Five years ago, our Thanksgiving dinner was high tea at the National Gallery, on Trafalgar Square in London. Singularly ironic, I thought, that we would commemorate my wife’s forbears loading up the Mayflower and fleeing England by spending the holiday in the Big Smoke, but there you have it. We’re complicated folks. The trip was one we’d been tossing around for a while, but was triggered by two things: one, the notion that if we didn’t have kids yet, we should be doing the sorts of things that having no kids allowed us to do, and two, I saw Ratatouille that summer and decided I wanted to see Paris. Which was an easy lift, as far as convincing the wife goes.
As it turned out, the trip also fell into the first ninety days at my new government subcontract job, when I couldn’t take any vacation. The unpaid aspect of it was partly alleviated by the payout of the unused vacation from Cupertino Hexachrome Fruit that would have been spent on the trip, although that was at a time when Himself had a tendency to declare the whole of Thanksgiving week as unscheduled paid vacation, so who knows. The timing was deliberate, though – our hope was that since England doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they might already be in full holiday roar, and we might get our London Christmas experience. Easy peasy.
2007 wasn’t the best year. In fact, it was kind of the worst. No bereavement to blame like ’98, or adolescent whatever-it-was in ’86 – just twelve months of suck. Family illness (it seemed like everyone got some kind of cancer that year), my own knee surgery, the decision to change jobs and the almost immediate realization of what a huge mistake I’d made, and the slow evaporation of my past behind me. I mean, I didn’t even have Danny (my old Saturn) anymore, which was as complete a sign as any that my past was falling into a black hole and I wasn’t doing enough to build a present under myself. And all that baggage went abroad with me, just in time to meet that peculiar depression that goes along with being in a new place for the first time and not knowing the language, let alone the way around.
Ironically, not knowing the language was the least of my worries, because Paris was the best part of the trip. Possibly because it was also the longest – we stayed at least three nights that I can remember. In England, it seemed like we were somewhere else every night, passing through London three times in two different hotels when we weren’t on a day trip to Oxford or hurrying up to York. And I hadn’t realized that late November meant sunset in York at around 3:45 PM, so early night in a strange town. Ultimately, it felt like I was forcing the issue a lot of the time, instead of having the experience that was around me.
It’s not like it was a disaster, not at all. I saw some things I was glad I’d seen, we had some fun – I’m sure I was an utter pill to be with, in retrospect, proving once again the surpassing patience of my wife – but I think I might have been putting way too many hopes on that trip, expecting it would be the same sort of more-fun-every-day that the honeymoon had been a couple years before. And then it was over – I woke up one morning in London, got on a plane, got home that night at 8 PM, and woke up the next morning at 5 AM to go straight back to work. And that was where the despair really hit like a load of bricks: holiday blues, the dread of going back to see my relations in the old country, and walking out in the dark every day at 5 PM and staring across the bay at the flicker of lights in the distance, wondering both where I’d gone wrong and how I was ever going to get right again.
Five years on, I’m thankful that I swallowed my pride and chose to swallow the meds. I’m thankful that I was sufficiently diligent to find another job, and not to pull the trigger on the wrong job (which would have paid me what I make now – except the company has gone under). I’m thankful that I learned some lessons from the trip and started making an effort to find the things here that reflect what I enjoyed abroad. But more than most, I’m thankful that I broke off the pattern of holiday travel and will be here for the whole season for the third straight year.
Go home for the holidays? Fuck that noise. I am home.