Saturday, November 29, 2008

Giving actual factual thanks

I worked on Thanksgiving morning. We were understaffed because we were just as crazy busy as I told people we would be and I was mildly ignored. Ah well. We got a lot of people their coffee who would have otherwise had caffeine headaches, including hospital staff, stranded foreign research types, and families on their way to the feast. I saw one of my regulars put a fiver in the tip box out of sheer appreciation. Awesome.

But here's the excellent news: Christmas came early! Santa deeply appreciated my ingratiating comments and poured socks and chocolate and can openers and happiness down upon me! Not one, but TWO tear-inducing boxes showed up on my doorstep brimming with help from lovely, lovely friends.

And here's what I have to say: Thank you, thank you, thank you. And also, thank you for reading past my self-amusing bullshit to help me out when I'm too ashamed to really ask for help.

My feet are warm. Delicious.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Calling all cooks...

It's that time of year again, when I am pointedly not in New York for Thanksgiving. Please send me a favorite holiday recipe for my mini-feast! I will think of you fondly as I prepare it in my jammies on Thursday morning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

a baleful bachelorette

Galloping toward me with terrifying velocity, here comes my ten-year high school reunion. Put aside the usual stressors of the holidays and think of the horror of facing high school all over again. I wasn’t so good at it the first time.

I freely acknowledge that I’m not actually going back to high school. It’s not like the movies – we’re not queuing up outside the gym in nice suits and shoulder-padded dresses, playing grown-up in the nursery. The class president (who’s actually not a douche, thank goodness) organized some space at a bar big enough to accommodate a crowd.

Not sure who will show up, but I know I won’t remember names or details. We will ask each other, “So what are you doing these days?” and, “How’s life in Florida?” and, “How are the kids?”

It’s occurred to me that I should have a sentence prepared that I can repeat on command; something simple and only slightly artful where facts are smudged. I need something translucent but not transparent. No one need know how much I’ve struggled over the last ten years, right?

My parents, who were in town this weekend for a chorus concert, bless’m, reminded me that my view of my own life is a bit exclusive these days. My mother reminded me of grad school, travels abroad, publishing, non-profits, Boston, singing… The facts are all there and they seem impressive from afar. My brain glances over these things as surreal or unimportant and clings to hospitals, deaths, surgeries, dumpings… the soul-swindling monotony of a job that does not pay a living wage for a company I can’t believe in.

Here’s the fascinating thing, however: my mother kept bringing up my single status. She said that I could tell them I was “in love, and now looking again,” to appease them. I know that a ton of people from my class are married or attached, but it never occurred to me to be uncomfortable as a bachelorette. She mentioned it enough to make me realize how preoccupied she is with my marriage prospects, or total lack thereof. This must be one of the things she worries about when she frets away with thoughts of me. To her, I must be lonely.

So I present to you yet another dimension of parent-induced insanity. While they’re here they not only convince me that I’m unstable, unable to support myself, sickly and pitiful, but now I’m also incredibly lonely – adrift in the world without a captain to steer me right.

Yes, I know that’s ridiculous. I know I should have some rallying anger against the very thought. I should dig up thoughts of all my excellent friends, tepid dates, excellent daily flirtings; all the things that show my own agency in creating connections in this city. Alas, there’s something tempting in my post-parental-visit emotional hangover that pushes me toward self-pity. I am alone. I am lonely. I am unloved… even (gasp!) ten years after High School. I am a hopeless case.

So this is the feeling that propels tv heroines to take a stranger to a party and pretend he’s the fiancée. Silly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

booooks are goooood

Paper Towns came in at the library! Yay John Green!

JoBiv: (smiling, thrusting library card at young, pleasant librarian) I have a book! I have a book!
Young Pleasant Librarian: You do, eh? (She pops out of seat and checks her shelf)
JoBiv: I do! I'm kinda excited.
YPL: No kiddin'. John Green? (Returning to seat and proceeding with checkout.)
JoBiv: Have you read him? Great stuff: funny, intelligent, respectful to the reader...
YPL: I've been meaning to read him... He wrote... An Abundance of Katherines...?
JoBiv: Yes yes! So good! Read it read it!
YPL: Okay... (laughing, humoring JoBiv) ... So you have a two-week due date on this book, but by the look of things you won't need that much time.
JoBiv: I don't think it'll be a problem. (melodiously) Thank yooouuu!
YPL: Thank you. Heehee.

Oh holidays.


I don't go home for Thanksgiving. I haven't been home for Thanksgiving since undergrad, I believe, and this has worked well for me. I have my little ritual: rent movies that I would be embarrassed to watch with other people around, watch the parade in the morning and cook recipes from friends for a mini-feast.

Last year I ended up at a serious feast after working the day at the cafe. That worked out alright. It was a huge crowd of friends and I enjoyed myself, but honestly, was pretty happy to get the hell outta dodge when it was all over.

The year before I spent with The Novelist's family in a quaint picturebook New England house. Roaring fire, spiked hot cocoa, fair isle sweaters included.

This year I want to work at the cafe, and I'll tell you several excellent reasons why:

1. I don't need to go home, and several other people do. Being available that day means other people can spend time with their families. That's cool with me.

2. I like to see my regulars on holidays when they expect us to be closed and are ever-so-happy when they see we're open. They need their coffee before they travel, they need a place to study for the paper that's due next Monday (there's always a paper due after Thanksgiving), they need a warm place to take the kids for an hour so their mother/father/caregiver doesn't kill them with a turkey baster. And the hospital doesn't close on holidays, does it? No sir. How pissed would you be if you had to do surgery on Thanksgiving and there was no good coffee around to start your day? PISSED, I tell you.

3. I like to laugh at foreigners who have no idea why the whole city closes down so people can eat turkey in celebration of a handful of religious zealots swindling the aboriginal culture. Poor foreigners.

4. We make mad tips, and we split them for that day. Whatever we're tipped we take home, on the spot. This usually doubles my tip income for the week.

5. It's a palpable excuse for staying in Boston. Maybe that should be number one.

Our manager conducted a casual poll on everyone's holiday plans and discovered that - lo! - all the college kids would be gone. Shocker. He scrambled to figure out everyone's availability. I told him that not only am I available, I would LOVE to work on Thanksgiving.

He... didn't schedule me.

Hmm. What now?

I could go on with my mini-feast, but I honestly can't afford the groceries. I could acquiesce to several impatient friends who have invited me to their assorted meals. I could beg some of the people who ARE scheduled to give me that shift.

Yeah. Think I'll beg.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

good grief?

Watching one of my closest friends deal with the slow whittling away of her grandfather, I’ve been a valuable support because I’ve seen it. I can sympathize. I can do what she needs me to do, which is mostly to exist in common knowledge; to share the onus.

And then, when she’s not looking, I choke on my memories and the freshly overturned soil of my past losses. I ache in that weird spot in my chest where my heart must be squeezing itself in useless, useless grief.

How is it that my life is most punctuated by funerals? I’m trying to figure this out: is it that there have been more in my life than in others? Or was it timing? I started going to funerals when I was eleven, so it’s possible that I’ve clung to those experiences because of the absolute shock to my eleven-year-old mind with the first one. Psychologically it makes sense that I’m still ruminating over something that was so bewildering then. It left a big messy pile in my brain that won’t right itself.

Then I think that maybe this is natural, too. The grieving process has no set time limit. Who can say how long a person can hurt? Memories can blindside you whenever they surface. I can catch a scent of beeswax and find myself transported to the Russian Orthodox church, kissing a paper crown on my grandmother’s forehead with my brain whirring away, trying to figure out if I killed her with inaction. Countless hospital patients come in and out of the café with their tired gaits and pinched faces, all evoking the Via Dolorosa of a passage to death. Without warning I’m eleven again, pressing myself against the too-clean wall of a hospital corridor, desperately seeking the courage to go in and look at my dried-out grandfather, speak to him, smile at him, bring him some last comforts, avoiding the leering ghosts in wheelchairs who cough around their dismantling bodies.

The truth is that I forgot about the healing process entirely. I’m separated enough from those family and friends, those with whom I mourned, to have forgotten the period of communal laughter and tears. My friend had piles of pictures with her last night. There she was with various embarrassing hairstyles and awkward body shapes, laughing and loved by her warm grandfather. Here’s the beach house where they spent their Augusts together, the whole family. Here’s the graduation party for her brother. Here are the countless times she got stuck or lost and he reached in to untangle the problem and deliver her to safety. Here are the jokes and the memories – stories she’d never heard before and the stories they’ve all memorized by rote.

The wake is tonight. Shane’s was the last wake I attended, inappropriately dressed and manic with proprietal grief. I remember the vast line, the clogged funeral home, his parents smiling and sharing memories, graciously, so graciously making a space for the rest of us to mourn him. I’d turned over a box of artifacts to them: livid paper towel doodles of inside jokes and odd notes that showed his bizarre and contagious sense of humor. I finally got to meet his high school friends and the all the people who’d watched him go through his childhood dramas. We all poured our love and grief into the middle of that space. We fed off of it desperately. I gave and took angrily, not knowing what I would need for my own stores in the coming years without him.

I hope for my friend that her process is more cathartic. God, that sounds almost clinical, but I do mean it. I hope she cries her heart out and then finds that space that hurts with emptiness, and slowly gathers memories to fill it in again over the years. There will be the spot on the pew where her grandfather should have sat at her wedding. She will tell her babies about how he would have loved to meet them. She’ll be caught off guard reaching for the phone when she needs to know which back road leads to her destination, realizing she can’t rely on Gramps this time. It will hurt, but it will also slowly heal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An early Christmas list

Dear Santa,

The past year was a sparse one in terms of lifestyle, and I do not ask to catapult to a life of luxury, but please, I would giggle with glee if you would tote the following things to my apartment this Christmas:

1. A can opener. One that isn't rusty. It doesn't even have to be new.
2. A mattress pad for a queen-sized bed. It DOES have to be new.
3. Socks. No really, I won't complain if you bring me socks like I did when I was an ungrateful brat of an eight-year-old.

Also, Santa, have you lost some weight? No really, you're doing something different with your hair, maybe. You look fantastic! I'm not just saying that.