My birthday was today. 43. Adds up to seven, my favorite number. Maybe it’ll be a lucky year.
I went to my dad’s yesterday. There was a mixup. Ruth May thought I was arriving later than I was, so Dad was out when I arrived in town. Ruth May suggested we meet at a favorite restaurant, so we did. Talked for a while till Liam got restless. He’s 3 months old, sweet red-head.
I called Dad, told him we’d be down after Ruth May fed Liam, and drove back to Ruth May’s house where the dogs were waiting. She fed. We chatted. I thought of Dad alone at home. I wanted to leave, but Ruth May kept talking. “I’ll just….” There was always one more thing, and it always took her three times as long as it would the average person. She’s always been slow that way, dreamy. Smart, yes. But paralyzed.
James Joyce. The sense of helpless paralysis I feel, so familiar. I want to leave and go to Dad, talk to him, question him. But I don’t want to leave Ruth May and Liam as though they are unimportant. There’s a party tonight on the beach, Ruth May tells me. Dad wants to go. Do I? I don’t. “Oh,” she says. “Well, it’s your birthday celeberation. I was just thinking we could run down there for 10 minutes so I could introduce Liam to people.”
“OK,” I say.
“I’ll just change Liam,” she says. But she’s cooing at him on the bed, singing to him, moving as though underwater. I think of Dad waiting. “I’ll just go ahead,” I say. “Maybe help Dad with supper.”
I leave, feeling bad. She says she’ll follow. At the house on the beach, Dad is sitting in darkness, watching the BCC news. He doesn’t have much to say, other than “Where’s Ruth May?” He’s agitating about the party, about whether we should make my birthday dinner first, or go to the party, or wait for Ruth May. Her phone, as usual, is turned off. We wait in darkness for an hour for her to come. I try to ask him the questions I planned to ask him, but the darkness balls itself up and rolls down my throat. Even movement is constrained. The old paralysis deepens, holds tight. Eveline, I think. Afraid to leave. Irish through and through. I can’t climb on the boat, leave familiar ground, strike out into the unfamiliar territory of questions and answers, of dialogue.
Finally Ruth May arrives. We go to the party. Dad meets a woman who seems interested in asking him about Ireland. Liam gets fussy and Ruth May and I leave with him and walk home down the boardwalk, leaving Dad at the party. At the house, I clean the kitchen, talk tiredly with Ruth May. In the end Dad will come home, make dinner, and we’ll eat it and chat and go to bed. In the end, we’ll say nothing that matters.
In the morning, Dad won’t say happy birthday, even though today is really the day. He wants me to paint my sister’s office, but I can’t because of my asthma, and anyway it’ll take too long to get going because my sister is involved, and everything takes her a long time. Because she has a baby. Because she’s Ruth May and time runs through the hour glass differently for her. Because we’re all paralyzed in our own way.
On the way home I think of the dozen red roses Nada’s mother bought me for my birthday. Her wish for me, not Nada’s. He took the credit, though.
Paralyzed. All of us. Living dreams meant for others.