May 10 is a complicated day for me. It’s my dad’s birthday. It is often, like this year, Mother’s Day. My relationship with both of these people is fraught, complicated and raw, all of which is/was exacerbated by my dad’s untimely death in May of 2001. While I am relatively sure that both of them love(d) me, this is called into question by many words and actions over the years. The platitudes don’t actually work or ring true. They are not all that proud of me. In contrast, disappointed is the first word that actually comes to mind. Whether or not this is true is actually irrelevant. The perception of disappointment, the barbs that remain sharp, the erasure of success and the lack of empathy to failure and struggle burrows into my skin and soul. It’s a tough day. There is one more thing to add. It’s my birthday as well. I usually keep that detail hidden though apparently every organization that you have ever contacted keeps the day on file. Numerous emails arrive all day long with impersonal greetings on what should be the most personal of days. I internalized the idea that this was not my day, that I was somehow an intruder upon it. I can still hear my dad jokingly saying that I was “The most expensive gift that I have ever received and I KEEP ON PAYING FOR IT.” It wasn’t a joke. He truly felt that way. My response, both internally and externally was “I’m sorry.” Other choice phrases burned into my brain; “Don’t be selfish, don’t ask for too much, give back instead of taking.” Remember, “it's not just your day.” When I was young, there were, to be sure, cakes and parties, but as I grew, the “you are not special” grew louder as well. So loud that I have disappeared into the day. Usually I work through it (thank you spring shows!) but today is a different beast. The city is shut down and my industry, across all fronts, is in tatters. The career path of a dancer/choreographer/dance educator is treacherous at best. Growing older in an industry that is already dismissive of women over the age of….well, whatever age you choose, I’m over it, is uncertain, challenging and often disheartening. When that industry is in upheaval and disarray, it is terrifying. I can’t even think about the nation at large. Spending the day alone, another day alone, is almost physically painful at this point. I am aware of my good fortune up to now. I have remained employed and will for another month. I am healthy and have a funny cat to brighten my day. I interact with people over the internet all day long and my students continue to amaze. But today is heavy and sad. Although I struggle with severe depression every day, today the black hole has a gravitational pull. My funny cat is scared of crying so she’s keeping her distance, staying in the room, but slightly wary of the extra water. (It is possible she lied on her therapy cat resumé.) My birthday present to myself, an ill fated attempt to try something new, was an orchestra seat ticket to Hamilton. It has now been refunded. There is no possibility of a night on the town or a simple dinner with friends. This day will pass. I am resilient and scrappy and will put my mask back on. It will pass but not go unnoticed and not without creating one more psychic gouge in my soul. I wish I could have this conversation with my parents but I can’t. Dad left the planet long ago and Mom has never been willing to listen. So here we all are, on phone lines with nothing to say but Happy Birthday. Happy Mother’s Day. Love you. Miss you. Be well.
Nancy Dobbs Owen
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