Thanksgiving is now, and probably will be for quite some time, a rough holiday for me. Last year Claudio had just returned, and my world had fallen out from under me, and though we spent the actual holiday apart we fought for the next three days, non-stop, viciously. Mostly because he spent the actual holiday getting thrown out of bars and eventually parking my car on the lawn.
I spent this Thanksgiving at the house of a friend I will call Paulina, after the woman in "The Winter's Tale" who lets Leontes have it regarding his unwarranted treatment of his wife:
O, thou tyrant!
Do not repent these things, for they are heavier
Than all thy woes can stir. Therefore betake thee
To nothing but despair. A thousand knees
Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,
Upon a barren mountain, and still winter
In storm perpetual, could not move the gods
To look that way thou wert.
Anyway, she and her husband took them with me last year to their friends' house, and those friends opened their door with barely any notice to a complete stranger who had just had her world fall apart and would otherwise have been sitting at home sniveling helplessly into stuffing from a box that day. (I'd like to think I would have done better than that, but it's entirely possible I wouldn't have.) We feasted on the most astonishingly delicious vegetarian spread – anyone who thinks you can't have a vegetarian Thanksgiving would be schooled by these four people – and I feasted just as much on kindness and generosity.
This year Paulina and her husband hosted, and the other couple were there, and once again we feasted and I felt incredibly thankful. And though today started badly – frustrating walk with the dogs, running out of dog food which means an expedition into retail on Black Friday, feeling sour about many things – I still have a lot which calls for gratitude.
I am thankful for the sun over the ocean and the sound of the waves.
I am thankful for my loving family and for all the wonderful friends I have, including the people I hadn't seen in a decade or more who, upon hearing about the cancer, started sending me supportive e-mails and care packages and generally showing me that I had a whole community rooting for me.
I am thankful for the cardinal that comes flashing through my yard when I least expect it. (The bird; I do not have an ecclesiastical nudist.)
I am thankful beyond words for my PCP, who referred me for mammograms when I turned thirty, and for the teams at the two hospitals where I had my surgeries and radiation treatments. I never cried in a doctor's office, not once, not when I was given the diagnosis, not when the possibilities of mastectomy and chemo were put on the table for the first time, but I cried leaving the hospital after my last radiation treatment. The staff gave me a certificate of completion, and hugs, and I completely broke down as I realized that these wonderful people weren't going to be taking care of me any more.
I am thankful that I have a job which is fine most of the time and which pays my bills; enormously thankful that I have health insurance; thankful for a roof over my head; thankful for a usually-reliable car; thankful for all my books.
I am so thankful for my dogs that some people think I have, quote, “an unhealthy attachment” to them. Those people can think what they want.
The plan was never to be the sole caretaker for two large, fairly needy dogs. It made sense at the time to get a second dog because there were two of us, and because Darcy was in a very bad situation and needed rescue. And even though I was always the primary caretaker, if I absolutely could not get them to the vet, or the kennel, or for a walk, I could usually ask Claudio to do so.
Now it's just me and them. I get up at five-thirty to walk them before work; I have to take them to the vet separately because attempting to control them both in a waiting room full of other animals is too much; if I need to go anywhere after work I have to run home at lunch to let them out, because Darcy's bladder control has a limit of eight hours precisely. I am not comparing this to being a single mother or anything, but it does take its toll.
I am paid back every day with unwavering love. They are always there when I come home, delighted to see me. They mean that I never feel alone or unsafe. They give me a constant sense of love and family. Without them, I really do not know how I would have made it through this year.
Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend: "You ask of my Companions. Hills - Sir - and the Sundown, and a Dog large as myself, that my Father bought me -"
I have one better than Emily. I have hills, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself, and then another one, half as large but with a heart as big. Believe me, I am grateful.