Sometime around July or early August of this year, I had the thought: “At least this year I won’t be alone for Thanksgiving.”
As I’ve mentioned in previous Thanksgiving Day blogs, Thanksgiving isn’t an elaborate holiday for my family. For the last decade or so, my parents have gone to Colorado Springs, where they eat out, go on hikes, and shop like madwomen (my mom, not my dad) on Black Friday. Perhaps our lack of tradition is part of being a small family, where Thanksgiving is really just…dinner? With less-than-favorable foods*?
*I dislike all Thanksgiving foods. The exception is my mom’s cranberry sauce, which she makes us for Christmas.
Joining my parents in Colorado is an every-other-year thing. It’s a trek to get to the southwest, and since I know I’ll be home for Christmas, Thanksgiving is just a bonus. If we follow through with this mathematical rotation, I should have visited Colorado last year, in 2019. But I mistakenly requested the wrong days off from the Food Tour and was scheduled to work on Black Friday and Saturday, and since no one else had trouble discerning the day on which the holiday fell, all the other guides had plans and couldn’t swap with me.
But last year wasn’t my first solo Thanksgiving.
In 2018 I had actually been looking forward to being in Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. Every year since I’d moved to Providence, friends had invited me Friendsgivings, or families had asked me to join them since I was a family-less wanderer in New England—I felt loved and cared for and not forgotten. But this time all of my friends were away for the holidays, or celebrating with their own families, or celebrating with a significant other’s family. There were no Friendsgivings, no families, no invitations.
A week before Thanksgiving I met a homeless man near campus. On the night we met he had no jacket and was shivering, and I couldn’t feel okay with myself if I only gave him $2 when what he needed was a coat.
“Let’s see what we can find,” I said.
We went to several different stores, talking to sales people, trying on jackets, and after finding one he liked, I realized that shopping on the main drag of an Ivy League university is a bad idea. I care about you, man, but I can’t spend $350 on a coat.
“Maybe Walmart?” Aaron said.
“There’s a Walmart in Providence?” I asked.
I told him he could navigate, and as we walked to my car, Aaron said something to the effect of: “Are you sure you don’t mind driving a stranger in your car?” And that’s the first time the thought occurred to me, Is this a bad idea?**
**objectively, yes. But it worked out okay.
Thank God for Walmart. For a much more reasonable price than $350, I was able to buy Aaron a winter jacket, gloves, a scarf, a hat, and warm socks. It wasn’t everything he needed, but I felt better knowing he was better dressed for cold weather.
And that’s why, I think, he wanted my phone number. Throughout the evening, he kept alluding to “my boyfriend,” and I never corrected him, so he thought I was taken. He promised he wasn’t hitting on me; he only wanted to keep in touch with me because I was “the nicest lady he’d ever met.” Flattery will get you everywhere. I gave him my work phone number.
The next time I heard from him was the day before Thanksgiving. By then I knew I had no plans, so I asked if he would like to have dinner together. We could have a Thanksgiving meal, I offered: Aaron, me and “my boyfriend.***”
***I recruited my friend, M-Dogg.
And thus we had Thanksgiving 2018.
M-Dogg not only figured out a way to come to Providence after his car broke down (he lives in Worcester, MA), but he also brought a sleeping bag as a gift for Aaron—who, ironically, also grew up in Worcester.
M-Dogg made it to Providence via a family friend, we’ll call him Ned, who offered to drive if M-Dogg treated him to a second Thanksgiving dinner. (Ned spends every Thanksgiving with M-Dogg’s family, and though I’d heard of Ned, I hadn’t yet met him.) I wasn’t sure what to expect, but honestly, at this point, it seemed like the Thanksgiving for misfit toys. The more the merrier.
Thank God also for restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving. Most especially Greek restaurants. There was one on the main street of campus, where Aaron and I first met, and they were offering a Thanksgiving pre-fix meal as well as their normal menu. The four of us met on Thayer Street, and it was a very cold night.
Aaron arrived, and he didn’t look so good. The brand new jacket barely a week old looked like it’d be run over by a car and dragged through the mud. His gloves and hat were missing (stolen, he said), and he seemed like a different person. More melancholy, perhaps, and quieter, more skittish. He already knew that M-Dogg would be there, although Ned was a surprise, and I wondered if he was uncomfortable to be around people he didn’t know. But Ned was warm and kind and seemed unphased to be spending Thanksgiving at a Greek restaurant with a stranger (me) and a homeless person.
Speaking of unphased: I need to give a shout out to our waiter, Donald, who—as I wrote in my diary—deserves a crown. He was cheerful. He was helpful. He didn’t cast one sideways glance at our table, even when things were obviously awkward. He embodied joy, and I was so grateful to him at the end of the night, I could have hugged him.
We ran the gamut of dinners. Aaron and Ned wanted a burger. M-Dogg ordered a gyro and we split a Greek salad, and I ordered a pumpkin bisque and assortment of dips****. We shared pecan pie and baklava, just like in the old country. On more than one occasion, I thought Aaron might fall asleep in his food, but he always came to. Over the course of the evening, M-Dogg transitioned (as per Aaron) from my boyfriend, to my fiancé, to my husband. We just nodded along.
****truly, this is my idea of a great Thanksgiving feast. And little did I know, hummus would become my Thanksgiving tradition henceforth
After dinner, M-Dogg gave Aaron his old sleeping bag, and said—quietly, to me—I should have given him the below freezing bag. We each felt a sinking pit in our stomachs as we considered the reality that, on this freezing night, we were off to a warm house and Aaron was not. It brought to mind something I’d heard in a sermon: that as long as there is someone who is without food, or shelter, or basic human rights, none of us can experience true peace.
And that was my Thanksgiving of 2018.
Last year, as I mentioned, I found myself again with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
I treated it like a snow day without snow: I wrote a blog, I went for a run, I ate hummus and drank wine. It wasn’t the “being alone” part that bothered me; it was, and is, the idea that everyone else has a place to go where they belong.
I’ve always fantasized about big family Thanksgiving celebrations—or, at the very least, a Thanksgiving in which I’m an assumed member rather than a tacked-on, last minute invite. So this year, in July, I was already thinking ahead: I was looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and maybe his family.
Enter the Breakup of 2020 followed by the Thanksgiving of 2020.
The plans I’d dreamed up in July were no longer a possibility, and not just because of COVID restrictions. There is no better way, however, to highlight single people living alone than our current situation, with a governmental mandate saying we are only allowed to spend Thanksgiving with people in our “household.”
I spent days feeling mad, at everyone and everything, particularly at lost dreams, but then I remembered Thanksgiving 2018.
I remembered Aaron. I remembered that there are people who are lonelier than I am. And while the Enneagram 4 in me would prefer to look inward and consider the things I lack, I realized I would do better to look outward and consider what I might have to offer someone else.
So, here we are.
I’m keeping up with my own Thanksgiving tradition: writing a blog, making hummus and drinking wine. M-Dogg and I will have zoom dinner, to which he said, “I’ve only spent two Thanksgivings with you, and they are by far the strangest ones of my life.” That makes the Enneagram 4 in me very happy. I am unique!
And while I’m not able to invite anyone out to dinner this evening, I hope—at the very least—that this blog can be an encouragement for anyone else out there who might be alone on this holiday.
I hope you find reasons for gratitude, even if it is “just” a warm place to sleep at night.
Happy Thanksgiving. 💜