I was standing in the fresh market, and I was having a panic attack. I’ve cooked Thanksgiving meals before. I’ve been in supermarkets the day of Thanksgiving with no trouble at all. This was different. I was getting ready to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a woman I found myself attracted to. We had gone out a few times, and each time was even lovelier than the last. Despite my angst and bitter disposition at the universe for the way that romance has treated me, the fact of the matter is, as Morrisey said, “I am human and I need to be loved.”
Grocery shopping is one of the ways I relax, I know that’s weird, but that’s me. The rational part of my brain began to counter my panic centers as soon as the attack started. “Dude, you’re in a grocery store! You love this! Bread! Food! Cheese! Cookies! Those really nice organic cleaning products! Chill, brah.” Logically I knew I had this. I’ve cooked entire holiday meals by myself before. But the part of my brain that fuels the anxiety and panic just kept telling me “You’re six years old again, and this is the water level of Super Mario Brothers.”
The meal would not be on home turf, I couldn’t handle cooking Thanksgiving for her and my family and having all the worlds together at once--that would have warranted me turning into a boneless mass of something human-esq asking where the GMO free mayo was. I was cooking at her place, in her kitchen, which was nice. I had already made a playlist of tunes to amp myself up during the cooking. What’s the fun of cooking if you can’t do it to a killer soundtrack?
In one way I felt a tinge of guilt that I was not spending Thanksgiving with my family. I really wasn’t missing out on much this year, and in some ways I was saving myself a lot of grief. My father--a dyed in the wool hypochondriac--recently was solidly convinced he was going to have his gallbladder removed. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, this was my father’s only talking point. “Well, I’m sure I’ll be having surgery before the year is out” is how he would begin conversations when asked how he was doing. I’ve never seen anyone so upset to learn they didn’t need surgery in my entire life. As I went towards the check out, this reminded me that maybe I shouldn’t feel so much guilt.
In the car I plugged my iPhone into the car stereo and loaded up The Jonathan Channel, an internet radio station that plays a lot of Sinatra. As I drove to her place, with groceries in the back seat, I could feel the panic slow. It helped that I was distracting myself with a sing along to a Gershwin tune than focusing over and over on a thousand fictitious scenarios of how it was all going to go horribly wrong. Example: “What if I send scalding turkey gravy flying into the air and it burns her skin!? Then the FBI are called in and Larry King goes on TV to say he hates me?”
The attack ended on the drive over, anxiety was still present, but I had accepted that this was just going to be one of those “constant low-ball stream of anxiety” kind of days. I arrived at her place, parked my car, got my groceries, and walked to her door. “Calm down, relax” kept repeating itself over and over in my brain as I got closer. Managing to free a hand, I knocked on her door, and after a moment she opened it.
She opened the door, and she was beautiful. “Hey you!” she said as she welcomed me in. Walking into her apartment I was greeting by the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven, with a hit of yeast rolls rising mixed with it. I brought what was needed to make mashed potatoes and my mac and cheese. I took the groceries to the kitchen and said hello to her cat, Mr. Thompson. “How’s your dad’s health thing?” she asked, “He’s perfectly healthy and it’s driving him crazy” I told her, then went about setting up to make the mac and cheese.
I loaded up one of my cooking playlists and had it going, a funk mix of 70s Memphis soul. As I was grating the cheese for the mac and cheese, Mr. Thompson came walking into the kitchen, surveying all that was going on, and making gentle meowing sounds. I figured it was the cheese that attracted Mr. Thompson, and it being Thanksgiving, I saw no harm in offering him a little bite. “Here you go, Mr. Thompson” I said as I dropped a bit of cheese on the floor for him to eat.
“Your cat like being in the kitchen, doesn’t he?” I said, after Mr. Thompson finished his bite of cheese, he went over to a chair by the dinner table and laid on it. “Yeah” she said, “Just don’t let him eat a bite of any cheese or something, he has a sensitive digestive system.” I froze. “Um, yeah! Sure!” I said with as much calm conviction as I could, then I went back to making my mac and cheese.
The rest of the cooking went with ease, no mishaps. A good hour or so had passed and I hadn’t heard any sounds of distress from Mr. Thompson--I felt all was good on that end. We both began to get the table ready, I told her I would set the dishes and silverware--it may have been a Thanksgiving for two, but we were still being fancy. As she was in the kitchen doing those final little touches, “Lovefool” by The Cardigans began to play--she flipped my iPod to shuffle.
If you know the song, then you know it’s downright irresistible to get caught up in it. I began to quietly sing along and dance around the dinner table as I placed the knives and forks. The adage goes “dance like nobody’s watching” and that’s fine advice, unless you sometimes are super self concious and shy about other people watching you dance, like I am. As I got more and more into the song, the more I began to dance--and sing--like nobody was watching. Come the second round of the chorus, I was belting it out and shaking it all around the table.
Considering the anxiety I felt earlier, it didn’t really help that the chorus of “Lovefool” begins with “Love me, love me. Say that you love me.” At the end of the chorus, I heard a laugh, followed by “Well that’s what I’m thankful for.” In getting caught up in the song, I didn’t know she had come back in from the kitchen. I froze. I froze in a way that would have been more appropriate if I had been caught with a pornographic magazine, not singing and dancing to a song from the ‘90s.
We sat down to eat, and it was oh so good. The food was amazing, the turkey was perfect, the gravy was divine. It was all a good Thanksgiving meal should be, even if it was a small one. In the moments of chatter and gushing over recipies, I began to feel genuinely thankful. There was no reason to think that anything more would come of it all, no reason to think it would be start of something grand. The only thing I knew was that in the now, in that moment, it was really lovely.
Though the moment of lovely would linger, it was quickly interrupted by a loud meow, more a howl really. “Was that Mr. Thompson?” I asked. We both had a look of concern on our faces, as we began to wonder if an investigation was in order, the answer came wafting over to the table. An aroma that was the antithesis of everything that had come before it. We left the table and headed for the hallway where the aroma got stronger. Mr. Thompson’s digestive issue--from the front end to be clear--had decked the hall.
“He must have had some cheese, you didn’t give him any did you?” she asked me as we both surveyed the sight. I thought of what to say, if I should tell the truth, or come up with a wrap around reason. “Maybe by accident? A piece must have landed on the floor without my knowing, you know when you grate you get all that physics force going and food flies around. You know? Science and stuff.”
As I helped her clean it up, all I could think about was how it clearly must be over. I had failed on an epic scale by accidentally poisoning her cat with cheese, and now surely I must go on the International Cat Poisoner Database. We returned to the meal and my anxiety returned as well. “Way to go, Ross!” I thought to myself, “You blew it big time, and now you get to spend another damn Christmas alone suffering through schmoopy couples pictures on Facebook.”
In true human fashion I have moved from thankfulness to being indignant in the flash of a second. I sat there pondering my own doom, her voice interrupted the looping patterns in my mind. “Hey, it’s OK. This happens. Don’t worry about it. Ready for pie?” I smiled, the doom dissipated, and I said “Always.” Thankfulness returned. I silently chided myself for being so quick to jump to doom--a terrible trait that I fall into all too easily and all too often. We laughed, we played rounds and rounds of Uno, we talked about movies. It was honestly one of the nicest Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.
On those days when all seems impossible and filled with doom, and you feel that maybe you just threw it all away, it’s important to be thankful for the good things in your life, and the good things that are bound to come. Happy Thanksgiving.