It used to be that October 17th was exclusively your birthday, the day that I teased you mercilessly for being so much older than me (eleven months, it's like a lifetime) and on which we would feast on something you didn't have to cook and we'd drink bourbon. But then for a year, it became the mantra we chanted every time a doctor or nurse walked into a room. "What's your birth date?" "Tenseventeensixtysix." Over and over again, you repeated the date like a trained pony, and when you couldn't respond any more I did it for you. We said it so often it almost lost all meaning.
You would have been 49 this Saturday. Not so old, really. Still plenty of time to launch your new career. Plenty of time to finally take a vacation. Plenty of time to sit together and make plans for the next year. By next Midsummer I'll actually be the old one, older than you ever got to be. How's that for a kicker? You'd give me shit about that, I bet.
I'm not sure how I'll spend Saturday, though I know that I won't allow myself to fret about the birthdays you won't get to have, but will focus on celebrating your birth and all the lives you touched while you were here. I still hear from some of your students, you know, among the hundreds--maybe thousands--you touched while you were teaching. You fired imaginations, and taught kids to ask questions, and made them laugh and enjoy history. They'll never forget that. And your friends miss you. All those nights over our dinner table talking about politics and food and the Dodgers, we had an open home and open arms and people loved your food. And not so many birthdays ago you took the plunge to make a radical change in your career, a move that continues to inspire so many who knew you to assess their own choices and make a bid for happiness and fulfillment. You left a mark on so many, I don't think you really realized that.
You came into my life at a time when I was a little unsure of myself, and you pushed me to be smarter, and sharper, and faster, and better than I ever thought possible. You allowed me to be at my best by giving love, and you showed me what it felt like to be adored. You told me I got more beautiful as I got older (you were a terrible fibber, actually), and you contributed mightily to my laugh lines by reducing me to giggles pretty much every day. You helped me recognize my own potential and to recognize love when I see it, and those things will come in handy as I move through my own birthdays to come. Thank you for that.
"October 17th, 1966."
I wish you hadn't died, but I am unspeakably glad you were born and that you were with us for as long as you were, Mr. Man. I really shouldn't have a drink on Saturday as I prepare for another marathon (you were always equal parts proud of and incredibly bored with my running, I know), but I'll make an exception and raise a glass to you. Happy birthday.