The Things We Leave Behind

It is the Thanksgiving season, and instead of thinking about thankfulness per se, I am thinking about actual Thanksgiving.  Among other things.

Thanksgiving is A Thing in my family, and it is held each year in a big mountain house in Yosemite National Park.

When we were younger, Thanksgiving was where we’d bring boyfriends to have the family vet them.  The real test took place when my dad would walk people to the End of the Road on Thanksgiving Night, and tell scary stories, after we’d all had too many martinis and far too much wine.

This went on until the House at the End of the Road burned down. 

It’s funny how life changes. 

But back to the vetting process:  My ex-boyfriend, George, fit in seamlessly with my family, and I plugged into his like we had been cosmically fashioned for each other.  But our personal priorities and wants and needs didn’t exactly line up. 

My ex-husband could not have been more of a square peg in my family. 

At this point, I think everyone is waiting for me to bring around another boyfriend for them to haze.  But I think they’ll be sorely disappointed when I show up with some European silver fox on whom the very American concept of Thanksgiving will be totally lost.

I have been thinking about my ex-boyfriend lately.  As most of you know, when I was in my early twenties, I left Los Angeles and headed East to start my life with George — the man mentioned above; the One Everyone Totally Thought I Was Going to Marry.

When I was 16, and somewhere in the South of France (because I was and am that kind of American asshole, who was 16 and “somewhere in the South of France”), I was canoeing on a river with some girlfriends (this story gets more assholey as the sentence continues), and we were waxing poetic about how our futures would unfold. 

I think, said one friend, That I like the idea of “starting out with someone.”

That idea struck me; stuck with me.

George and I started out together; taking along with us the cat I had acquired during my last year at UCLA.  The cat was a bad idea.  George grew a goatee for the affair.  The goatee was actually a less bad idea than the cat was, since anyone who has ever known me knows that I love a man with facial hair.

In addition to adoring George’s goatee, I loved George’s family.  I was close with his parents; his sister.  I’d visit them without George, even.  George’s mother and grandmother taught me to cook.  One of his uncles gave me my beloved first-edition Vonneguts that are on my nightstand to this day.

His family and I would share, “I love yous” before bed; when we hung up the phone. 

But about a year after George and I had moved to Washington, the center could no longer hold.  We broke up rather abruptly; the rest is history. 

In addition to my thing for facial hair, I’m known for having malingering relationships.  However, I walked away from George and his family completely.  I loved them so much that if I’d malingered, I’d never have left in the first place.

So I went.

A few months ago, I happened to get back in touch with George’s sister.  Not long thereafter, she emailed and said she was coming to New York.  We made plans to meet.

We met for a drink at a pub near my house. 

In films, there’s always That Moment, when the camera pans to the two long-lost friends or siblings catching sight of each other across a crowded room.  I had That Moment: The swell of nine years’ worth of emotion socking me as I embraced the almost-sister from whom I had abruptly walked away.

I have missed you so much, I said as we hugged and cried.

We had a drink, then we walked back to my apartment — eee had joined me uptown that night, and George’s sister had been travelling with a friend, so the four of us retired to my round table for a nightcap.  And there we were, together again, in a house surrounded by my books commingled with some of her brother’s.

Again it struck me that, at some point, I had forgotten who I was.  But seeing George’s sister reminded me that I was the girl who had fallen for a boy who quizzed me on US Supreme Court history before he’d ask me out; who’d given me not flowers, but a book on economics on our second date. 

The girl who’d found in George’s family another family of my own. 

But if I’d have been a different person if I’d stayed.  And right here, right now is where I want — and am meant — to be.

Through it all, and despite the urge that my family has to “vet” people; despite my tendencies towards perfectionism; despite the way I often see the world in black-and-white — there’s not a test at the end of all of this. 

Nobody gets an “A” on the Perfect Relationship, or The World’s Best In Laws.

(I already got an “F” in In Laws, so I know.)

There’s no vetting process that protects from heartbreak; no relationship protection insurance.

George is George; his family is beautiful; my life is what it turned out to be.  There will be no final exam on what could’ve been.

The younger Meredith marked up books so she’d ace the tests; she brought home the “right” kind of boys; ticked off the boxes of life achievements.

I realised last week that the slightly older Meredith simply cherishes the marks — he, we, and our life together — left behind.  And is thankful for what is to come.

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