Birthday Letters

Dear Oral Surgeon About to Extract My Mother’s Teeth This Morning:

You will have your drill in her mouth at the very minute I was born. She called to warn me last night. She is in such pain, and this is the only time her appointment could be scheduled—though she felt bad that it would occur at my “birth moment”—the minute she calls to wish me happy birthday every year. “I’ll be under,” she warned me. “And after, I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk.” My poor mother. This is all made worse, of course, because she doesn’t have dental insurance.

Please be gentle with her. Please treat her well. I see you now, floating near her with the paper mask over your face. You have an amazing woman in your reclining dental chair. Do you realize?

Perhaps you will see this as she drifts to sleep and pull her teeth for free.

—A concerned and loving daughter.

* * *

Dear Radiator:

You woke me at 3 a.m. with your tapping. It was as if a person got stuck behind the wall plaster, in between the bricks, and was trying to get my attention. It sounded like Morse code. In the darkness, I sat up in bed, scowling at the noise that kept me from sleeping, and then it settled upon me: it was now officially February 23rd, my unfortunate birthday. You tapped again. I have lost another year, I thought. You tapped. I want to make the best of the year that’s coming—tap—so I can look back and be proud of what I accomplished—tap—and have no regrets—tap-tap—because this is the year that could change everything. You were quiet. But it could, I protested silently, this could be my year. And then the tapping continued, and we were in agreement in that moment, weren’t we? It could be a good year, perhaps, if I keep trying. Do I hear a tap?


* * *

Dear Mail Carrier,

I’m concerned about what your mail bag may bring me in this afternoon’s delivery. I don’t want to seem weak—though, had you seen my reactions at some of the letters you’ve delivered to my box you would think I am—but my anxiety over today’s possible mail has me wanting to ask a surprising favor…

Would you mind terribly holding onto any rejections? Just slip them to the back of your bag, deliver them tomorrow. I don’t mind the delay; I’d rather it. I always seem to come upon rejections at the most inopportune moments and then my world comes crashing down, and I’m very melodramatic during a crash, and maybe the catastrophes can wait until tomorrow?

This is what I want for my birthday: no nos.

NRS (you know my box)

p.s. If you could pass this same message on to the Google Mail system, I’d appreciate it. I don’t want a catastrophic email today, either.


  1. Happy Birthday, Nova!!! Things will get better…February is one suck ass month, for the most part.

  2. Happy Birthday! Wishing you no worries about your mother’s teeth, no tapping in your radiator, and no nasty communiques in the post. Hope you have (had) a lovely day.

  3. Dear brilliant and talented birthday girl,

    You’re right—now’s not the time to think of the mail. Now’s the time to think of your life, and for your mother and e to think how lucky they are to have you in theirs.

    Happy birthday!


  4. Happy Birthday!

    I hope it was a rejection-free day and that your mother is recovering well from her dental operation, and that you had a nice cake and prezzies, of course!

    Here’s to a year of good writing!

    (Mine was last Sunday).

  5. Thank you, everyone, for the birthday wishes! First off, my mom is okay — just talked to her; she has cotton stuffed in her mouth and is on serious painkillers but she wanted to make sure to tell me to take good care of my teeth…

    We had a feast of vegetarian dim sum in Chinatown, so good, and so many I don’t even have room for a bite of cake.

    And guess what? No rejections in the mail today. PHEW.
    p.s. Helen, Happy late birthday!

  6. Dear makers of fabulous cakes,
    Please to hurry your extra special deliveries of magical cakes to my friend.

  7. Hey birthday girl, you are beautiful! And I am a day late, but you know, I did have to come all the way from Scotland 😉


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