Day Six (Thanksgiving)
“What now?” My dad removed his coat and scarf. “It’s only seven. Anyone want to go see a movie? Doorbusters?”
My mom and I looked at him blankly.
“Jigsaw puzzle and Netflix?” my mom said. I told my parents I had homework to do, and they retreated into the basement. They were about halfway done with a three thousand piece rainforest-themed jigsaw puzzle, and they were obsessed.
Every year we went to Thanksgiving dinner at my dad’s friend Tom’s house. Tom lived alone and he would invite four or five families who didn’t have relatives in town. It was always a good time, but Tom was getting old and it seemed like the event got pushed forward by half an hour every year. This year, dinner was done by five-thirty, dessert was served thirty minutes later, and soon after that everyone was out the door so Tom could get ready for bed by eight. Old age didn’t seem very fun.
I sat down at the table in the living room that I’d converted into my homework space over the last couple of days. In the middle of the scattered clump of papers was my nearly blank physics problem set. The textbook was open to a ray diagram for a convex lens. I closed my eyes and rested my head on the book. Rain tapped rhythmically against the roof. Maybe working on the jigsaw puzzle for a while would get my mind moving.
A knock on the door. I opened it and Vanessa was standing there in her yellow rain slicker.
“Hey,” I said. “It’s kind of late.”
She squinted at me like I was out of my mind.
“It’s seven o’clock.”
“Oh. Right.” We went inside and by habit headed directly to the kitchen.
“Do you still have that Swiss hot chocolate?”
“Yeah, it’s super old, but I don’t think it gets stale.” I found the tin in a cupboard. Vanessa had already gotten milk from the fridge and was rummaging around the drawers under the stove for a pot.
“So what brings you across town?” I asked as she got to work on the stove.
“Oh, you know, just trying to follow through on the being a better friend thing. And I’d had enough of the extended family.”
“I feel like it’s part of the deal of the Thanksgiving thing though, sticking around with the family even after you’re sick of them.”
“Where’s your family?”
“I don’t have family.”
“Your mom and dad though.”
“Downstairs working on their jigsaw puzzle.”
Vanessa did the that’s-so-cute-I’m-going-to-cover-my-mouth-with-my-hands-thing.
“They still do jigsaw puzzles? Aww.” She paused. “Yet here you are, not with them.”
“I have homework to do.” Vanessa snorted.
“Like that’s ever a good excuse.” She wandered over to the living room table. “Optics?”
“Good shit.” She returned to the kitchen and sat next to me on the counter. I looked at her. She looked at me and blinked slowly.
“Want to say hi to my folks?” I asked.
“Sure. Let’s wait for the cocoa first though.” We looked at the pot of milk on the stove.
“There’s a saying about this, I think,” I said. Vanessa shrugged. “I heard about Lionel,” I added. “I’m so sorry.” She shrugged again.
“Why didn’t you tell me when it happened?”
She didn’t respond for a while. It seemed like she was searching for an answer herself.
“I guess we hadn’t talked for a a couple of months when he died, and you just didn’t seem like the right person to turn to.”
“And then it just never came up?”
“Well, we haven’t talked very much since then, have we?” Vanessa said this not quite coldly, but almost, and hopped down from the counter to check on the milk. She got a couple of mugs and filled them. I tossed her the tin of choclate.
“Apparently people thought we weren’t talking because we’d hooked up and were awkward about it,”I said. Vanessa laughed and stirred the chocolate into our drinks.
“What does that even mean anyway, ‘hooked up’?” she said. “It’s so imprecise. ‘Kissed.’ ‘Felt up.’ ‘Got pregnant.’ ‘Fellated.’ Hey, there’s no female equivalent to ‘fellate,’ is there? Sexist. Anyway, there’s so much better nomenclature people could be using.” She handed me a mug. I took a sip. It tasted like a meadow filled with velvet bunnies and butterflies. Sophisticated butterflies.
“You know,” Vanessa said thoughtfully, “if you got me pregnant, I wouldn’t keep it.” I made an effort not to snort my mouthful of hot chocolate out my nose.
“Why would you even say something like that?” I asked, making a face.
“Well, maybe like ten years down the line I’d have your baby,” she continued, sitting back down on the counter next to me. “I just mean not if it happened now.”
“Good to know.”
“When Lionel died, I was a two and half months into college. You didn’t call me once during that time. And that’s fair. We were both starting something new, and I didn’t call you either, but it wasn’t nothing. And I was making all these new college friends and taking classes that I loved and doing theatre, and I had that picture of us on my wall — well, I had lots of pictures of us on my wall, but my favorite was the one of you and me sitting on my porch with the James Joyce snowperson and its gross mustache, and we each have a mug of hot chocolate, just like right now, and we’re talking, probably about Ulysses or some shit, and we look so absurdly happy. I love that photo. But I’d look at it and feel this nostalgia, but also this intense sense of distance, that it was just crazy far away, you know, both geographically and temporally. And then Lionel died, and our friendship really started with the snowcat, so I felt almost like it was a symbol, you know, that whatever existed between us was something of the past, that it was over.”
I tried to process this. Vanessa drank her hot chocolate and stared into her cup.
“I guess I’m not sure if I buy that parallel,” I said. “Since the snowcat was just the first — ”
“Damn it, Chris.” Vanessa sounded exasperated. “Who cares if the symbolism doesn’t match up in just the right way? It’s what I felt. I know you like to get super cerebral and analytical and rational about this kind of shit, because I do too, but it’s what I felt. And from what you were saying the other day, I think you get what I mean.
“It’s Thanksgiving, and of course I’m so thankful for you and for all the amazing times we’ve had in the last ten years, but the letting go thing you said the other day has been on my mind, and I don’t know. I’m grateful for what we’ve had, but maybe part of being grateful for something is not holding onto it so tight that you fail to appreciate it. I want the kind of nostalgia where you can look back on life and just be filled with joy at all the wonderfulness in it, not the kind where you keep trying to grasp at the things that are gone.
“We’re going to be friends until one of us dies, Chris, but it’s like you said, things change. I’d love to make a snowperson with you right now, but look, it’s raining outside and there’s no snow left.”
I got up and refilled my mug with warm milk. I passed the pot to Vanessa. We sat on the counter and looked into our hot chocolates.
“We’ll start new traditions,” I said. Vanessa smiled.
“Yeah, okay. When it’s right.”
“Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s give your mom and dad a hand with their puzzle.”