So, another Thanksgiving has come and almost gone.
Another holiday. Another celebration, though not what I’d planned, not what I’d expected. Good, though. Better.
Today, instead of the big Thanksgiving dinner I’d been imagining all year long, I had a much quieter, more intimate dinner. It was better, really. Tomorrow, I’ll have my big celebration. Not with the family I was born into, but the family I’ve chosen, the family that I’ve gathered and that has chosen to gather around me. Today, though, was a different celebration all together. Rather than distract myself from a bitter anniversary with lots to do and a big crowd, filled with noise, I spent the afternoon and evening with three very dear people. A friend who saw me through the confirmation of my diagnosis with cancer three years ago. Who stayed with me when I was checked into the hospital unexpectedly, making sure I was settled, forever earning her a soft spot in my mother’s heart. And her son, a young man I don’t know too well, but who’s quite something in his own right. And another friend, who is hard to pin down. One of the things I enjoy about her, actually, is that just when you think you have her figured out, she reveals some new facet, some new twist that shows you really haven’t figured her out at all. She’s the riddle to which there is no answer. And, surely, my readers know by now just how much I love those virtually impossible to solve puzzles, especially when they come in human form.
As always seems to happen during events like this, someone shares a secret with me. Something intimate and private and not known to the greater mass of people. I don’t know if it was the tryptophan or sugar-high of the Goode Company pecan pie or some weird vibe I give off, but, well, there it is. And, outside of mentioning how amazed I am that such a diverse variety of people find me worthy of being trusted with such very intimate details of their lives, I do my best to keep those personal secrets. In truth, I am honored to be trusted so, since I know so very well how I was not always so trustworthy. It’s hard for me to remember that these people never knew me in that life, that they have only known me as I am today, not how I was when I was so deeply and painfully enmeshed with my ex-wife and that life we led together.
I’m proud of the fact that I made it through the entire day with out telling the story. The story of how she left the Sunday before Thanksgiving. How we’d had a discussion, a somewhat one-sided discussion, about how I knew she’d been cheating on me for months. I stated it as a fact I knew, though, in truth, I only had circumstantial evidence and a feeling. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I was right.
So, while I was in the shower, without any additional warning, she gathered up her daughter and a couple of suitcases, jumped into the only working car we had and left. There was no note, no voice-mail. I had to call her. Since she didn’t answer her cell-phone, I had to call her parent’s house to find out where she was and find out what was really happening. I knew, of course, but it was as if my mind refused to understand it, refused to take it all in. I imagine it was a kind of shock, like what amputees feel when they wake up and find a limb has gone missing.
A week later, she was in Phoenix, Arizona with her lover, who’s become her fourth husband. And, I’d gotten into her e-mail, where I read everything they’d been e-mailing back and forth for six months or more. I read every last detail of what she’d told him about me. Every lie and half-truth, spun to serve her particular purpose. Worse still was seeing every intimate detail I’d ever shared with her, every embarrassing secret, every fear, every vulnerability vomited out and mocked to paint me as a particular sort of person, to color me through a very much not-rose-tinted lens as something small, dark and twisted. Something I very much feared I really was and, in my worst moments, believe I still am or can become.
But, today, I was reminded that I am not that man. Neither the man I was nor the man she tried to make me. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure who or what I am today, this year, this moment, but I most certainly know what I am not. I am not the man who was an empty, hollow shell when she left. Nor am I the fool who was suicidal at the thought that of being left and getting a divorce. Perhaps most importantly, I am not the man who was ready to stay married to a woman who obviously had grown to hate him nor am I the man who hated himself so much that he felt drawn to someone who never loved him and only wanted, well, wanted something from him.
No, today, people who didn’t even know me five years ago embraced me as part of the family that they chose to be with on this holiday. They reminded me that I do have integrity and that I am worthy of trust. That I’m safe. Safe enough to be truly intimate with in the most important way possible.
So, this was Thanksgiving. And, this year, though the anniversary that I can’t seem to escape hit me harder this year than it has in several years, I was reminded just how much I have to be thankful for today.
I am thankful for my family, both the one I was born into and the one that has chosen each other. I am thankful to be employed and reasonably solvent. I’m thankful that I have a far deeper spirituality today than I did even five years ago. I’m thankful that I have both the inspiration and means to be artistic, in my way, and have a hobby that I can pursue with as much relish and intensity as I care to put into it. Most of all, and this has not always been true, I am thankful this year to simply be alive.
Tomorrow, I will have an unknown number of people over throughout the afternoon and evening, for a bit of fellowship and food. Even though my house is not quite in the shape I’d like it before having people over, I still look forward to seeing everyone who makes it by, for however long they can be here. I look forward to the celebration of who we are and our friendships. Though I often feel very alone this time of year, being separated from my biological family and not in a relationship, tomorrow I will celebrate the amazing number and variety of friends who share my life today. My life looks very different today than I expected it to, and, more importantly, than it did five years ago, but it’s good life, filled with good people, each of whom I treasure for who they are.
So, I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving this year. I know I did, and I know why I’m thankful.
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Our dignity is not in what we do but in who we are."