November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks for Loneliness.


Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s Thanksgiving, and I am alone. Lonely, even.

This is not a story about how my life sucks‚ just so you know.

I’m grateful for the contrast of red apples against a bright blue sky, and yellow leaves on a slate grey sidewalk.

I’m grateful for my girls, our home, my job, my friends, a cup of coffee and a huge orange cat to harass me in the morning.

But still: When, while paying for host gifts at our corner natural-foods grocery store, the cheerful 20-something cashier tells me about how he and his partner are going to Portland for Thanksgiving to be with his partner’s family, my first impulse is to toss some money on the counter and make a run for it.

Instead, I stay, steadying myself on the counter.

He’s excited. it’s his first time leaving his family, extending branches out into the world. His eyes are sparkling and all around us there are people greeting one another, home for the holidays.

It is all just beginning, for him. His happiness radiates from him; it’s reaching out, there are buds. I recognize that feeling.

I feel tears coming as my grip on the counter tightens: please, please, please don’t let him ask about my plans. I have wailed in the car already once this week, and likely will do so again unless I pay for this limited-edition craft beer and get out of here.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday; although, for the past couple years, around the second week of November, I have started to dread it.

I love Thanksgiving.

I love the ease and lack of pressure inherent in the day: watching the parade, having coffee, getting dressed in something comfortable but a-little-nicer-than-usual comfortable, putting on a hat, going for a hike, making bread, setting the timer on the turkey, filling the house with yummy smells, people arriving with bottles of wine and covered dishes and smiles, always a somewhat different combination of people, and toasts of gratitude. Seeing cars from Montana and Minnesota in Oregon, from New Jersey and Delaware and New York in Pennsylvania, and meeting your next-door-neighbor’s grandchildren a year taller.

I didn’t notice this the first several years after my divorce, for a whole bunch of different reasons, but the past few Thanksgivings have been a little cold.

I have a family, but they are not here. I have a family of friends; and I have invitations, but they are other people’s children, their homes, their traditions. I join the toasts, raise my glass and feel grateful, but it is as though I’m watching through a looking glass.

Grief has no place at the table, where people are happy and smiling and sparkling at you and there’s so much yummy food.

My girls are gone, their annual tradition to drive with my ex and his partner to Marin to be with friends. I will hear about it after I pick them up, driving through rain or fog back to Eugene where more than likely I’ve spent the weekend puttering about, watching movies, catching up with friends, or, if the recent trend continues, crying and shuffling around the house.

It’s nice to have someone to spend the holiday with.

When you’re in your 40s and divorced, you often get invited to Thanksgiving dinners because your friends want to introduce you to someone. “It’s not a setup,” my friend Kate said on the phone, telling me who would be at dinner. “But if you find him attractive, well then…”

Although that’s kind of her, this isn’t about that. Now, things are are busy enough and emotions are raw—this would definitely be the time you’d meet someone else who is lonely, and they would think you were the cure, or you would think they were, and there is no cure for loneliness other than to ask what it wants you to know.

It took two Thanksgivings for it to answer, and then last year it really hit me over the apple pie.

It had been ten years since my divorce. I had already talked to my mother, and I didn’t really have anyone to call. I curled up into a child’s pose, my forehead against the Mexican tile on the kitchen floor, and sobbed. Then, rather than slash my wrists with the pastry cutter, I got up and finished my pie, which turned out well.

It’s a bleak, foggy morning. I return from my hike at 9:00 a.m. and a half hour later I cannot stand up. My lower back spasms every time I bow to pick up laundry. I am doing laundry on Thanksgiving. There’s nobody in the house other than the cat, and he is asleep on a chair, and there’s a funny smell, and I am throwing myself one hell of a pity party. Leaves are scattered across the hardwood floor, as are papers, and I’m still not sure about my plans. My eyes are rimmed with red. I contemplate calling my friends who invited me and telling them I’m sick, but I have done that too many times this year.

I move the towels to the dryer, and force myself to stand up.

I am nothing if not determined; I get my bike out of the shed. I watch the sky change from fog to light as I move miles under tires, panting, occasionally letting out a “Hah!” or “Oh my.”

The colors of fall are blue, orange, red, yellow, green, maroon, aubergine, garnet… and they pass by. Grey-blue fog lifts over rows of conifers and I want to text the photo to someone, to say hey, look at that, but I keep my phone in my pocket. I feel like maybe this would be too “Look at me, on a bike ride, not crumbling in the kitchen.” It does feel that way at first.

I stop on the ride to snap some photos and drink my tea. I think about heading into work. I was offered the week off, but there are others who have families to spend the holiday with.

That’s it: Maybe this is my real first thanksgiving as an adult, I wonder. Truly, this is the realest, strangest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever felt, even as I learn the meaning of storm in a shadowbox and force to be reckoned with. I love, I love, I love.

There it is again. I wipe the tears and snot from my face with the back of my glove, but more come. I stay in that spot for what feels like a really long time, until I realize my tea is gone and I am starting to shiver and I am laughing at myself, at the scene I must be making.

I touch the space between my ribs, stretch out my neck and breathe, realizing no two Thanksgivings have ever been quite the same.

I pedal home, exchange Facebook messages with my daughters, shower, get dressed, go to dinner. The next day at my NIA class someone will ask me, “How was Thanksgiving with your family?” and I will choke a little at that word. I will brush away tears and tell them that Thanksgiving is the one holiday that reminds me of what I’ve lost.

I will say: I went to friends and they had lobster and we had good conversations and the children were adorable. And then I will ask about theirs, and hear stories of relatives visiting and tofurkey and similar walks in the woods, and then I’ll tell them all the good things about my daughters’ Thanksgiving, and in that moment I am grateful that they are having that, although I miss them, and by the end we will be laughing again.

I walk home from dinner. I pour myself just the teensiest bit of rye whiskey. My friends will soon return from their road trips and there’s one more night of vacation. On the first day of December I will collect my children from their father and begin anew.

Farewell, November, with your crunchy scattered leaves. Soon this year will be gone; it has gone by so fast. Our annual caroling party is in three weeks.

It’s a beautiful night; the moon is bright and the sky is full of stars. I add that to the list of things to be grateful for.

Home, I crawl into bed, glad that it’s over.




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Author: Zanne Miller

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: lee/Flickr

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