Tammi Salas essays

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Today is my 43rd birthday.

I woke up early and immediately started thinking about my mother. She walked out on our family and divorced my dad when she was 43. My mind is turned on to an endless loop of memories and this is not how I wanted to start this day, this year. But I can't help myself.

Birthdays and New Year's Day have the same effect on me. I love the idea of renewal, beginnings and an opportunity for list-making of any kind. The thoughts springing into my mind from 20 years ago are messing with my plan to document this day in a positive light. I decide to make a pot of coffee and plop myself down on the couch until my guys wake up.

I'm supposed to meet my friends this morning for a 10-mile hike and drop Grady off so that he can train for his upcoming bike race, but I can't stop seeing images of my family like snapshots running through my mind.

Snap! My dad and my siblings gathered around the dining room table, crying and begging my mother to come home to us.

Steve wanders in and looks confused when he sees me up so early on the day I had asked for him and Grady to serve me coffee in bed.

Snap! My father sleeping on my bedroom floor night after night, sobbing and continually asking me questions I couldn't answer about my mom.

I find a hand-painted birthday card from my husband and it is a painting of our home. I start to cry, not because I'm sad, but because I'm so aware of my life in this moment. This sweet gesture brings me back to my reality and the beginning of my 43rd year. I quickly get dressed, pack up and head north on Highway One.

Snap! I'm moving back home to help normalize things for my brother and dad. My sister has taken sides and she has moved in with my mom. We've all taken sides. Our home is broken.

The prospect of hiking for 10 miles with my girlfriends is just what I needed. It is a beautiful day, the fog is lifting and revealing the bluest sky and cotton ball-like clouds. The trail is wide and we walk and gab about everything under the sun. This is my church, my confessional. I share with the girls about my early morning musings about my mom and they listen, nod their heads, touch my shoulder and hear me out.

Snap! Our first Thanksgiving without mom. My dad tries to do it up like we've always done, but it leaves us all a big crumpled mess of emotions. It's not the same. It's not the same at all and we've finally used the good china. That just makes it sadder.

I scoop up my boy after our hike and head home. He's exhausted from his major bike ride and asleep before I even leave the tiny town of Jenner. I look at him in my rearview mirror, his face smooshed up against the seatbelt, head bobbing side to side as we take the curves down the coast. He is the best part of my life and I couldn't imagine ever choosing to leave him. Ever.

Snap! It's late and my sister and I are cruising a parking lot looking for my mother's car. We find it. We find her. She's with a guy. The realization quickly sets in that she's left our family for this man. We are shocked and somehow not surprised at the same time. 

Once we get home I put Grady to bed, lower his blinds, pull his baby blanket over him and kiss his forehead. He has fallen into a deep slumber and I quietly leave his room and shut the door behind me.

Snap! My dad is asking my advice on what to wear on his date with my mom. He's nervous and shaking. He bought her a music box and will gift it to her tonight. She will accept it, but they will never go out again. It's over for good this time.

I spend the rest of the day cataloging my 43 years and trying to conjure up happy memories of my life, the family I've helped to create. Steve gets home and we play Apples to Apples with G, we cook dinner together, clean up and start watching a Bill Cosby DVD. I leave the two of them laughing on the couch and head to bed to read and think.

Snap!  My parents are dating other people. My dad brings a woman home. I move out. My mom is bartending at a dive bar in town. My dad has just fired his therapist. My brother is doing drugs. My sister hates everyone, including herself.  My mom drinks kamikazes now.

Before climbing into bed, I look at the card my husband made me and I'm reminded that we've made this funky little farmhouse our home. I usher out the memories that have filled my head all day and end this day fresh, clear and satisfied.

I hope that when my son gets older and reflects on how we spent birthdays, he looks back on this day and…

Snap! He remembers an incredibly crisp Sunday morning spent with friends, our evening together as a family and that we ended it with lots of laughter.  

That's all I want for my birthday this year.


About the Author

Tammi Salas

Tammi lives in Valley Ford, CA (population: 126). She is a former wine bar owner, lifelong seeker + recovering perfectionist. She makes art everyday + credits this practice as the path to her spiritual overhaul. She documents her creative forays + monthly sobriety milestones on her website and co-hosts The Unruffled Podcast, which focuses on creativity + recovery from alcohol. ------- Website --------- Podcast

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