Someone invented Thanksgiving to keep us in line, to keep us aimed away from our natural inclination to bitch and moan. Instead, today we’re meant to remember and recognize all of the reasons we should be thankful. And so, we cook gut-busting meals and gather around tables with families and friends and feast on turkey and stuffing, sleep it off, maybe watch some football. And we are thankful.
And honestly, I’m thankful most days without dressing my gratitude up in cranberry sauce and gravy.
But this week, this holiday week, began in a way that left my family and I feeling … resentful, maybe? Hatetful? Abandoned and lower than whale shit? Anything but thankful.
Our son’s nurse – we’ll call her Lurlene to protect the guilty – walked off the job after almost three years. Let me correct that. ‘Walk off the job’ implies more courage and decency than this woman showed us. She skulked off the job, scuttled off, crept off, slunk off, snuck off – shuffled off in whatever way you do in the darkness under a desk.
She came twice a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays usually, and spent about six hours with our son each day, looking after his basic needs (the state program that paid for her services requires that there be an education component to her service – we were the ones doing all the educating, because she couldn’t even take his temperature at first; it took her two years to learn how to put on the knee braces he sleeps in).
But when someone immerses herself in your life, comes into your home several days a week, shares meals and secrets with you, takes care of your child, a thing happens. You overlook the stupid shit, and a relationship develops. You become friends. You know each other’s good stuff and bad stuff, weaknesses and strengths, needs and desires, problems and challenges, all of the things you know about a friend, and over the last few years we cultivated and nurtured something that felt — to my family, anyway — like a friendship.
We exchanged gifts on holidays, became Facebook friends with her grown children, cooked her meals twice a week, laughed and cried together (well, I personally didn’t cry with her, but my wife listened to her share personal things, love life stuff that usually requires an hourly fee to say).
She came into our lives because of a state program but we had no doubt that when the program inevitably ended, or when we were kicked out of it in the annual government sanctioned slashing of social aid, that we’d remain close with Lurlene.
Turns out that we were the really stupid ones. Turns out government-subsidized friendships don’t count.
The phone call came early on Monday. “Lurlene won’t be coming back to take care of Joey,” the office lackey said. “She doesn’t want to make that drive any more.”
It was a 35-40 minute drive to our house from hers.
“We’re trying to find you another nurse,” he said.
But I was still processing the first thing he’d said and fumbled for words, “uh, she couldn’t call us herself?”
“She asked us to call,” he said, and repeated, “We’re trying to find you another nurse.”
Lurlene didn’t have it in her to call, she didn’t have whatever courage, class, human decency it takes to call or text or send an email or do anything else that would have raised us above the microbial level of contractual obligation. When she left last Thursday, she left knowing she wouldn’t be back. She hugged my wife and said see ya later, knowing full well (probably) that her next move was to slink away without notice.
She got a better gig with the same company, closer to her home, more hours. If she’d had the minimum of decency required to tell us this, we would have wished her well, we would have said, “oh, we hate to lose you, but good luck – when should we meet for dinner?”
Instead, she erased that, erased everything between us and blithely moved onto the next thing. My son’s love and affection for her was real – unlike Lurlene, he is incapable of faking these things – and in the cover of darkness, in her secret fear, she wadded up whatever he was to her and threw it away, burned it, and with bulging, hungry eyes reached for the next shiny thing.
The wife and I were stunned, then numb, then really pissed off, and now philosophical. Lurlene, we realized, has no sense of direction, that this is whole affair is just the latest in a long series of wrong turns for her. I get no joy at all from the fact that it will continue to go badly for her, to know that karma is a heartless bitch.
So what are we thankful for today? Everything. Thankful to have been born, to have lived, to have found each other, to have a roof without leaks (and the good sense to fix it when it does leak), thankful to have family and true friends, for their companionship (and this week especially, for their food).
I’m thankful for my son, thankful for his honest love, thankful even that he loves Lurlene; thankful that he constantly teaches me, thankful that he sees the soul in people who can’t find it in themselves. His trust in a mixed up, inconsistent human race sometimes gives me pause, but ultimately gives me hope, and every day I’m thankful for that hope, that glimmer, that attainable grace.