Nov 20 2012

Last Year’s Thanks, This Year’s Gratitude

On Thanksgiving 2011, I found myself at the home of a new friend, surrounded by my two roommates and an assortment of boyfriends, girlfriends, recent Austin transplants, and other “homeless” pseudo-grown-ups without a place to be.  My life was a bit out of sorts that week – that year, really – and I was throwing myself into the holiday with vigor.

Bobby bought a fantastic local turkey that I prepared (being the only one with any experience in that area, not to mention the only one with a roaster).  Everyone contributed a dish or two.  Holly made queso that we all scooped straight from the crockpot in the hours leading up to the meal.  Hannah talked about the addition of white wine to her gravy.  We had more than enough food, but naturally that was the least important factor anyway.

Once the turkey was adequately roasting, I took an afternoon run through Bobby’s neighborhood and then rinsed off in his shower.  As I was getting dressed again, I heard multiple eruptions of laughter from downstairs and realized that Fran and Leslie had begun “icing” people.  The rules of that particular game are simple:  If you find a hidden Smirnoff Ice, you must drink it all.  Immediately.  Completely.  What better way to liven up Thanksgiving?  People found the bottles in the spice cabinet, the silverware drawer, the microwave, the chip bowl…

I don’t remember what Fran and Leslie made for the meal, but that’s probably because I’d fallen victim to their particular version of hide-and-seek too many times.

After dinner, our bellies full, we all snuggled up on Bobby’s couch with the many dogs we’d brought to the celebration.  I fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV, curled under a warm blanket with Marley.  I woke up to the sound of Dana insisting to Leslie that I was, indeed, alive.

At a time when my sense of family was shifting, and my ‘real’ kin was far away in Massachusetts, I felt at home in Bobby’s cozy house among friends.  When I called my parents from the back patio, I blubbered on deliriously about the food, the alcohol, the football.  But mostly I was giddy with gratitude for the sense of belonging and the fun.  I’d needed lightness and laughter more than ever that year, and I’d found it.


This year is very different.  I have a newly-adopted family coming into town, and I’ll be spending the holiday with them.  The size of the crowd will be similar, I think.  But whereas last year was about singletons – an urban assembly of young people – this year will have a range of ages and life circumstances.  There will be musicians and teachers; writers and artists; doctors and nurses; chefs and lawyers and bankers.  A literal amalgam spanning four different generations.  I’m equally grateful for this gathering, and for the introduction of these new people to my life.  I anticipate a warm, indulgent kickoff to the holiday season.

Part of me is a little sad that last year’s party won’t be repeated.  But I also know that it can’t be.  We wouldn’t be able to recreate it, even if we tried.  It was proof that sometimes the universe gives you just what you need, right when you need it.  And in truth, that isn’t what I need this year anyway.  This year I feel secure and content; there’s something fitting and perfect about spending the holiday quietly, comfortably, with a welcoming cluster of relatives.

And so, with hours to go until I’m truly on Thanksgiving Break, I’m thankful for last year’s transitional, hodgepodge crew and this year’s merged lineup of friendly faces.

Even if this Thursday doesn’t include any Icings.

Nov 9 2012

The First Day of Fall

Naja died on the first day of fall.

It was still relatively warm in Texas, and the mosquitos continued to pepper my legs with bites.  My roommate’s cat, Naja, had been in self-isolation in Jeff’s closet for almost a week, and we’d been worrying over his lack of appetite and resistance to come outside.  I came home from work on the last day of spring and didn’t see Naja – or my roommate – anywhere.

Jeff arrived from the vet soon after, with Naja in hand.  The cat wouldn’t come out of his crate.

“He’s dying,” my roommate told me sagely, his voice tight.

My dachshund danced around Jeff’s feet in a frenzy, whimpering and crying, urging him to put down the fifth member of our menagerie.  But when he gently laid the carrier on the wood floor, Naja wouldn’t come out.  He lay still and weak.  My pup quietly crawled in to find him.

Naja made it through the night, with Jeff curled up on the floor next to him.  But he passed the next afternoon.

It was a year of transition, loss, and goodbyes for both me and Jeff.  We became roommates on the heels of our respective divorces, when we were both wrestling with any number of changing relationships.  I know that Jeff is still unpacking his figurative baggage and making a home for it in his newly-changed life.

As I watched him grieve this next loss, I imagined that letting go of Naja after twelve years must have felt like yet another ending; like another page being turned in the story of his divorce.  Naja was, in many ways, a part of Jeff’s marriage.  Heart-wrenching though it may be, saying goodbye to his pet could be seen as another step toward freedom and a fresh start.

Naja did his job, and he did it well.  The cat saw Jeff through some of the hardest times of his life.  He was a good friend and a warm comfort in a cold bed.  He was there in the rubble when the destruction was done.  He was a constant.  A grounding force when the earth shook.

Jeff and I sat in the living room, crowded around the closet, crying and talking as Naja passed.  And once he did, good friends came over to celebrate his life.  We pressed his painted paw on to a stone from the backyard; made chocolate chip cookies; ordered pizza and drank wine and talked around our tiny kitchen table.

We buried Naja at sunset in a shady spot marked with stones and flowers.  Jeff’s French Mastiff laid down on the fresh soil, looking at us with an open, candid expression.  Jeff took a picture.

The air was warm and sultry like summer, but it felt like fall.