Imagine three years ago, the effort of fake joy I had to project while we opened gifts around the Christmas tree with our young-adult children and only my husband of 29 years and I knowing that days later, he’d be moving out—maybe temporarily, maybe permanently.
Imagine me waiting for six months in limbo until he finally confirmed he wanted a divorce. Imagine his face when I didn’t invite him for that Thanksgiving. For me, it felt powerful and necessary to exclude him.
Imagine a month later at Christmas when I had to explain to my parents that he’d be there, celebrating like nothing had changed, even though everything had changed including him waking up Christmas morning somewhere else other than in the family home we shared with our children for nineteen years.
Imagine my letdown a year later when my grown son told me he’d be spending Thanksgiving with his soon-to-be in-laws in Connecticut. It would be the first Thanksgiving he’d miss my Thanksgiving, and this time, the last Thanksgiving celebrated in the family home.
Imagine the last Christmas in the house, with everyone in the family descending to celebrate. Imagine the melancholy of watching my two twenty-somethings smashing through a wrapping paper “wall” that hid the Christmas tree overflowing with presents, giggling like they were ten and six again.
Imagine Thanksgiving the following year, right after moving into my own place—a small, two bedroom apartment in Manhattan—when my daughter said she’ll be celebrating the holiday week with her boyfriend and his family in Hawaii. Instead of the hosting the traditional meal in my new place, I packed my bag to spend a week in Florida with my parents, brother and his fiancé—my first Thanksgiving away from my children. Meanwhile, my ex planned to celebrate with his young girlfriend and her family. Imagine me asking myself, ‘will this be my future holidays?’
Imagine my first Christmas in my new place, unpacking the remaining decorations I saved after distributing ornaments to my kids and ex for their own Christmas trees. Imagine my anxiety as I invited my ex and his girlfriend to a Christmas get-together in my new apartment. Imagine the relief I felt when he said she wouldn’t be coming, and the delight I felt when instead, my daughters’ friends came from all over the country, greeting me with,
“You’re one of my role models.”
“I love your place!”
“It feels just like you—homey.”
Imagine, in 2020, a global pandemic shutting down the world, keeping us inside our homes for nine-plus months. A disease that could be fatal to my older parents keeps them from visiting me in New York and me from traveling to Florida, meaning we wouldn’t be celebrating any of the holidays together. Imagine instead, me, my daughter and son, my son’s new wife, and my ex-husband—the first time in three years that the five of us are together for Thanksgiving—gathered around a small dining table in my ex’s New York City apartment. We’ll each bring a dish or dessert, some traditional, some new. Wine and cocktails will flow. My children’s dogs will lay at our feet. A fire will roar in the small, urban fireplace. I imagine with our bellies full, we will gather under blankets and lay around his small living room watching our favorite holiday movies, quoting the familiar lines we all love, and feeling very thankful, indeed.