It's the holiday when you’re never where you need to be. It’s also the one when the people you need to be with, the ones who are already there and waiting for you because they live there, the meal is at their house, feel the least shame about telling you to try. You can’t, though. You’ll never make it. It’s too late. If you’d set out two days ago you might have made it—if there had been seats, which you're pretty sure there weren’t; to get one you would have had to book last week, last week when you still weren't sure that you could come—but now it’s all a mess and it’s impossible and you are so very sorry but, hey, so be it.
A silence. And then, as always, this: "What happened?" But you just told them. In detail. For fifteen minutes. Which means what they want from you is not the facts (to them only one fact matters: you’re not there), but the thing you left out, the deeper thing, the truth. What they’re actually asking is: What happened to you?
“Let’s just say it’s been a crazy year.” Shouldn’t that cover it? Shouldn’t that be enough? Doesn’t that say without coming out and saying it that No, I’m not perfect, and Yes, I let things slide sometimes (instead of assuming they had no seats two days ago, I could have made sure by using the Orbitz phone app, which would have taken ten seconds, plus it’s free), but you have to consider the larger context, too. My work. My relationship. The surgery. That thing where my neighbor cut power to our block while building a pool and I moved to a motel. Then throw in the mounting hassles of life in general, which you find overwhelming too, admit it. Like how you can’t just mail things anymore, you have to Fedex or UPS them—and not just ‘standard overnight’ (unless you want to lose the deal) but ‘priority pre-dawn special handling.’ And what about those requests for software updates that used to show up weeks apart but now arrive hourly, forcing a decision: ‘Download Now’ and interrupt your work or ‘Download Later’ and risk a glitch that will ruin or lose your work?
“That would make three in a row,” they say.
“Of what?” You drifted off. The holidays exhaust you. Which means you’re exhausted half the fall and winter, creating a backlog of jobs and obligations that keep you busy right on through the summer, a season that used to be a holiday.
“Three crazy years,” they say. “Oh, wait. It’s four. Your brother here just reminded me it’s four.”
“When did my brother get there?” Why even ask, though? Why set them up for their zinger? You’ll never learn. Then again, what are holidays but sets of rituals, so why stop observing this one?
“On time,” they say.
It’s the holiday when you’re never where you’re supposed to be. But neither is anyone else, you come to learn. Like you, they were expected somewhere else but they never got there, so, instead, they’re here. And so are you. And all the others, too. Guilty, maybe, but far from lonely.
And so you sit down together and you eat.