When I was a kid, my next-door-neighbor Stephanie Carter’s mom loved horror movies, the gorier the better. When she heard a man’s legs were hacked off in the middle of the night in some British schlockfest none of us had heard of, we were piled into the car and driven to the Eagle Drive-In tout suite. The whole scene replayed in the nightmare from which I awakened before day this morning. I check my feet to make sure they’re still there.
“I want to do a stem cell thingy on your tendon,” my foot doctor had said yesterday afternoon. “We’ll see if your insurance approves it, which I doubt since most don’t, but I want you to go ahead and stay off it for the next two weeks.”
I’ve been lucky enough to have had only one sorta serious medical issue in my life – breaking my ankle when I jumped off the back of a pickup while visiting my folks on the Gulf Coast one Christmas. And no I wasn’t drunk. Although I realize that hooch was probably the only thing missing from the Gulf Coast/pickup truck/Christmas scenario.
Years later, some seemingly insignificant thing I may or may not have done on a trail run may or may not have reignited the whole thing.
It’s Thanksgiving. We’ve been inside for what feels like years now. Until now, I’ve been allowed to hike all I want while I endured physical therapy twice a week. With no traveling, dining out, or anything else we’d taken for granted, hiking was the one thing that kept me sane. “Wait – I don’t – what do you mean by ‘stay off it?’”
“Good God, Phillip. It’s two weeks. Don’t make me slap you for sounding like one of the cry babies who whine about wearing a mask. Just stay off of it. Like you did for your play.”
Wow, he had to dig for that. While rehearsing my one-man-show eons ago I pulled my sartorius muscle and the same doctor made me lay low for a short time before opening. Try living through that bucketful of actor’s nightmares with an upcoming show for which you can’t rehearse.
“So I’m gonna suit you up with a high-tech boot – and lookit, you can even pump it up like those old Reeboks from the 80’s.” He says it like it’s the thing that’s gonna make it all good for me. “Smile,” he says, “it’s Thanksgiving!”
“You are the devil,” I say, sticking out my foot. “Give me the **cking boot.”
I stop in the liquor store next door for a big bottle of tequila. If I’m watching soap operas from the couch for the next two weeks, I’m certainly not doing it sober. On my way out, a hot homeless guy smiles from his place near the curb. “Sick cast, dude. Can I follow you to your car while you tell me how such a handsome guy got in such a fix?” Knowing he can’t see how handsome or not I am while wearing my mask, I can’t believe how vulnerable I feel in the cumbersome boot, unable to make a mad dash if necessary. “Hey, hey,” he says, waiting for me to keep up, “sorry I don’t have a mask. It’s a long story.” For a second I feel like Ratso Rizzo to his Joe Buck. A car screeches just ahead as hot homeless guy dashes out into traffic. I could swear I hear him say, “I’m walking here!”
So here I am. Day 1. Instead of doing a big tofu turkey, decadent desert and everything else I was gonna do even though it was just gonna be us, the partner is on his way to Veggie Grill to pick up a prepared holiday feast. He’s also asked me to text him a Whole Foods list. Which I’ve never had to do. Because I adore grocery shopping. My friend Paige hates grocery shopping so much she once offered to scrub my toilets if I did her marketing. It was more than tempting. And that’s the thing. When you love to do something, you never trust anyone else to do it for you. And when you’re forced to, it can be a lot like shopping for my late Grandma Bess. When we were kids, and even into adulthood, my sister, cousins and I would offer up our weekly allowance to any sucker who would offer to go instead. The lists Ma Bess handed off were incredibly detailed and left no room for deviation:
1 Dozen Grade A Large Farm Best Light Brown Eggs In The Light Blue Carton.
2 16.5 oz. Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar Cheese Aged 3-4 months, NOT 6.
1 32 oz. (2 lbs.) Gold Medal Enriched Bleached Pre-sifted All Purpose Flour – NO SUBSTITUTIONS!!
You get the picture.
Whenever the partner can’t finagle his way out of accompanying me, he offers an interminable sports commentary during the whole visit: “Once again he’s rounding the corner for the produce section. Evidently he’s forgotten heirloom tomatoes, or maybe it’s brussel sprouts…either way, it’s an impressive weave through the barely social distancing buggy-pushers and pre-washed kale-buyers.”
But since I’m down for the count, it’s his turn at bat. I’m imagining him reading my own Ma Bess details as he makes his way through the cavernous market chockfull of Santa Monica liberals dashing through last-minute holiday decisions when the phone rings:
“There are a million people here. It can’t be safe. There are more kids than at Six Flags during Spring Break. Your list is too detailed. I want to die.”
I take a deep breath. “It’s okay,” I say. “Just leave. “I really don’t need anything for tomorrow.”
“Hey,” he says. “We can go in a couple of days when it’s not so crazy. Get you out of the house, eh? Even if you have to stay in the car?”
The invitation actually sounds perfect.
I greet him at the door and use it to my advantage: “Since you bailed on the shopping and I’m stuck on the sofa, I get to choose the entertainment. ALL WEEKEND. Tales of the City. Grace & Frankie. Schitt’s Creek – again.
“Wow,” he says, taking the Veggie Grill to the kitchen. “Good thing we’re not watching any gay shows.”
This morning my agent sent a link to an article with writer Anne Lamott on why we give thanks. Anne was raised in a nestful of atheists but was invited one day to a friend’s house for dinner and floored when the host preceded the meal with thanksgiving, an act that, for an impressionable child, opened up a whole world of gratitude that keeps on giving to this day.
“Give me your leg,” the partner says, situating himself on the other end of the couch, placing a generous shot of tequila next to the TV clicker. “Your bum one, too – don’t freak out, I’ll be careful.” I pull the boot off and do as he says, just before he starts a gentle massage that sets my whole fretful ship to calm, peaceful sea.
With all that’s missing from my holiday – hell, my year – and everything that goes with it – I hear myself giving thanks in my way-too-busy head. As I spent the majority of my life without a significant other, I give thanks for someone to bring me hooch and rub my worries and torn tendons away. I give thanks for not having to go to our friends Doug and Debby’s for a meal tomorrow where their Pomeranian mix would hump my leg like a Catholic schoolgirl. I give thanks for not being at Jen and John’s Annual Thanksgiving Eve bash where she’ll announce they’re having yet another kid like I never said how much I hate kids. I give thanks for the fact that new people will move into the White House. That a vaccine is coming. That no matter how dire things get, I can always come up with something to be grateful for.
“Don’t you wanna turn on one of your shows?” the partner asks.
“You know when you’re hiking tomorrow without me I’m gonna hate you worse than anybody ever hated anybody.”
“No you won’t.”
“Yes, I will,” I say, giving thanks for the fact that I’m wrong and he’s right.