I share the same exact birthday as his deceased mother. She passed away from pancreatic cancer seven days before I met him, in December. Today is March 12th, 2017 and we are in Santa Barbara for her memorial. On her birthday. On my birthday.
This is fucking weird.
A bunch of his family from Ireland have flown out for this. I am meeting everyone for the first time. We drove up to Santa Barbara, where he is from and where he was born and where his Aunt still lives in the home his mother left him. We, being Sean, myself, his son Eamonn, and Pony. He rented us a sweet little hotel room in downtown SB. This is the first time we have all taken a trip together. A year later writing this, it is still the only trip we have ever all taken together.
But back to SB.
Every year on her birthday his Mom would do this 3-mile walk on the beach. From one point to another. So for her memorial, a bunch of her friends and family were going to take the same walk.
We woke up, the day of my birthday, in the hotel, and had breakfast. Sean gave me a small box, as a gift, and inside was a key to his house. With leopard print on it and a card that said: “Be fierce little kitten.” I liked it. But the day already felt strange. Not sure how to celebrate me and honor her passing at the same time. This woman I have never met.
After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the beach where they were setting up a picnic at the endpoint. The main beach downtown. His son was feeling antisocial with all his aunts and Irish family so I spent the majority of the time with the kids, wrangling them while Sean caught up.
After a bit, we all packed into several cars and carpooled to the beginning point a few miles down the road. I heard Sean tell Eamonn to wear tennis shoes but wondered why he didn’t tell Pony and me. I thought, why would anyone want to wear tennis shoes for walking on the beach? I found out.
It was a medium-sized group. About fifteen of us, traipsing along the sand. Pony was playing and finding pretty things and I was chatting a bit with people like his 80-year-old uncle Jed and his sponsor, Turk.
I honestly had no idea what we were in for.
About a mile in, the sand started to get pretty rocky and I realized why he wanted Eamonn to wear tennis shoes. And wondered why I was not wearing them. I had on flip flops and although they helped a little, they were not conducive. Pony’s feet were starting to hurt her and I began to hope we weren’t far off of our destination. We were really far off.
That was when Jed started falling. He struggled with navigating the rocky terrain and needed assistance. Sean went back to help him and I noticed a large group gathering around Jed, but I was up ahead with Pony and Eamonn. The kids wanted to keep going and I did not know what to do. I knew Pony was getting hungry and the idea of dealing with a hungry five-year-old gave me anxiety so while they all convened and came up with a game plan for Jed- as there were cliffs that lined the beach and very few ways to get off, at this point, I decided to forge ahead and get the kids some food. I erroneously thought the picnic area we had left behind and were walking back towards could not be THAT far off. Right?? I mean, how far could it be?? It already felt like we were a long ways in. So that is what we did. I forged ahead with the children and left Sean to walk with his family. I thought this was the best choice. Divide and conquer.
I didn’t know that Sean had left his phone in his car.
Not long after we rounded the next bend, Pony needed to be carried. I grabbed her in my arms, and flip-flops and on craggy rocks, we picked our way along the scraggly shoreline, with massive cliffs to our left and the roiling ocean to our right. The tide was beginning to come in. I was a little nervous but plowed ahead.
Eamonn also had no shoes on and was delicately picking his way. We got very silent as we focused on our goal of getting back to the picnic beach. I felt isolated and alone with the children. It was a strange sort of feeling. And kind of a sad one.
The beach seemed to go on forever.
My feet hurt. My back hurt. Eamonn’s feet hurt too. He had not listened to his Dad. He regretted that choice. He tried carrying Pony at one point, but that didn’t work. So I muscled on with her in my arms. He and I even tried sharing flip flops. I felt so bad for him.
Every time we rounded a bend we almost cried in disbelief that there was no picnic beach in site. This fucking walk was going on FOREVER. I had no idea we had so many miles to go before we found safety. I had moments of panic but I kept them to myself and made jokes with Eamonn. We laughed. We cried. We flatulated.
It was a rather bonding experience, in some ways.
I kept texting Sean. But to no avail.
We were hungry and tired and running out of juice. Pony was a trooper. She knew to just hold onto me and hopefully, everything would be alright. There was no exit up the cliffs and no choice but to soldier on. I considered crawling at some points but the terrain was too rocky. It was bloody painful on my feet and everything hurt.
It felt like that stupid shoe, “Survivor.”
After what felt like hours battling the beach, we turned one last bend and THERE IT WAS!! The grassy knolls of the picnic beach. Eamonn and I almost started crying we were so unbelievably happy. No more rocks. Sandy beach ahead. I put Pony down, finally. She could walk on this sand. It felt like joy on my feet. I kissed the sand and we headed towards the food. No one was there yet. Somehow we were the first. We ripped into the food like savages until Sean rounded the bend behind us and walked up. He had been worried. He followed up but wasn’t able to catch up because I drove us relentlessly onwards. Hi uncle had taken a flight of stairs up to the street along with some other members of the family but he had kept on, worried, trying to find us. I felt so bad. I don’t know what had made me soldier on without telling him or checking in with him. It was stupid thing for me to do. I was in fear. And I don’t make good decisions in fear. It would have been so much more helpful to have him with us. To help carry Pony and to talk us through it. But I denied him that opportunity. Ugh.
He wasn’t mad at me, I could tell, but he was disappointed in how the walk had turned out. It wasn’t the way he imagined it. As peope trickled back in from the road, we all began to eat and mingle. The kids were tired and cold and ready to go. I know Sean wanted everyone to say something about his Mom in some fashion but he never asked for that to happen. So eventually it was decided we would all convene at this Aunt’s house (now his house) order some pizza and celebrate her life there. So that is what we did.
I felt strange. No one seemed to know it was my birthday too and I didn’t feel right mentioning it. Not on this day.
At his Aunt’s house the pizza arrived and the children were happy. Half-way through we were all standing around a dining room table when the group started to sing “Happy Birthday.” At first I blushed, I thought they were singing for me. But then I realized it was for his Mom and I felt a wave of shame and embarrasment. Ugh.
We left around 6pm and drove home.
He dropped us off and they went home.
I sat in my house later that evening ruminating about this birthday and what it meant and had no answers.
I just knew it felt really fucking strange.