The various faces of fearpublished: 2010-03-15
A woman’s 95th birthday. Her younger sister is there too, she is 90 years old.
We are in a Marriot-type hotel. We, meaning the family that consists of the four generations beneath them. About fifty or so people.
There is a lunch, a warm buffet. There are wines. There is a slide show. Each family unit has brought along a photo, and flowers with individual cards on them saying beautiful things such as how much they love the birthday girl and are convinced she will live to see 100. Some have flown in from far away places. The great-grandchildren recite a poem for her. A nephew and a niece play the violin. Her son holds a speech.
Suddenly, the 90-year-old sister turns to me and says, “so, you belong to my sister’s grandson do you?” I nod and smile and expect to make respectful small talk. But she pulls the corners of her lips down and says, “you know what I hate?” She speaks slowly, weighs her words. Not only her eyebrows frown, her entire face does. “That none of my poor sister’s own grandchildren are performing for her today. Have you noticed only the nephews and nieces are?”
No, I hadn’t noticed. And most likely, the birthday girl hadn’t either.
To avoid an emotional discussion, I stand up in the middle of her rant and sit somewhere else. See the thing is, only an hour earlier another family member returned from a visit to the hospital. The friend she visited there is dying of cancer. She has four brain tumors and it’s her 67th birthday.
But then on leaving, the 90-year-old comes after me, grabs my arm, searches my eyes while smiling intently. She says, “you are a very special person. Really wonderful. I like you a lot.” Her grip on my elbow is firm. It hurts. And so I embrace her.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “I really like you too.”