My mother called a few weeks ago after she saw the movie Lincoln.
“Do you know that your ex-husband looks exactly like Daniel Day-Lewis?”
Over the years many people had called Day-Lewis Lee’s doppelganger. (Mine, Jamie Lee Curtis.) Sometimes I could see it. More often, I didn’t.
Strolling to the Davis Theatre for a matinee the day after Christmas – my Week 2 Artist’s Date – I wasn’t thinking much about it. Until he appeared on screen.
He was nodding, listening to two black soldiers. It was Lee – with a beard. Something I’d often asked him to grow but he refused. “Too scruffy.”
The smiling creases around his eyes. Weathered skin (Lee’s from too many hours outdoors without sunscreen.). Aquiline nose. Gentle demeanor.
Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t sure if it was the movie or the man.
I’d made it through Christmas — my first without Lee.
He called the day before, telling me how hard it hit him that we weren’t together. That he went to a movie on Christmas Eve (also Lincoln), and remembered that was what we had done most Christmas Days in our 15 years together.
I told him I remembered too.
And that I remembered all the years I gathered strays on Christmas Eve and made risotto – making sure we wouldn’t be alone. The habit grew out of our first Christmas together, his first away from the East Coast. As a Jew, I didn’t celebrate Christmas and he thought that he would be ok with that. Turns out, he wasn’t exactly. So we learned to create traditions among our community in San Francisco, and later in Chicago. Risotto on Christmas Eve. A movie on Christmas Day.
I told him I had been at Starbucks that morning and one of the baristas was wearing a Santa hat. That it reminded me of the year we spent Christmas in Spain, hanging out with the “Christmas Chicas” who donned Santa hats and pulled espressos at a coffee shop in Barcelona. We sat at the bar and ate tuna with oil and vinegar on baguettes and watched on as others played chess. The night before we wandered into a church and watched as congregants purchased and lit red votive candles – neither of us quite sure why.
I told him I remembered the years it was 65-plus degrees in San Francisco and we secured our bikes to the roof rack and headed to Marin County. Screaming down hills into Sausalito. Looking out at Alcatraz and the TransAmerica Pyramid. Pedaling through exclusiveTiburon. Sometimes we’d see a vulture in the trees.
Until now, I had forgotten about the years we went to Yosemite. That we slept in bunk beds at the Yosemite Bug. Shared sake on the porch with our new friends Arpi and Heather – never mind that alcohol was explicitly prohibited in the hostel kitchen. That the three of them attempted to but chains on the tires of our Honda Civic hatch on the way up to Badger Pass. And that I begged them to pay $20 to the guy on the side of the road whose job it was to do such things. That they finally relented and watched as he cut the chains to fit the tires, taking mental notes so they could repeat his mastery.
And they did. The next day we drove to the Yosemite Valley floor for cocktails at the Ahwahnee Hotel and to watch the snow fall. We chained up on our way out of the park, watching as photographers set up box cameras, shooting trees heavy with quick-falling wet snow. Images made famous by Ansel Adams. We spent more time driving than we did at the Ahwahnee. It was perfect.
I had forgotten about the year we went to visit his parents and Lee holed up with his father in the back bedroom tinkering with the computer, leaving me to “visit” with his mother for hours. The heat blasting through their New England home. Me threatening if he ever left me alone with his mother for that long again…
I had forgotten all the years we watched my favorite holiday movie, Olive the Other Reindeer. Drew Barrymore as the voice of Olive, a dog on a mission to help Santa make his run. Her sidekick, a shyster penguin named Martini. REM’s Michael Stipe as the voice of a leather-clad, angry reindeer that didn’t make Santa’s team.
And then I remembered. All of it.
In Week 2 of The Artist’s Way, the week titled “Recovering A Sense of Identity,” Julia Cameron writes “Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention…The reward for attention is always healing.”
I had paid attention all those Christmases. And perhaps, now I was beginning to heal.