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Debby's Birthday -- Year One

by Marissa Cohen

It's the first year without you and
last week was hell. I slept without
dreaming and when I dreamed, memories
of our war floated around the edges.
But this morning, I woke up renewed.
You sent me a dream, a gift of hope.
You were there. All my friends
hovered nearby and you were the glowing
nexus of creation. You drew us all in like
fire and my gratefulness was the galaxy.
Happy birthday mommy. You were Deborah before I knew you -
you were the crinkle-eyed baby with the Shirley Temple curls, posed
this way and that inside perfect frames to be the little angel.
You grew up, learned about bikinis, about boys, about the affair between
your father and your mother's friend.
Early things learned changed your life forever.
But you acclimated and you had a pure and well heart.
When it beat, whole oceans kept time.
It beat and beat - rocketed you through all the years that separated you
from cancer, you from my father, you from me.
At 23, you were in a tree holding Walden in your hand. Your gypsy skirt brushed
the ground. You were my soul before I was
born. When I was born, we separated.
When you died, we came together.
I yearn to meet you for something mortal.
No more Mom in the Etherworld, no more dimly sensing you in the house.
I want to see your hands on the table. I want to be
naughty and split the chocolatiest thing on the menu.
Drag me to all the girly
stores in town. I'll go.
My umbilical cord is shrouded in darkness
and uncoils, leading me through the curtain.
When you were sick, we changed sides of the umbilical cord like
It was jump rope. I held your head and sang.
Death cannot hide you from me. Count to ten, mommy.
I see you. Your hands are here, over mine. You help me
To write.
You are both ends, mommy, and so am I. We, together, are
The alpha and the omega - your first breath and your last
Heart thud. My breath contained itself in yours before I was born
And now your hands are around mine.
I share chocolate cake
With Matthew and Jay. We laugh and sing to you.
Your voice sings, unheard,
And mingles with ours.

Marissa Cohen is a freelance writer and editor who wrote "Debby's Birthday" after the loss of her beloved mother from lung cancer. The experience of care giving while still in her 20s was a unique journey. In 2003, she was the recipient of the Karen O' Brock Writing Scholarship and the National League of American Pen Women Letters Honorarium.