36 is just a number. So is 30. So is 6. Today the relevance is that it's James' 36th birthday. He died at 30. This is his 6th birthday not here.
That's like a lifetime. How many of our friends kids have been born since then and he never knew. How many graduations, pick ups from camp, and report card celebrations he has missed. That we missed him. That there was a notable void.
He always said he was scared to turn 29. There was something about it that tormented him from early on. And, as it happens, 29 is when his soul died. The light was gone from his eyes, the body kept apparent form while the mind withered and was shed long before.
He hurt on his birthdays. Worried like a young child, that no one would remember his birthday. He'd have to pretend all day that it wasn't his birthday if no one remembered. My heart ached for him. Yes, my love, this is your birthday and we remember. We love you. We celebrate you. You are worthy of love.
As each birthday passes, we celebrate a little less. There's nothing like the first one. I think that one hurts the most. But each subsequent one actually hurts more and more. The crack just splits wider a little more each year. The distance, for me, is scary. Time should be ireelivent. I can't wrap my arms around that time. It seems too long, too distant, like it never even existed. That scares me. I feel farther and farther away.
My boss asked me how I was today. He has no idea what lies beneathe. "Pretty good," I say. "At times a little overwhelmed, but I think I play my poker face pretty well."