I’m a recent college graduate with my first corporate job – one that pays a living wage and provides health insurance. I have an apartment in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago that I share with my sister, baby niece and a friend of ours. Adult life is beginning. I am independent.
Jenny is visiting an out-of-town pal for the holiday, taking KK with her. Pete has gone to his parents’ place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My sister and I have begun the process of estranging ourselves from our progenitors, and since my mother had it repossessed a year earlier, I no longer own a car to travel to extended family. So I spend Thanksgiving drinking cheap white wine, watching movies and taking naps.
Oh the pathetic, romantic misery of it all! Actually, not so much. At this stage of life, a break from society and the anguish, regret and pain that were regular side dishes on the childhood holiday plate is more than ok. I no longer have to do what is expected. I have my own job and place to live and can get soused while eating frozen food if I want. In almost every way possible, it’s a delicious experience. Jean-Paul Sartre nailed it in No Exit. Hell is other people, man.
I ignore the pangs of loneliness and isolation that accompany my solitary, holiday binge. I am breaking new ground and it feels somehow bold, radical to refuse the traditional mass consumerist, Hallmark-dictated rules. I’m 22. I am revolutionary. I can drink away the deeply rooted sense of rejection that gnaws at the corner of my private party.
Thanksgiving 2001 – 2014
When I reflect upon Thanksgiving 2000, I’m reminded of that scene from Say Anything after Diane Court breaks up with Lloyd Dobler. He’s hanging out in a convenience store parking lot with some slackers from school on a Saturday night, pained and desperate enough to solicit advice from almost any source. When it finally hits Lloyd that the drinking dudes don’t know anything more about love than he, the gang’s representative defensively declares that they are alone, “By choice.” But you can hear the dangling question mark, and can certainly feel the ambivalence. It’s funny, awkward and pitiful – and the scene serves as an accessible sketch of my own cognitive dissonance.
I’m still looking for my way. At times I’m downright disoriented. I make a lot of bad choices. Many of them stem from a self-imposed, internalized tension between doing things “right” by the standards of society, and making decisions that feel authentic and true for me.
Part of the problem – a huge fucking chunk – is that I’m not sure who I am. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’m not sure I have the courage to be who I am – an oversharing writer who works out her issues in public, an American who’s not sure she wants to be part of the ownership economy, a liberal, an overbearing but loving friend, sister and aunt, a crybaby, a stubborn, hardworking, ambitioned career woman who doesn’t want the responsibility of raising children. I want a family but my definition doesn’t fit the norm. As the title character says in the Toni Morrison novel, Sula, “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.” I spent long, sad co-dependent years living for others. Now I want to read. I want to see the world. I want to buy a scooter. I want a passionate relationship with a smart, strong, funny, unusual man who can celebrate my idiosyncrasy.
I’ve butted heads with people who demand more convention, but the least accepting of all of this is I. I will do anything to try to make the shoehorn work. The results? Two divorces, some Sid and Nancy-style breakups, family arguments, financial, career direction and health struggles. I also pass many despondent, confused holidays.
In 2014, I focus on my job, friends, familial rifts and sanity with regular Al-Anon meetings, weekly personal therapy, writing, travel. I don’t date much. I spend a lot of time on my own and it starts to feel good. I guard it jealously. The Say Anything scene fades. I’m alone by choice. It forces me to be honest with myself, consider my inclinations and follow the ones that feel healthy – without regret. On Thanksgiving Eve I spend the night at my sister’s house, watch a movie and have a slumber party with my nieces. It’s exactly what I want.
At any point during the last 15 years, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be, I probably would have directed you to Carrie Bradshaw and Sex in the City. A fabulous, beautiful, urban writer with interesting friends and places to go. Unlucky in love and of course I loathe high heels, but close enough.
I have the life that’s necessary, and it’s better than the Bradshaw fantasy. It’s perfect by no means, and the direction evolves, but I trust myself now. I make leaps and take calculated risks – not dictated by external forces (beyond the basic food, clothing, shelter drivers), but by my truth. A set of principles I can now accept don’t work for everybody. They don’t need to.
I had the most satisfying holiday of my 37-year life last week. It involved almost everyone I love from both sides of the family I share with that unusual man who buys a new plastic wine cup when I accidentally launch mine three floors into the neighbor’s yard. He finishes my text messages when I’m too shaky with emotion, takes care of me when I’m sick and paid the highest compliment in likening my conversation to “Oscar Wilde at a cocktail party.”
Bob only raises his voice during sporting events or while stuck in traffic, and he tells the lamest jokes. He has this routine at the grocery store where every time we walk down the condiment aisle, he offers me an off-brand jar of some Miracle Whip-like substance. He enjoys watching my involuntary gag response. Sometimes when I’ve ignored a pun, he’ll force me to look at him while he repeats it. Then he cracks himself up anew. We have three pets, no kids and can go for long, comfortable stretches of time saying nothing while cuddling or holding hands. Bob cooks. I eat and pay for the cleaning service. I can’t tell you how well it all works.
We did the warm family gatherings this Thanksgiving. Then we retreated to a virtually-abandoned Michigan vacation spot for three days of wine, good food, wood burning fires and outdoor hot tub relaxation. A healthy, perfect for me mix of community and solitude. Bob and our dogs were there of course, but they’re extension of me rather than a situation to make work. I’m quiet and content inside. And that’s a revolution.