Today is my mother's birthday. I can't bring to mind a single one of her birthdays while I was at home, not one. Only after moving out, calling home to wish her a happy birthday, she and Dad would have gone out for dinner, or, often enough, postponed until she felt well enough.
For our birthdays, Mom made cheesecake, baked, sour cream icing and blueberries in a glaze. Sweetened with honey instead of sugar. Bricks of cream cheese, cold from the refrigerator, softened an hour or so on the counter, it seemed to take hours more wearing it down with the wooden spoon, mixing in the honey. We crushed graham crackers in a bag, rolling pin over and over. Butter melted on the stove, fingers blending warm butter into cracker crumbs.
I remember her hand over mine, pressing the crust into the bottom of the springform pan.
Strawberries or mandarin oranges ringing the top, blueberries in the center.
A small piece would leave us sleepy in the living room, bellies round, my brothers' legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, conversation turning lazy, hands behind our heads, laughing.
Often enough, Mom would already be in bed, energy enough to make the cake, but running out, like a car low on gas, her smile wearing down, by dinner shrunk back to the bedroom, Dad fixing a plate to take in, how many birthdays when she couldn't hold it up long enough to have a piece of her own, a sliver maybe the next day from the fridge.
She was sick so long, ever since I can remember, we thought she'd outlive us all.