This is a stream-of-consciousness post. Sitting in front of the computer after returning from a turkey-day food-fest at a friend’s house in Fayetteville, I felt I needed to post something about what this day means to me. It’s not going to be a laundry list of items I’m thankful for, and to clarify, I am extremely thankful for what I have (friends, family, a job, a roof over my head and my pets, to name a few). Rather, this is a blathering on of what’s in my head right now.
Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning for me now. Deeper and much more profound. It started with a phone call.
I placed a call to a friend of mine who had recently lost her husband. I have known Nelson and Cheri since the mid-90s from an online bulletin board. Older than me by several years, but we never did have that “child-parent” thing going on. We just accepted the age difference as one might accept that one person wears glasses and the other contact lenses. In other words, it didn’t make a whit of difference.
In the years that followed, we visited each other (they lived in Chicago at the time; I lived in Seattle), kept in touch via email, phone and, more recently, Facebook. They sent me Christmas cards; I sent them Hanukkah cards. We bragged about our “fur kids.” Our friendship was easily as close and honest and real as any that began in more traditional ways. A little more than 5 years ago, they retired from their public service roles in a government department, and moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In that time, I moved to Florida (I no longer live there, having tried to adapt – I simply could not), then to North Carolina, where I live now.
Nelson and Cheri had what some people would describe as the perfect marriage. That isn’t to say that they didn’t have their fair share of challenges, but that they were always devoted to one another. They were each other’s best friend. After two failed marriages, I envied the hell out of that. I wanted that rock-solid pair bond. And I loved Nels and Cheri all the more for what they had.
The last time I saw them was during my move to Florida, where I drove through Texas, making a small detour to spend a day with them. They met my boy Merlin; I met their little guy, an adorable cockapoo named Ozzie. We had a great time. I didn’t realize that it would have been the last time I would see Nelson.
This past year, Nelson had started having some health problems. Trips to the doctor became rather frequent, but I never became worried. Several years ago, Cheri had breast cancer. They caught it early, so she dodged that particular bullet. I had it in my head that Nelson, too, would emerge relatively unscathed.
Trips to the doctor became stays in the hospital. First a few days, then a few weeks. Then, in August, things got really bad, and his hospital stays became prolonged. A little more than a week ago, he died.
I spent the days after hearing of Nelson’s passing in a kind of fog – not quite believing that it was real; but knowing in my heart that it was. I spent my workdays hiding out in my cubicle alternating between relative calm and wracking sobs.
I am desperately trying to come to terms with the guilt from not visiting them in that five-plus year time frame. Guilt for not being in touch more often. For not telling them that I love them more often.
There was nothing I could do about the fact that Nels was gone. The only thing I could do was call Cheri.
We talked for nearly an hour and a half. Sometimes crying with each other; sometimes laughing about the funny things in our lives; sometimes reminiscing about events over the years.
The call ended with a pact. Cheri pointed out that since we’re both now single women, we should get together – just us girls. Next Thanksgiving, we will meet at location roughly halfway between us and spend a few days just enjoying each other’s company.
And being thankful for each other.