He didn’t much care for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t the concept that bothered him so much as the pedestrian attachments and (mis)understanding people ascribed to it.
Besides, the season always involved him traveling back to where he grew up.
Traveling back to the place he couldn’t wait to escape was bad enough, but to have people constantly ask him about it was almost too much. Not because of the kindness and the genuine curiosity but because they kept calling it “home“.
“Are you going home for Thanksgiving?”
“So where is home for you?”
“How long does it take you to get home?”
He didn’t like calling it home because, well, it never really was.
It was just where he lived…until he didn’t.
She loved Thanksgiving. In fact, she loved the whole Holiday season.
While she didn’t necessarily love the travel she had to go through to get back, she genuinely looked forward to seeing her family. She loved them. The cooking, the eating, the stories, the laughter, she even loved the dysfunction.
While it was home when she grew up, it wasn’t her home any more. But it was close.
She had made her own home somewhere else.
He knew returning “home” for Thanksgiving meant the inevitable Wednesday night gathering of the high school hoi polloi at whatever watering hole had been deemed “of the moment” and had been posted on whatever social media site had been deemed “of the moment“.
He didn’t keep in touch with anyone from high school. Not because he didn’t care it was just…well, yea, mostly he didn’t care. These gatherings were less about catching up with people he didn’t care about and more about serving as a F.A.T. (familial avoidance tactic).
If he was given the option of watching his younger brother corral his brood and bitch about his wife while sitting under the judgemental eye, and heavy silence, of his parents, or feigning interest in his high school friends he decided that false interest was definitely the lesser of evils.
She had remainded friendly with many of her friends from high school.
She was seemingly friends with everyone.
She was cheerful.
She was funny.
She was smart.
She was happy.
She was sexy.
There was no question she would be looking forward to the annual gathering.
Back then, he was the seemingly sullen misanthrope.
She was the bubbly cheerleader.
Back then, they even hooked up a couple of times but never had anything sustainable.
She played by the rules.
For better or for worse.
Mostly, it seemed, for the better.
He lived his life by his rules.
For better or for worse.
Mostly, it seemed, for the worse.
She flew in Tuesday night because she wanted to be early and get as much time in with her family as possible. She was acutely aware of time and its impact and of its importance.
Coming back to her dad’s house was always a mixed blessing. Sure, love flowed effortlessly from room to room and the overall vibe was warm, it just wasn’t home for her. But it was close.
After her mom died, the house got a little colder. A little too large. And then her marriage ended. She had more sadness associated with the house and her hometown than any sense of love or warmth. She needed some distance and the freedom to create her own home, if she wanted to.
Turns out, she wanted to.
Creating her own life elsewhere came with a host of its own frustrations. Highlighted during the holiday season. Sure, there was the freedom that success had given her but the success of the single woman meant that her cross to bear would be holiday travel. Her siblings ever-growing stables of children meant travel was not only cost prohibitive but a logistical nightmare.
Once she got bore witness to the chaotic coordination and loving mayhem that accompanied her siblings and their respective families, she was reminded that in the pantheon of life’s irritants, holiday travel was infinitely easier for her to contend with.
He had flown in late on Wednesday. Sure, it was the worst time to travel and on one of the heaviest travel days, but statistically, there are less plane crashes the closer you get to a holiday. He found some comfort in that.
Growing up, the vibe of the house he and his younger brother lived in had been flaccid. Now it was sad and heavy. It certainly didn’t lighten any with his mothers steadfast refusal to remove his wedding photographs and flagrant unwillingness to accept his divorce from the woman who left him. His pleas to remove the pictures and for any kind of understanding were resolutely ignored.
And yet he returned a couple of times a year.
He arrived at his parents house just as his younger brother was unloading his mini-van. Hugs and light laughter were passed around as they made their way in to the place where they once lived.
He tossed his leather weekend bag on the bed in his old room and stuck around just long enough to have half a beer with his brother and father before heading out.
All Wednesday she bounced around her dad’s home getting ready, sipping wine, chatting digitally, on the phone or with whomever happened to be around her. She was adept at holding down no less than three conversations at a time, in addition to whoever wandered into her room while she was getting ready.
Her ability to maintain numerous conversations at one time served her well in her professional life. The jury remained out on its effectiveness in her personal life.
Coordinating logistics with her friends was never a simple task so she decided to drive herself for two reasons. Well, three. One, coordinating logistics with her friends was a nightmare. Two, she knew it would be less likely she would drink a lot and three, it was a way to maintain a sense of control.
If it sucked, she could leave guilt free.
After finishing his dinner at barely passable Italian place, he paid his bill. Realizing he was going to be too early to the festivities, and lacking the desire to drink to excess, he stopped off at the local convenience store (what he would call a bodega) and picked up a can of Diet Coke. He sat in the parking lot sipping his soda, thumbing through his email and reading the paper silently begrudging the fact he quit smoking.
Eventually, he left the convenient store parking lot and made his way to the generically named Irish bar located in the same crappy strip mall where he used to buy, sell and smoke pot years ago. He pulled into the parking lot with a mixture of dread and excitement, also known to him as anxiety. He laughed as he parked the car, sifting through his coat pocket until he found the Xanax he knew would be there.
He popped it in his mouth and took a pull from his can of Diet Coke to push it down before venturing into the relative unknown.
She walked in and it seemed as though shrieks would follow her into each group she found herself in.
She seemed genuinely interested in the children’s photos people jammed in her face and listened patiently to the accompanying stories. She was hyper aware not to draw attention to her life story and deflected any personal questions.
Not that she had anything to hide. She didn’t. Quite the contrary, she lived a very good life but didn’t feel compelled to talk about it. She was happy in the moment and enjoyed other people’s happiness.
He walked in and was recognized before he was able to recognize anyone. Which was just as well. He made the rounds, shaking hands, meeting wives, slapping backs, feigning interest in children’s photos that people jammed in his face and the accompanying stories. He, too, was hyper aware to not draw attention to his life story and managed to deflect any personal questions.
Not that he had anything to hide. He didn’t. Quite the contrary, he lived a good life. He just prefered not to talk about it.
After his second beer, and third cost breakdown on teenage orthodontia, he was reminded of how acutely different his choices were.
Not necessarily better or worse…just different.
Besides, who can say whose choices are better or worse than others? Well, you might just be surprised at the number of people who are actually willing to offer up an opinion about such things.
She saw him. He had a waist length black leather jacket that, even with the patches over the holes, had seen much better days, an open western shirt covering a skull t-shirt. She noticed his jeans were new but worn, a paradox she struggled with, which covered his well-worn black motorcycle boots.
More urban thrift store than urban chic.
It was exactly how she remembered him.
She turned her back to him and moved on.
He saw her. She was dressed in a black t-shirt, covered by a form-fitting grey sweater that simply said “London” which hung just below her butt, which was packed perfectly into her jeans that fell on to a well-worn, but recently shined, pair of black motorcycle boots.
She was more Scotch and Soda than J. Crew.
Definitely not how he remembered her.
He made his way towards her.
She felt his presence behind her and thought she heard a “Hey” once or twice, but dutifully ignored it as she swam through the crowd like a shark on a mission.
He suspected she had seen him and probably heard him because he saw her head move when he yelled “Hey” the second time. The bar was small enough that tracking her was dumb so he muscled his way to the bar and ordered a beer.
No sooner had he taken his first sip then she tapped him on the shoulder, “Hey, can you order me a drink?”
He got her the drink (vodka and soda, no f’ing fruit).
She laughed and swore she had not seen him.
They laughed and made a toast to one another.
He asked her what she was doing with her life.
She didn’t think or deflect.
She asked him what he was doing with his life.
He didn’t think or deflect.
He talked about where he lived, what he did and what he was trying to do.
She talked about where she lived, what she did and how much she loved it.
She asked him what had taken him to where he was.
He said he didn’t know. It was just where he found himself.
He asked her if she was married.
She laughed out loud and said “You first.”
They walked towards the one open table and stood talking for a long time.
Throughout the night, they laughed and riffed off one another finding more and more in common…but not too much. They spoke to each other with a familiarity and comfort they both were silently in awe of. There was a warmth between them that, over the course of the night, had permeated that generic Irish bar.
They entertained the people, the couples and small groups who would stop by their table. But mostly, they entertained each other. What was apparent to them was apparent to all.
Last call came and they walked out together and stood on the sidewalk. It’s safe to say they stood in an awkward silence neither of them had encountered in decades. But as the bartender had told them “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
Neither wanted to leave but both knew they couldn’t stay.
He asked how long she was in town.
She said she was tied up for most of the weekend.
He asked if he could call her.
She said she would like that.
He grabbed her and kissed her.
She gave in willfully.
He pulled away and said he wanted to see her again.
Blushing, she fished in her purse for her keys and said she would like that.
She pulled her keys out and he grabbed her hand and walked her to her car.
She pressed the button on the key FOB to unlock the doors as they got closer.
He didn’t want to let go, but he did so to open the door.
She kissed him on the cheek and got into the car.
He held the door until she looked up at him and smiled. He closed the door and they looked at one another through the glass for a moment until each gave the other one simple nod. At the same time.
She started her car.
He turned to walk toward his.
She smiled because it was Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday.
He smiled because he finally had something to be thankful for.