My eyes slowly open. It’s brighter out than usual. I must have slept in.
The blinds are closed, but a foggy, soft light peeks into the room through the small slits. I roll over and squint at the clock. A red 7:37 confirms for me that today is not a normal work day.
It is Thursday. It is unusual to have a day off in the middle of the week. My brain works to reconcile this. I am still in bed after the sun woke up. Today is Thursday, but it is different.
I turn over and blink at the ceiling. I could get up. Or I could close my eyes and doze for a bit longer. Knowing that tomorrow I will have to get myself up, dressed, and presented to the world in time to support my coworkers in the Black Friday madness, I decide that I best roll out of bed and face the day. Otherwise, sleep won’t come until the wee hours.
I go to the window and part the blinds with two fingers. It’s overcast, but most of the snow that fell earlier in the week has retreated to the grassy areas. The roads are clear, damp in spots and dry in others.
It is Thursday, and on Thursdays, I run. I don my shoes and my fleece running tights and head out the door.
It’s cold and damp, but not offensively so. I ask my phone to shuffle my music, and start my run-tracking app. The scale knows only that today is Thursday. My thighs don’t know today is different.
My spouse chose to sleep in, so today’s workout is a solo effort. The hubs prefers a specific route, but today, I can choose my path. I pause for a moment, overwhelmed by options and unsure of my direction. On Thursdays, we go right. But today is different. I turn left at the end of the driveway.
Siri‘s in a Broadway kind of mood today. My phone blasts excerpts from Aspects of Love and Hairspray. I don’t wear headphones when I run; I want to be able to hear approaching cars and unleashed dogs. This morning, the air is largely still. It’s unusually quiet for a Thursday. The normal hum of rush-hour traffic is missing, and I can’t decide if the incongruous silence is comforting or unsettling. My eyes and ears note the contrast. Today is Thursday, but it is different.
The lack of activity makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings. I note the lone passenger at the bus stop, bundled in a thick parka. I start as a squirrel darts a few feet in front of me. A partially rusted car, painted with gray primer, makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and parks a half block ahead of me. It’s a safe neighborhood, but I confirm my grip on my pepper spray, moving the nozzle to “fire.” I watch as a wiry, bearded man exits the vehicle, hoisting his bag of newspapers over his shoulder. I nod in his direction and smile as I call out, “Good morning!” He looks up, surprised, but returns the greeting. Perhaps on Thursdays, no one says hello to the junk paper delivery guy. But today is different.
My phone announces the start of Mile Two. Halfway there. I cover a few more squares of sidewalk before carefully turning around to reverse my route. I leap over small snow piles, avoiding the bumpy metallic curb slopes. (Those suckers are slippery. ) Occasionally, I land in a pile of slush. It clogs the treads of my running shoes and I lose a bit of traction. I press on. I shouldn’t fall.
I shake the snow loose and let my mind wander as I pass the ranch-styles and split-levels. Is the neighborhood awake? Are they in their kitchens, slicing potatoes? Are they at their laptops, frantically Googling “fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey”? Perhaps they’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of family – or maybe everyone arrived last night, leaving them wondering if it’s too early to uncork a bottle of red. I wonder if any of them are looking out their windows. Do they see me? Do they think “look at her dedication, running even today!” Because although it is Thursday, and there is no reason not to run on normal Thursdays, today is different.
Mile Three. I run across a normally busy street without looking. On Thursday, this is dangerous. But it’s so peaceful, the possibility of traffic doesn’t even occur to me until I’ve crossed two lanes. Today is different. Even Siri attempts to remind me of the date, as she offers up When October Goes (yes, Barry Manilow is in my collection, don’t judge) and November Rain as subtle hints.
It’s unnecessary. I know what today is.
Today, families across the country are gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries. They’ll cheer their favorite teams as they lift forks and spoons filled with spiced pumpkin and ice cream. And after the game, they might sit around the table, sharing old stories and sandwiches and card games and coffee, reminiscing and laughing by a crackling fire.
This is not my today. Today is different.
I arrive home, clapping bark and leaves off my shoes. My kids are celebrating the holiday with their father. My siblings are with my mother as she navigates both her first wedding anniversary and first major holiday without her husband in over fifty years. Sure, I could have boarded a plane to be with them. I could have joined the millions of Americans who just yesterday jammed the airports and highways, shelling out dollars and tempers and myriad frustrations in order to chase their expectations.
Out loud, to coworkers, I pride myself on refusing to travel during what I have deemed “amateur hour,” fighting to get to my gate among beginners who don’t understand which line to wait in and never remember that a full water bottle is a weapon which must be discarded before you hit Security.
I opt out of the madness. I claim to prefer a relaxed, subdued holiday. Sometimes I manage to convince myself this is true.
The house is quiet. Warm and dark after the damp, oddly bright cloudiness outside. My stepsons are awake and plugged into their respective computers, oblivious to my entrance.
I retreat to the basement to stretch. The cats join me, craning their necks for an ear-scratch while I release the tension in my quads and hamstrings. I clean up a small pile of regurgitated cat food. I scoop the litterbox. I dole out hairball treats.
The scale is there, waiting for me. It’s Thursday. Hop on. I sigh, exhale, and ask the judge for mercy. She grants it, haltingly. I’m still on probation. Five more pounds, maybe seven. I can do this. Even today.
After my shower, I switch on the coffee pot. I assemble a green smoothie. It is Thursday, after all. No reason to switch to pancakes or cookies. No occasion warrants a sidestep from the calorie-counting regimen. Not even today.
Sipping slowly, I plot out my day. There’s a sale starting at 6 PM; I get $10 off my purchase. That might be worth waiting in line for. Football will be on most of the day; I can toast some pumpkin seeds and relax in my new recliner until then. I pick out an afghan that my husband’s grandmother made. I turn on the Christmas tree, letting the lights illuminate the room.
My life isn’t what I planned. I envisioned hectic holidays, crammed to the gills with family laughter and delicious food and epic card games and stolen naps. As a child, I never thought through the what-ifs of divorce and geography. Yet I live it today, the quiet being a product of the choices I’ve made.
I did what I thought was best at the time.
Isn’t that all any of us can do?
Make no mistake, I’m aware that I’ve been richly blessed. My life is, overall, quite good.
It’s just different. Especially today.
Later, I’ll bake some fish and roast some of the veggies from my weekly crop share delivery. I’ll get my Christmas lists ready. Maybe a new pair of booties will wend their way into my Amazon basket. I’ll work to shove the should-haves and don’t-eats out of the way as I focus on nurturing my soul.
I should probably do that every Thursday.
But today is different. Every part of my body and all of my senses are telling me so.
I hear it most clearly from my heart.
I settle into the couch and flip on the game. One of my cats is curled up next to me.
To him, it’s just Thursday. And he seems perfectly content with that.
I’ll try to be, too.