie died. About age seven, I shot a sparrow with my BB gun. Age eight, I saw my step-dad die of a heart attack. I didn’t actually see him die, just saw him make funny faces and deep tormented snores. I didn’t like the guy.
Around fifth grade, a classmate, Kathleen Bogardus, died of leukemia or something I didn’t know the name of. The class went to her funeral and I saw her dead. She was nice but not popular, and I had no feeling about it, but it was maybe from that time that I knew that everyone would die. Since then, I’ve seen much further evidence.
It takes so many years and calories and missteps, struggles and revelations to create a human being, and then in one breath, the data is lost. Birthdays inevitably bring thoughts of the end-parens. This one spurs me, at least, to clean up my files, take photos of all my puppets, finish the next draft of our new novel, and resolve to go to the ocean every week.
And of course you procrastinate from your sworn duty to die. You keep track of blood pressure, go to the gym, obsess on projects, post on Facebook—every symbolic act that promotes an illusion of immortality.
On October 8th, my birthday, an estimated 151,600 died. I celebrated that I wasn’t included: a day of writing, watching the antics of the cats; going out to dinner; sitting by the fireplace and making love with my collaborationist. Most of the time I have welcomed life and looked forward to more of it, despite my search for a parking place, the chronic struggle to open plastic wrappers, and a perpetual longing for people to be kind—myself included.
So, another year.