Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US.

Thanksgiving’s never been a big-deal holiday to me. When I was a kid, it meant a few days off school, and one day of listening to my parents argue about cooking. As an adult it became variously the one day a year we all sat down at one table, or a great time to get take-out pizza and watch movies all day in my pjs. Since I got married, it’s become a mélange of our blended family, complete with competing side dishes.

This year it’s a little different. Since The Kid was little, Thanksgiving has been held at my in-laws’ house, but we’re hosting this time. Because we also host Christmas, we’d originally planned a restaurant Thanksgiving, but it turns out all our favorite places close for the holiday. So we cleaned house (not my favorite task for a lot of reasons; but really, who likes cleaning?), ordered a meal from a catering service, and threw open the doors.

There’s been a lot of social media stuff flying around about gratitude. Memes about “what have you done this decade?” mix with the usual sappy Thanksgiving Day stuff. And it makes me think, because of course I have a great deal to be grateful for. Food, shelter, loving family, good friends—all that stuff.

And yet the last few years…

There are the external events, for sure, which are not so external. Politics affects every one of us directly, and too many of us forget that and become complacent. But I’m not sure what’s going on now is rooted in complacency, although it’s been coming steadily for all of my adult life, probably longer. I think a lot of it is fear, and scarcity, both imagined and real. I think it’s a desperate need for answers, the simpler and faster the better. I think it’s finding connections where there are none, and ignoring the obvious villains because somehow, over decades, those villains have been glamorized. My wildly conservative relatives are generous with their family, their friends, their church; but they draw hard lines on which neighbors their god was talking about when he sent them rules, and they draw them where their political party’s propaganda tells them to draw them. They’re not stupid people, but they are selective about scope.

And then, of course, there’s my own life.

On so many scales, I have much to be grateful for. I have food, shelter. I am safe in my home. I have a good marriage, and a smart-aleck kid who still talks to me. I have cats—different ones than I had at the start of the decade, but they are very much themselves, and we’ve all grown used to each other by now.

I’m still angry a lot.

This year I’m grateful for my OCD diagnosis. It wasn’t the happiest moment of the year, by any means, but it gave me a new and useful lens through which to view my life. I feel a little like one of those progressive images that loads into a browser pixelated, then gradually resolves into clarity. So many things make sense now: so many things my friends thought were strange, so many things that made me react differently than other people did, so many things that got me up in the middle of the night for no coherent reason. Knowledge hasn’t ended the attacks, but I can often recognize in the moment when it’s happening. Recognition doesn’t stop the attack, but it somehow keeps it from going quite so bone-deep into my psyche.

I wonder, sometimes, who I’d be if I’d been diagnosed as a child, if I’d managed to get treatment. (I’m not even sure they’d have diagnosed me properly in the 70s.) So much of who I am was built around a mosaic of self-constructed coping mechanisms. Writing came out of OCD, at least in part; it gave me a place where I could be absolutely in control at all times, where the story always ended where I wanted it to.

Writing’s become a trigger. I’m grateful that this year, at last, I seem to be getting past that. Most of the time.

I’m grateful my parents can come to dinner. I expect that’ll be true, at least for a few years yet. My dad’s had some physical therapy, and he’s able to get in and out of cars and even climb stairs on his own.

My house will confuse him.

They used to come two or three times a week to look after my daughter when she was small, and I think about that a lot, because he was having issues even then. At one point we put a moratorium on him lighting the wood stove because we were worried he’d forget to close it. At one point he forgot where all our pots and pans were, after making dinner for my daughter twice weekly for years. That was at least five years ago—and none of us wondered. (In fairness, Spouse probably did, but I don’t know if he’d have associated it with dementia rather than what we all assume is the scattering of old age.)

It’s been a few years since I met my mother for lunch at the mall. The problems there started when she’d forget where her car was parked. That began to be a regular thing, and I learned to ask her as soon as she arrived where her car was, while she still had a shot at remembering. One time she called me after we’d parted, terrified and frantic, because she’d taken a wrong turn on the way home and had no idea where she was. I think that may have been the last time we tried meeting up, and a tradition we’d been keeping for years died a quiet death.

I miss my mother. I tell her things, and she’s happy for me, but she doesn’t really understand. I told her I got a new agent, and she made all the right noises, but it was clear she didn’t remember what happened to the old one, or even, really, why I needed an agent at all.

Years ago she was my first beta reader, the first person to say “This is LOVELY but you know you have to fix X and Y and Z and all this other stuff, right?”

My dad keeps asking when my next book is coming out. I promise him I’ll get him a copy whenever that happens. I’ve actually given my mother a draft. Repeatedly. She forgets every time. She thinks she still reads, but she doesn’t.

Although she still keeps up with the news. They both do. Strong liberals, my parents, and everything that’s happening is driving them further left. (Don’t give up on all the old folks, kids.) So I guess I should be grateful that the news is so…volatile? right now. Engagement is good for them.

I am grateful we sold the damn condo. I am not grateful for how difficult it was. I am grateful for the realtor who kept things moving and stuck with me through entirely manufactured bullshit bureaucracy. I am grateful for the closing attorney, who called me once and said “Can I be honest, just between us?” and cheerfully ranted about the insanity of the situation. I am grateful for the woman who bought the place, because she really seemed to love it. I’ve long since said farewell to it, but I have fond memories, and I like to think of it belonging to someone who will look after it and update it and make more lovely memories.

I am grateful the sale will allow my parents comfort, at least for a little while. It probably won’t be enough. I hope they outlive their money, although it will involve some general family juggling. I am grateful they have family that cares. I am grateful we are able to help.

Dementia sucks, y’all.

Today will be a whirlwind of chaotic last-minute cleaning, and then people and extroverting and choreographing the food and making sure everybody gets enough of what they want to eat. And then the house will be empty again, of everyone but us, and I’ll do the dishes and then sit and get some writing done. It’s odd, the writing; OCD trigger or not, I still love it, and it still gives me something nothing else in my life can give.

I have another book that I’m finalizing. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m especially grateful for it today. It’s not a series book, but it’s a book about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. It’s a book about who we’re connected to and why, and what it really means when we promise to care for each other. It’s about what life really means when we know our one life means nothing, and also everything. I love it. I hope with everything I am that other people will get a chance to read it, too.

Today I’m grateful for my books. For the people who’ve read them. For the friends I’ve made who are readers. For the friends I’ve made who are writers. For everyone in my life who’s ever had to put up with an OCD attack, either before or after I knew why the hell that would happen to me. For everyone in my life who listens.

There is never enough time.

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