December 2, 2018
I put my makeup on in the bathroom mirror while listening to a podcast episode about British serial killer Beverley Allitt, ate my usual breakfast of mixed nuts in yogurt and left for my Sunday morning 12-Step meeting.
Like most Sundays, I battled my desire to go back to sleep all the way to the Jewish Community Center, but by the time I sat down next to my sponsor in the cramped room full of women in recovery, I was glad to be there. We talked about coping with the stress of “The Holidays,” the same as basically every discussion meeting I’ve attended for the last three weeks. I didn’t have anything I needed to share, so I listened quietly as others talked about their families and plans and anxieties.
Afterwards, I declined the invitation to post-meeting bagels in favor of a quick trip to the grocery store. I started feeling vague anxiety by the time I parked my car and for eight minutes, I scrolled through my Twitter feed looking for a distraction. Eventually I got out of the car.
Entering Aldi’s, I kicked myself for, once again, waiting until Sunday to grocery shop. I only needed to purchase grapefruits, mixed nuts, and seltzer. I made prolonged eye contact with a baby strapped into a shopping cart and wielding a candy cane. I successfully avoided impulse buys.
I headed home to Point Breeze, a neighborhood previously settled by Carnegie-style steel barons. I live in an apartment in a large and slightly decrepit Victorian. When I got home, one of my best friends from high school was in the process of moving into the bedroom across from mine. I hugged her and her identical twin sister as they debated the merits of various furniture placements.
Yesterday, our washing machine finally broke down (we think) for good, right in the middle of a load of towels I was sterilizing with bleach. Although I desperately wanted to abdicate responsibility for the broken machine and leave it to my landlord to fix, I felt obligated to do something about the terrycloth, bleach, and dirt soup still in the machine’s basin. After some light Googling about how I might drain the machine, I opted instead to remove the towels. I plunged my hands into the cold, murky water and dragged each towel out of the machine and wrung them vigorously over the adjacent sink. My sponsor had suggested I take the towels to a laundromat for a proper wash, but I knew I wasn’t going to do that the moment she said it.
It was the first night of Hanukkah. I went, for the first time, to my cousin’s new house in a northern suburb to celebrate. I selected a playlist of early 2000s pop songs for the twenty-minute drive.
The crowd was me and my father, his wife, her daughter, my aunt and uncle, their son and his wife (the hosts), my aunt’s cousin, her boyfriend, and their baby. Four of us had been raised Jewish and seven had not. My father had brought copies of the lyrics to two Jewish folks songs in what felt to me like a call back to my late mother’s enthusiasm for communal singing on each and every holiday. I guessed that only three of us would know the tunes, and I sympathized with the other eight. I greeted my father with a slightly disparaging comment about the handouts.
It wasn’t really about the guests who didn’t know the words. I had worked so hard to accept that holiday celebrations would never again be the same as they had when my mother was alive, and here he was, implicitly inviting me to compare this Hanukkah celebration to those of my childhood. I tried not to cringe as we lit the candles and sang the songs.
The food was delicious – brisket, potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream, roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts, fried jelly donuts, or sufganiya for dessert. People started leaving after an hour. I hugged my aunt, uncle, and cousins goodbye and slipped into my shoes by the front door.
As I opened the door, I thought to myself, “God, I love leaving social gatherings alone.” No one else to wait for when they got caught in a lengthy goodbye or needed to stop at the bathroom or forgot their phone upstairs.
The next morning I woke up to my cat Squidward’s unblinking green eyes and a text from my father complaining about my departure the night before. “Honey what was with the drive by good bye? I turned around and you were gone.”