It’s not quite the 24th yet here yet, but I don’t know where you might be, Michaela, and in some places it is, or will be soon. I wouldn’t want you to wake up anywhere and say, “It’s my birthday! I wonder if my mom remembers,” and sign onto this blog and not find anything. So I’m home today, alone, and I am sending you my birthday wishes early.
I have a card for you. I’ve actually had it for over a month. When I was shopping for a birthday card for your younger sister at the beginning of December, I saw this one, and I burst into tears when I read it. So I bought it for you….
When you were born, we lived off Santa Clara Street in Hayward. I have been coming home from work that way for a couple of weeks now, trying to avoid the traffic on the main roads. I am always filled with the memory of driving down that street when we brought you home from the hospital. My head always turns at the street where we turned off for home. At the stop light, I glance around at the palm tree in the front yard, which was little at that time and now towers high in the sky. I remember the promise of that time, and my throat fills with tears at the way it was broken.
I don’t know what I will do for your birthday tomorrow. Over the years I have handled it in so many ways. The first birthday after you were kidnapped a local church had a concert in your honor, and close to a thousand people attended, and they had a cake and asked me to blow out the candles. For some of the middle years I had friends, most of whom I had come to know because of you, come to my house, and we would sit in a circle and celebrate the fact of you and what an extraordinarily wonderful and special person you are. In recent years I have kept your birthday a personal and private day. Honestly, I am always torn between wanting to keep your name and face out in the public, wanting to keep you alive by keeping your memory alive in people’s minds and hearts, and wanting to withdraw into the privacy of my heartbreak, and yours. On the anniversary of your kidnapping I have been having a public remembrances, but for your birthday, it’s just you and me in my heart. Some years, I’d get cakes, but I remember a few years ago I went to the store and looked at all the cakes, and the thought of having something sweet for your birthday while you were missing just filled me with sorrow. But yesterday when Johnna asked me what I was going to do for your birthday, for some reason I burst out with, “I think I’m going to buy a cake and eat the whole thing.” I’m not going to do that, of course, but I suppose this is all symbolic of the emotional roller coaster I have spend the last 23 years on. There have been times when my feelings have gripped me so tightly, have been so raw, that I could not eat. But you know me — eating is one of the things I have always done to numb myself so that I don’t have to feel all those feelings.
But I guess there is only one thing that is important, and that is that it is your birthday. It is the anniversary of the day you were born, the day I first met you. I remember that day so clearly, after five years of infertility and two days of labor, the miracle of your actual arrival, holding you in my arms. I remember I woke up early the next morning, so excited as I remembered that you were here! I scooped you out of your basinette next to my bed and woke you. I carried you to the window where the sun was streaming in, and I said, “Look, baby, your first morning!”
You changed me, Michaela, changed my very identity. When you were born, you changed me from “Sharon” to “mommy.” When you were taken away, you changed me again. And one day, I will find you, and I know I will be changed once more. I have been asked, since you have been gone, whether or not I would have chosen to have you, if I had known what was going to happen. For your sake, Michaela, I might say no, in order to spare you the suffering you have had to experience. But for myself, however much pain and grief I may have experienced in losing you, it cannot eclipse the pure joy of having you, or being your mom, of watching you grow and seeing what a beautiful, talented, magical and special little girl you grew to be. I love you, Michaela, purely and completely, totally and forever.
And I have decided, I am going to get a cake for you … just in case you should decide to come home tomorrow.
Happy Birthday, sweetheart.
I love you,