|Helena Fitzgerald||Nov 28, 2016|
We spent the holiday and the weekend that followed in the city – we talked about going to Hilton Head to see Thomas’ family, to gather on a manufactured beach in a gated community, and we talked, later, about buying last minute tickets to Paris or London, running away and not even acknowledging Thanksgiving. But in the end we did my actual favorite thing, which is staying in the city over a major holiday weekend. Staying here over Thanksgiving or Christmas is the closest you will ever get to seeing a private New York, a New York as a small town, the bare, dead, and wonderful skeleton that remains when scrubbed of both transplants and tourists, when divested of anyone with anywhere else to go. New York on a holiday weekend reminds me of how disaster movies make it seem like the apocalypse will be a gigantic snow day – on Thanksgiving weekend all of us who have stayed in New York are Will Smith and his German Shepherd wandering around the empty, abandoned city, wide-eyed scavengers with the place to themselves. We are the people who have lived beyond the plague or the nuclear winter, eating at the best restaurants with no wait for a reservation, walking slowly down emptied out streets, taking the time to gaze up at whatever buildings we want.
Thomas and I learned hard into the long weekend. We hosted my parents and our friends on Thanksgiving and then we threw a party the next day and fed everyone the leftovers and played some combination of Pictionary and Telephone that was mostly about The Young Pope and made me laugh until my stomach ached. We filled our apartment with loud, bright, sincere, concerned people being loud and bright and sincere and concerned at one another. We laid around on the gigantic new couch we bought last week and binge-watched an entire season of a charming British detective show that’s the closest thing television offers to a medically induced coma. We didn’t get out of the clothes we had slept in until it was dark out and we slept late in the mornings and then took naps during the day. We ate and drank too much and spent too much money on sales in the days after Thanksgiving, on shiny things we didn’t need but that made us feel good. We made sprawling plans for the future, the kind of conversations that feel like drunkenly drawing a giant map on a butcher-paper restaurant tablecloth in crayon. I ceaselessly ate foods that I am perfectly aware my body can’t process; I felt sick by the end of each night, and woke up each day with a headache. In the middle of the days I would fall asleep and then wake up with the profound sense I was coming down with a cold or something worse but I never actually got sick.
And the whole time, still, there was this nauseous sense at the edges of everything, that nothing was loud or bright or indulgent enough to banish the feeling of dread that returned at every pause in conversation. The hedonism of the weekend pushed against it – I didn’t know if I was fiercely clinging to the things that mattered, or simply trying to drown out noise. We were on a boat in a storm and we had given in to seasickness, we were trying to pump each other up into technicolor, we were raucous and in love in a city – maybe a whole country – that feels this weekend and maybe for the rest of 2016, maybe right up to the last hour of January 19th, like the expansive, crushingly hopeful way that you get drunk at a funeral, the recklessness of pure grief that says why not get drunk, get fat, sleep in, stay angry, drain your bank account, why prepare for anything, why remain cautious or preserve oneself in the face of such certain loss, the pure rushing high of the assurance that nothing matters anyway.
This is the most Sunday evening of all the Sunday evenings of the whole year. Thanksgiving marks the end of something, of the year longing in an upward progression toward light and progress, toward the doing, the making of things. After Thanksgiving, we burn the fields, we drive out past the smoke, we lay in stores for the winter, preparing fro the cold, for the rushing darkness coming appreciably earlier each day. The Sunday at the end of Thanksgiving weekend is the Sunday afternoon of the whole year, holding our breath as daylight falls out of the false idea of autumn, waiting to turn away and go inside, waiting for what the cold will throw at us, and how we will huddle against it, waiting for the desperate brilliant hysteria of Christmas parties to sparkle and crack in the cold, our quick and fragile holiday emotions the consistency of a sheet of ice on a window. The ambition of the year ravels away like the discarded plans of a long weekend, all the things we said we would do turning over into all the things we will say we will do next year. We lie dormant in these fast, hedonistic and dead few weeks of the holidays. We stop trying to accomplish anything. The calendar commands that we turn our attention to loving one another, and obligation is one more party and one party after that, allowing the rehash of last year’s dreams in the lonely hours of the New Year to seem original, new, and therefore possible, to seem as though we have not tried, and given up, on these same dreams before.
But it’s also Sunday evening in America, this long awful Sunday evening waiting for whatever Monday morning is coming. Living in this country under this government right now, as the end of this terrible year barrels toward January 20th and whatever new world is coming, feels more and more like when I stay up too late on Sunday night, crossing the threshold into Monday morning awake on the couch watching television and looking at my phone at the same time, not doing much of anything, by my inaction trying to will time to stop. Tragedies and the unexpected paralyze us, or at least that's my reaction. Often in the wake of the worst things I have found myself unable to continue at all, mired in a profound inability to even pull myself out of bed in the morning, to open my computer, to sit down to work, to eat and sleep and exercise, to treat the person I love who lives in this house with me, or the people I have loved and lived closely with in the past, as more than furniture, passing near to me through space with neither connection nor input. I somehow hope that if I refuse to move forward, if I cease to engage with all the ongoings of human existence, eventually my refusal will propel me back into the past, Leontes crying out oh call back yesterday/bid time return. Trying to slow time as though the future were a fastball barreling toward a batter, while Monday flies out of Sunday night with all its obligation and consequences and arriving mail. The promise of the Christian workweek is that Sunday is a day without surprises, when the things in the world that come for us, that appear from nowhere and knock us off course have taken the day off and will not find us. This promise makes Sunday both safe and terrifying; the threat coils inside the resting day.
Perhaps in retrospect this awful time right now will seem like a dreamy period of unmatched calm, when we were only panicked about what was to come, but had not yet lived beyond its arrival. For now we wait, we pack up our plans and our Go Bags, we dream of solutions and dissolve them before they reach coherence. We reckon with the violence of our past, that the violence of the past is in fact the present in which we live, the only true material that binds together this land mass full of guns and yelling that we call a country, this place that we have spoken of in the noblest adjectival terms. We unravel and rewrite the present, our failures, and the things we wanted to believe were true. We buckle into the car and brace as it drives at full speed toward the brick wall. Sunday night is the way the moment before impact stretches and bends, containing in a split second all the choices of a life, of a history.