“I don’t think I want a party,” I said. “I’ll declare the entire month of August my birthday and I’ll let friends take me out to dinner.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” she said. We were on the phone, so I couldn’t see her expression. But, her tone was skeptical.
“I’ll save money and avoid bruising those I don’t include in a big bash,” I said, trying to convince her, and myself.
But, was it really a good plan? What if the once-in-a-lifetime occasion drifted away and I came to regret the absence of a party? And despite the several friends who volunteered to host individual birthday meals, my idea was beginning to feel tepid. Even depressing.
As I continued to muse about my approaching big day, I decided to pitch the question to Tommy. Although gone from this earth, he and I frequently engaged in conversations that I found enlightening, and more important, uplifting.
“What do you think, Honey,” I said aloud. No one else was in my apartment when I launched our dialogue, so I didn’t have to fear skepticism or derision. “Expensive party, or a series of dinners?”
I waited a few beats to conjure my deceased husband, but soon enough, I could feel his presence. “This bed is too small,” were his first imagined words. I was propped upright on two pillows in the new full-size bed I had purchased for my small apartment. Tommy’s assessment was coming from the empty side of the bed.
“It fits my life here,” I said. “But, let’s get to the question at hand. Do you agree it’s better to ditch a party and save money and bruised feelings?”
I expected a significant “yes” because for his 75th, we went to a restaurant with two other couples. I had offered a party, but my husband, who shunned the spotlight and frivolous expenditures, declined.
“You should have a party,” I was certain I heard him saying. “And, I’ll throw it for you.”
I placed my hand on the bare linen, then on the pillow I hugged each night pretending it was Tommy. He continued, “ask Barry if he’ll open our favorite restaurant for you on a Monday when he’s usually closed.”
“Smoque, the barbecue place in our old neighborhood?” I said.
Because I was directing this movie in my head, I could pause it at any point and insert flashbacks. I saw Tommy and me entering the restaurant, just days after it opened. Barbecue, a few blocks from our house! I was in heaven.
Although my husband was a vegetarian, he was satisfied with salad, mac ‘n cheese, baked beans, french fries, and peach cobbler while his wife alternated between ribs, brisket, and chicken. He knew my addiction to this menu and, in his love for me, put Smoque at the top of the list when I asked him for a lunch choice.
In my film, I saw calendar pages flip quickly as Tommy and I remained patrons of our neighborhood joint. As his brain degeneration progressed, we developed a ritual. As soon as we entered, he’d head for the cooler, pluck a cola, then proceed to our regular table. I’d go to the counter, order his veggie sides, then add my meat choice of the day.
Tommy was in charge of salt and pepper packets and plastic silverware, which he’d pickup on his route back to our seats. Within 30 minutes, without my husband having to struggle to find words or conversation, we’d be on our way home.
“What about the money?” I posed to my apparition. “It’s really not in my budget.”
“Life’s short,” I heard him saying. Perhaps his experience -- dying at the age of 77 -- was now altering his views of frivolity and finance.
In an email I wrote to Barry, I said: “You may be wondering why I haven’t been in lately. Tommy died November 2, and it’s been too painful to return. But, my 75th birthday is coming up, and in honor of that occasion, and in memory of Tommy, would you consider opening on a Monday night for a private party?”
Five days before my actual birthday, on a Monday when the restaurant doors bore taped signs that read, “Private Party,” I stood with a friend who had clasped me in a hug. “It’s a shame Tommy couldn’t be here,” she said.
I smiled, stepped back and surveyed the happy crowd. Above the cheery noise of 40 friends and relatives, and with Barry on hand to supervise the celebration, I shouted to be heard, “Oh, he’s here. He’s definitely here. In fact, he threw it for me.”