I have started and stopped this post a half a dozen times already. There just isn't any easy was around this holiday, and every angle I try to put on it feels disingenuous. I have thought about the things that hurt and the things that I was most thankful for that have changed. I have thought about the things in my life now that I am thankful for. None of it feels right. It all feels like one more tribute to the holiday, like I am trying to put a good face on things. There just is not a good way to approach this. Things suck, and they are going to suck for a while, so I may as well dig in, have a beer, eat some turkey, and ride it out.
In most years our Thanksgiving tradition involved taking one of the old cars, usually the Mercury Cougar, and heading up to Sedona. The church where my Mom was the rector would hold a big potluck dinner each year. It was easy, we didn't need to cook, we just needed to show up and eat. It was all of the good things Thanksgiving has to offer with a fraction of the work. We would bring the dogs with us, and then use them as an excuse to hit the road when the party started to die down.
Those Sedona Thanksgivings stand out in my memory now for two reasons. The first being how amazingly comfortable they were, and the second being for how much we took them for granted. It is impossible to know how much something affects you while you are in the moment. There was a part of me, and I'm sure of Melissa, that viewed the two hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona to have a community dinner with a community we didn't really know well as a pain in the butt. As the years progressed the dinners became more meaningful, if just because we were together, and were with my parents. A time as a family, to enjoy each others company for one more year. The togetherness became the thing that mattered, that was most important.
I have only ever had one Thanksgiving alone. It was in 2004. I was finishing my Masters thesis, getting ready to defend it that following week. Melissa had family up in Scottsdale that had invited us over for dinner that afternoon. I felt awkward spending time with people who at the time were strangers. Plus, I felt under the gun and thought that the noble thing to do would be stay home and write. She went and vowed to bring a plate home for me.
I had spent most of that semester, my last one, writing my thesis. I had managed to land the first job of my career that October, a full-time internship that was guaranteed to convert to a full-time, full-benefits, staff engineering job contingent on my graduation. I had completed all of my classes that spring, leaving just the thesis and a successful defense to get my degree. All my eggs neatly in one basket.
The stresses of successfully completing my degree and starting my career had been compounded that summer. Melissa and I had gotten engaged and were starting to plan our wedding for that following June. Not directly dependent on my graduation, but certainly affected by it.
As I sat in the empty house that Thanksgiving afternoon all of these concerns were on my mind. The strain and exhaustion eventually gave way to a mild depression rooted in my concerns for the near and long term future. After about two hours of trying and failing to write, I gave up and turned the TV on. Whether it was nostalgia or self-pity, I settled on A Charlie Brown Christmas. The late afternoon light gave way to early evening darkness. I let the growing darkness overtake the house, too worn out to turn on lights in the house. Soon I was bathed in the gentle light of the TV.
By the time she made it home I was a wreck and made several frenzied promises to her and to myself to never be apart from her again on a major holiday. She sat with me that night, as we would sit together on countless nights over the next 12 years, and we talked through everything together, with love and friendship. Soon it was all okay, everything in its right place.
I was able to keep my promises this year. I am not alone, nor will I be for Christmas, New Year's or any other day of the year. Sure, I may be physically by myself sometimes, but she is with me, in mind, memory, and spirit. I will also not be alone thanks to so many family and friends who have reached out to me, who have offered me a place at their tables and in their hearts, who have sent me notes this week letting me know that we are in their thoughts, who have saved me a plate for when I get home.
I am in Texas right now, with my sister and her husband, spending time with my one-year-old niece. I have had a lot of apprehension headed in to this weekend, but making this trip has ended up being easier that I expected. Like that night in 2004, I feel like Melissa has been here with me, telling me that the future is nothing to fear.