Final Birthday

Final Birthday

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Dear Jonah,

On February 14, 2009, you turned 19. Nineteen days later, you were gone.

Careful plans had been orchestrated to prepare for your first birthday away from home. Katie and Mark were with you at UB and took you out for a birthday dinner, but Ellen, Aiden and I were in Washington, DC, so a long-distance celebration was on order. What transpired was fun, and far more poignant – owing to your leaving us – than we’d thought it would be.

The first gift arrived in your UB mailslot — a slackline. Something you had fallen in love with at Kutz Camp, you were eager for springtime to arrive when you could attach it between two trees and do some close-to-the-ground tightrope walking on campus. Late in March, the slackline came back home. It’s still waiting for us to find two trees and willing volunteers to enjoy it on your behalf. We’ll get there.

The second gift also arrived in your UB mailslot — a copy of Curious George in Hebrew. You loved George from about the age of one when honorary grandparents Fran and Gerry Weingast presented you with the little doll. Over the next eighteen years, you went almost nowhere without that monkey. Sleepovers at a friend’s, George was there. Eisner Camp, George was there. Summer road trips, George came along. We bought a second George just in case the first one ever got lost, but we never needed him. This unused George now lives on top of the bookcase in my study at home, and the very much-loved George, who used to lie on your bed, like it was any other day, waiting for his best friend to come be with him, now hangs out with Mom.

That’s why the book seemed like such a perfect first-year-of-college gift. Fully illustrated, it was a little piece of home that could join you at UB, even if George himself had decided to stay back in Ardsley. When we made that very sad trip to Buffalo and packed up your things, we found the book on your bedstand. Inside the front cover, I’d written words that I so deeply wish could have come true: “Dear JMac, this little monkey has held your hand an awfully long time. In any language, that gives voice to a whole world of goodnesses … those that have been and those that are yet to be. May they all bring you warmth of the spirit.”

Then things got a bit goofy. On February 14 itself, Ellen and Aiden were visiting the Wax Museum in Washington and made a sign that they placed in the hands of seventeen different celebrities, each one of them wishing you happy birthday. Later that day when I joined up with them, we began asking real people to hold the birthday sign. Not too many complied, but a Park Ranger at the Washington Monument was very happy to do so. While framing the photograph, I could hear a whole lot of giggling behind me as a group of seventh grade girls were waiting to enter the monument. I asked their teacher if I could videotape them holding the sign and singing to you. Amazingly, she said yes.

You never got to see any of these visuals. We’d been putting together a photo book to send you but I guess the clock ran down.

We also managed to unnerve you that day. At the Spy Museum, I asked the guide if he would take a picture with the sign, but he declined citing museum policy that photographers inside the building would be shot on sight. But he asked to borrow my phone and proceeded to call you and personally wish you a happy birthday. That was weird, which we liked, but you didn’t pick up. Unperturbed, the guide left you a lengthy message – something about him being from the college administration and that your loans had all been revoked and you’d have to come up with a lot of money really fast if you wanted to stay in school and, by the way, happy birthday from the Spy Museum. Later that evening, when you were out to dinner with Katie, Mark and your girlfriend Jade, you listened to the message and got pretty freaked out about it. Which is funny, because you didn’t have any student loans.

But then dessert came and all was well.

You always had a playful spirit and loved goofing around. So we tried to give you, from afar, a playful and goofy birthday. It might have worked, except that we experienced far more of it than you did. I guess this is how it goes from here on out. In the years to come, as your family steps into the moments that bring smiles to our faces and laughter to our bellies, I hope we will often hear the words, “Jonah would have loved this!”

Love you forever, kid.


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