Thirtieth Birthday

By Beate Sigriddaughter

Dear Daughter,

I saw your pinched lips at church today. It made me want to laugh. And it made me want to cry. Yes, I am one hundred percent human that way. I don’t know yet if I will give you this letter before you leave. I do know we will not mention the issue again in person. It is too difficult. We’ve never talked much, not since you were a fierce and disapproving teenager to your mildly despised and equally disapproving mother. 

I remember my own thirtieth birthday, years before you were born. He adored me then. The photo he took of me picking daisies in a field—you can see how much he cherished me. I’m looking at the photo from time to time as I write this. He was fresh home from the war and couldn’t get enough of me, my unblemished, soft feminine being after all those months side by side with his comrades. A young woman picking flowers. 

I wish you could have had a thirtieth birthday like that, filled with love, daisies, and admiration. For you it is winter instead, and your girlfriend has just broken up with you, thrown you out in fact and left you temporarily homeless, and you are bewildered by the world and came to visit us for comfort. Not that we can provide all that much.

It is evening now, but I can still see your tight lips in church. I can still feel the heat, the pungent smell of anger from you. You didn’t even sing any of the hymns. You have such a beautiful clear soprano. You sounded so strong when you declared yesterday how, beginning with today, your thirtieth birthday, you wouldn’t go to church anymore. You were an adult now and entitled to self-determination. You have to go, I informed you. It will hurt your father if you don’t. When you’re in your beloved San Francisco, you can do what you want, but when you visit us and it’s a Sunday or a holiday, you are coming to church with us.

I remember how you used to scream at me when you were sixteen. What do you want me to be—a subservient housewife like you? I never did have as many choices as you did. And, in my defense, I did try to give you wings.

I know this hurts you today, obediently trekking to church with us as always. I wish I could take the pain away from you. You’re probably convinced I’m choosing him over you. In this big competition for love that we all seem to live in, maybe I am indeed for the moment proclaiming him more important than you.

No, I don’t care much for church either. I don’t know what you do to endure when you finally sit there in the pew beside us. I go off into a different world, especially when the music happens to be good, when the organist is on her game. I go because church is his life now, his obsession, if you will. And, yes, I do have to live with him day in and day out. I don’t have the kind of wings I have tried to give you. Sometimes I wish I could fly along into wide, unfettered skies.

All I am grateful for is that today Pastor Bader didn’t go into a diatribe against women, as he regretfully sometimes does. The organist was flawless, as were the white lilies on the altar. Fly, daughter, fly. I wish I could go with you, but what wings I have are weak. I tell myself I go for the music, for the beautiful light in the stained-glass windows.

I could still feel your fury at dinner. It radiates from you like a fever. I know you did it for me, even as we both claim it is all for him. Thank you for that.

See, I have been trained for obedience. I think I have raised you for obedience and rebellion both. That can’t be easy, and for that, forgive me. Fly away. For me it’s way too late. I am too old, too tired, and besides I am used to him and his autocratic ways. I cannot change now, and neither can he. Besides, I kind of like him. 

                                                          *   *   *

Beate Sigriddaughter, www.sigriddaughter.net, grew up in Nürnberg, Germany, near the castle and World War II bomb ruins. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Her work is widely published in online and print magazines. Her latest collection of prose poems is Kaleidoscope (Cholla Needles, May 2021) and a short story collection Dona Nobis Pacem is forthcoming (Unsolicited Press, December 2021).

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