Happy my sister’s birthday to me. I used to be jealous of her October birthday as though it took a little bit of fall away from me. Then I grew into a wise adult and discovered how to take back that teeny slice of fall with her name on it: celebrate her birthday as much if not more than she does. Because we are close in age and everything is a competition.

She makes a cake but doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I make a cake and eat it. Her hubby surprised her with a nice breakfast by the lake this morning. I surprised myself with a morning on the beach finishing The Exorcist. I didn’t think to bring breakfast, point to her, but did find a sweet shop in Brighton with a fresh pot of coffee and a woman selling cabbage piroshki.

Today is a Monday and I should be working but my mom died a few weeks ago and I still spend some days stuck in her absence. I find myself making lists of everything I know about her so it’s never forgotten. She liked The Doors, Aerosmith and Rod Stewart. She made my sisters and I elaborate Halloween costumes every year. We were mummies, witches, Carmen Mirandas, flying purple people eaters, doctors and their dismembered patients.

Neil Young’s ‘Unknown Legend’ plays and I think of her, though I don’t think she liked Neil Young. She came of age in the 1960s and cringed at all reminders of flower power, the fashions not the ideology. Her style came from the realm of Victorian poets in vampire novels. She’s the reason one small Central Jersey library has a massive horror selection. She read constantly. I never saw her kill a bug. Long ago at a wedding reception, she liked the French onion soup so much she went into the kitchen and got the chef to teach her how to make it. She never gave out a complete recipe, there was always something missing you had to figure out.

Another thing I’ll never forget:

My mom needed medical care and was dropped from Medicaid in May. She died at the age of 61 because she didn’t have health insurance. That’s a fact I wish was fake. She wanted to live. She wanted to eat the tomatoes she spent all summer growing then decorate her beautiful garden with cobwebs and handmade monsters. My dad grew a few stalks of corn for her so she could make a scarecrow.

Now she’s gone, my dad’s a widow and voting on November 6th couldn’t be more personal.

I’m angry and confused about the circumstances, and frustrated with my anger because anger is easy and numbing. Grief is hard.