Invisible Thresholds

Photo by Scott Dennis

Photo by Scott Dennis

July 23rd was a Wednesday, and it was one day after July 22nd, which was a Tuesday, which is also my mother’s birthday. Which is why my son waited until July 23rd to fly into this world. He listened to my mother’s words when she warned us that if my son were born on July 22nd, after she died he would never be able to celebrate his birthday. Which should be felicitous but wouldn’t be if it were also the anniversary of his dead grandma’s birthday. You cannot celebrate life and death properly in the same twenty-four hour period. Casseroles and birthday cakes do not taste right together.

July 27th would have been no good, either. That one is already the anniversary of the birth of my husband’s late father, Robert Dennis, who died seven years ago on New Year’s Day shortly after the ball dropped in Times Square. He fell to the ground with a thud so strong it cracked his watch and stopped the ticking hands at the same time as his heart. So thankfully Kale Francis Dennis decided to rumble, rock, and pop on July 23rd. That day meant nothing to anyone in either my or my husband’s family, which was good, because now it can mean everything to Kale and we can plan roller skating and bowling parties and it will truly be a happy birth day.

But this is not entirely true either. July 23rd is a very important day to my grandmother. Always has been. My father’s mother Sybil-we all call her Sirri-is an amateur astrologer and a proud Leo, when she is not an art historian or a person who matches your colors to your season and tells you that “red is definitely your best shade” because you are a winter. After 81 years of fashion-forward consciousness, Sirri still drapes herself regularly in bright yellow and fuchsia Versace and Escada silks, expertly folded and attached with gold lion broaches, in homage to her totem.

July 23rd is the first day of the sign of Leo, which comes after July 22nd, the last day of the sign of Cancer. My mother is a Cancer, born July 22nd, and my father is a Leo, born August 2nd, three years apart. They met at Jewish summer camp in the Catskills where Seth, then a senior counselor, put the moves on Bonnie, just a junior counselor, on the tennis courts in between backhands. Bonnie lived in the suburbs of Rochester and Seth in the dorms of Columbia University, a distance somehow surmountable for years in the name of what they deemed “love.” My mother the Cancer and my father the Leo would have their chance to live under the same roof, where they would sometimes happily and sometimes woefully cohabitate for 29 sometimes long and sometimes fly-by years (years, it turns out, can be either long or short depending on their relative numbers of joys and sorrows) before they decided that, in fact, Leos and Cancers do not belong together. After spreading out the astrological calendar before us, and seeing how the pieces fell, we tended to agree.

And so it was deemed by Sirri that, in the hopes of adding to the Kantor pride (in addition to my father and grandmother, my grandfather and several cousins are also Leos), I should keep my legs crossed until at least July 23rd, even though the doctor at the big hospital had deemed July 19th the unofficial official due date. I’ll try, Sirri, I’d assure her over the phone, I’ll do my best. And without fail my grandmother the Leo who experiences forgetfulness and memory troubles would call again, and again I’d have to remind her of when Kale was set to emerge, and she’d pause, mentally arranging and calculating the astrological calendar, and then she’d instruct me to keep my legs crossed so I could produce a baby Leo, that Cancers are no good. And I’d ignore her comment all the while assuring her that I’d do my best, picturing my thick, pregnant legs stuck to a chair in New York summer heat, with my legs crossed for five days straight just to pass the invisible threshold between the houses of Cancer and Leo.

And so it was that Kale Francis Dennis waited obligingly until 1 a.m. on July 23rd to begin his rumblings, just enough time for the Leos to usher the Cancers out the door. And so it remains that Kale’s great grandmother Sirri is excited to tears with each phone call where I remind her that Kale is, indeed, a Leo, and that he is not-thank God-a Cancer. Because Cancers are no good. And July 22nd is still my mother’s birthday, and July 27th the anniversary of the birth of my late father-in-law. And each 24-hour section of life is earmarked appropriately, and can be celebrated or remembered with a chicken casserole or a vanilla birthday cake with oversized candles.

Marissa Dennis is a Ph.D. student in the media, culture and communication program at NYU, where she is studying the role of the medical interpreter in New York hospitals. With a background in cultural studies, she spent several years in Latin America studying cross-cultural issues in mental health and sexuality. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son and is known for her salsa dancing.