by Linda McMullen
“So have you met someone?”
The chorus at every family holiday. Mom and Dad, arm in arm in front of the fireplace, Mom spotting a dust mote on the TV and Dad bellowing about his fishing trophy; Uncle Nate taking umbrage at any implication that he’s double- dipped his Ruffles in my mother’s Hidden Valley Ranch Dip; Aunt Sharon pretending she hasn’t downed three at the bar before arriving; Uncle Marcus leering at every woman under thirty who appears on the television; Aunt Nicole lecturing us on the evils of non-organic poultry consumption; Grandma stabbing her embroidery with unwonted vigor; assorted cousins tending their squalling broods – they all lean in when Grandpa poses this question.
I’m thirty-seven. I’m working on a PhD. I’ve traveled to over four different countries this year. I closed on my first condo. I go out with friends regularly, I’m taking Zumba classes, and I’m in a book club. Why doesn’t that check the ‘full life’ box?
They’re still leaning.
Cousin Jeremy’s here too, but he’s hiding in the guest room re-reading The Simarillion. He’s my favorite.
“I’m finishing my coursework in the spring,” I say.
“Jen-ni-fer, you can’t put it off forever,” Grandpa chants, wagging a finger. The feral version of me would bite it off. I arch an eyebrow. My grandmother pointedly ignores him. And me.
“I went with a two-bedroom condo so I could have an office,” I add.
“You know,” said Aunt Sharon, “there’s a nice man in my office – Keith – divorced, with one young son – he’s a champion angler –”
“No thanks,” I say, breezily. She lurches toward the wine; I pluck a water bottle from the cooler and hand it to her. She frowns. I reach for a napkin to wipe my dripping hand and jostle Uncle Nate and his bitten chip. “Hey, let me go get a spoon for you,” I say. I feel Uncle Marcus’s eyes on my rear.
In the kitchen, I run into my mother.
“They mean well.”
Dad says, “You know, that Keith sounds great –”
“He’d probably be a wonderful fishing buddy for you, Dad,” I say, grabbing a spoon. “Maybe you should get his number.” Dad glares. Aunt Nicole interrupts:
“I’ve got this new vegan life coach – single –”
“You haven’t even heard –”
“I’ve heard plenty!” I snap. The entire family gapes. My stomach rumbles.
I turn away from the chips and dip, the cheese-and-tomato mini-skewers on toothpicks, and my extended family. I head to the guest room, where Jeremy’s about to delve back into the Second Age. “Hey. You wanna blow this popsicle stand and go get Chinese?” He glances down at his page. Wavers. “We’ll just stop by my condo to pick up my book first,” I clarify. “I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”
“Yes,” he says, placing his whole soul behind that single word.
“Great,” I reply, and he follows me to the living room. We retrieve our coats. “Thanks, everyone, see you. Enjoy the holiday.”