Today is my mother's birthday. The internet told me; I haven't kept track for decades. I went looking for the date after reading a beautiful post by Ruth Kitchin Tillman about calculating when she'd reached half her mother's total years; I'm three years from surpassing my own mother's total. The thought flitted across my mind that I should call my grandmother; surely she'd remember this day, though she'd never talk about it. Except she, too, has been dead for years now.

I had put my mother's name into Google, looking for her birthday -- like my name, an unusual combination of things. I don't think there's been another. A bunch of ads came up for finding any information you want about any person. A photo on Flickr I'd posted some years ago from Montreal Pride. A page on a directory of a missing person site. And... a YouTube video from three weeks ago?

This person's YouTube channel is full of short videos on missing people from Washington, with assorted other topics mixed in, like "Eating Ramen while Watching Travel for Food Videos" and "Plugged the Leaking Car Hose with a Sharpie Marker". The format of all the videos is the same: a screen share and a voice-over. The person has been posting multiple new missing person v ideos every day for months; before that, the feed was gardening tips; before that, homeschooling tips for different states; before that, Bible passages. We all contain multitudes.

As did my mother, whose face I was suddenly staring at in B&W reproduction in someone's browser tab.


The voice-over badly mangled the name of my hometown, and noted that my mother's car was found by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. "I don't know if it was broke down or, I don't know what happened, but..." They pulled up the Google Images search results for that bridge. They're picturesque, and sometimes historical. The bridge is famous for having collapsed in 1940.

"If you have any information of what might have happened to her, maybe someone got drunk over the years and started talking, and maybe you're not sure if it's true or if it's relevant or if it'll hep the case but if you have any information about what happened to her, please contact authorities and let them know. Take the weight off your shoulders, put it onto theirs and let them decide if the information is relevant or will help them."

The person who got drunk over the years and started talking was me; my relatives don't ever speak of her, and my father has remarried twice since. I've used it as a weapon, when college boys flirting with majoring in philosophy would get going on suicide as a topic for intellectual banter. I mentioned it at a Women and Gender Minorities in DH event in 2019, on the metaphor of bridges, and how it's not enough to just build them, we need to walk across them together and look out for one another. Sometimes "missing" is a status for paperwork's sake, when a body is never found but you move on nonetheless.

On the plane yesterday, I finally watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, which touched on so many things I love. Alternate timelines, what-if's, the absurd, plastic googly eyes. My mother and I did not get along at all, and it's hard to imagine how more time on the paths we were walking in 1996 would have changed that. Is there a path in the multiverse where we might have had a good relationship? Or would that hypothetical path involve a paradox? Maybe the version of my mother who I'd like is the one who came out of the closet, found a wonderful girlfriend, learned to shrug off her family's expectations, and then adopted a child and never had me.

To the extent I have a relationship with my mother, it's not with the one I coexisted with in this piece of the multiverse. We take the children to SF Pride every year, and tell them we go in honor of their grandmother. I cry when the Dykes on Bikes start off the parade; they remind me of her best friend, who rode motorcycles, and who was the reason I didn't realize as a child that "gay" was deployed as an accusation or slur, rather than a neutral fact like eye color. I wonder if seeing Target and Safeway support Pride might have led my mother out of the closet eventually. Whatever vague sense the children have of my mother, it's equal parts fiction and truth. A missing grandma, in the vague shape of my what-if.

I have information about what happened to my mother, but it's not a weight on my shoulders, or something the authorities would care about. It's just a series of facts and extrapolations, portals to branching paths. My mother was an unhappy housewife, almost certainly a closeted lesbian, who felt that her identity was incompatible with love from her family of origin. The housewife and stay-at-home mom arrangement didn't work for her, but she could imagine no alternatives, and so she literally drove herself mad trying to play a part. Matching clothes were a particular locus of her anxiety; she felt unsure of how to do it, so she'd shop from catalogs to ensure items of clothing would match. She worried my and my sister's clothes wouldn't match, and what then.

Happy 66th birthday, Mom. Today I'm wearing pants with an Animal Crossing print, and giant pockets in enby stripes. My t-shirt is a tribute to Miriam Posner as a data superhero, with background art by Xanda Schofield that speaks truth to power. The sleeves are a trippy red-orange and black design. My glasses are weird. My hair is blue and purple. You'd probably think that none of it matches, but I've discovered a hack: if you stitch fabric together and wear it with confidence, the concept of "matching" no longer applies. Your grandchildren don't know how to properly set a table, not least because we don't even have a kitchen table -- instead, we have a ball pit. I've been married to my best friend from college for almost as long as you were married to my father. I'm happy. I'm sorry you couldn't be in this universe. I hope there's one where you and your wife are celebrating today. Even if it involves hot dog fingers.

Hot dog fingers scene between Evelyn and Deirdre at the laundromat