There’s so much to be grateful for, words are poor things.
~ Marilynne Robinson
Holding a cooling Corningware serving bowl of roasted chestnut stuffing, I stood on my friend Jim’s front porch as the sun set and temperature dropped below freezing. I had tried my hand at a new recipe that afternoon, but I hadn’t heard the oven timer and burned an entire pound of chestnuts. It was an epic failure and I threw away the blackened orbs that left a funky earthy smell in my apartment. I wasn’t a quitter, though. I called around hoping someone would take pity on my last-minute fail. Inside the gleaming white dish was the creation of the caterer who operated a storefront down the block from my apartment. He assured me he had enough leftovers from his clients to give me a bowlful of stuffing. I figured Jim’s guests would never know it wasn’t exactly my own handiwork.
The door opened a crack and Jim’s face appeared. “Good, Joanie, you made it.” He seemed relieved to see me and opened the screen door.
I was an hour late to his shindig, never thinking anyone served Thanksgiving dinner on time so I was surprised at how anxious he was. People always invited you over early to have a couple of beers, watch the game and mingle with guests. I figured I could skip that part and finish a project. “Why wouldn’t I have come? I brought the stuffing, just like I said!” I tried handing off the bowl, but the container was too warm for his bare hands. I was wearing my woolen mittens.
Jim was my best work friend, even though technically we didn’t work together. We were both freelance writers and had connected through a Linked In group forum a couple of years earlier. Since then, we had taken to sharing anecdotes, problems and projects over email on a daily basis. We had only met in person twice in the past year. Jim was the best co-worker I never had.
“I’ll take that.”
The voice came from a woman walking toward me across the living room. It took a moment before I registered it was my mother. She was supposed to be in Florida, supping on a Thanksgiving feast with her Ladies’ Group at the beachfront marina. She told me she was going to drink pumpkin pie martinis. What was she doing in Jim’s house?
Jim stepped behind me, closing the door. As my mother walked away, roasted chestnut stuffing in her oven-mitted hands, I shrugged off my coat and took a longer look around. That’s when I noticed the group of people standing in front of the fireplace along the far side of the living room.
My blood went cold and I froze on the spot. They were my family and friends, and it didn’t look like they were there for turkey and pumpkin pie. Above their heads was a six-foot-wide banner declaring there was to be an intervention.
A man I didn’t recognize guided me to the couch. As we settled onto the cushions, he introduced himself in a calming voice and explained what was going to happen.
Reeling from the shock of his news, I gaped at this man in his sky blue cardigan, mock navy turtleneck and neatly pressed khaki pants. I finally shook my head. “Vince, I don’t know what these people told you, but I do not have an addiction. This is all a mistake.”
He nodded patiently. “You can leave any time you want. They just want you to know how much they love you and are concerned for you. They have some things they want to say. I hope you will stay to hear them.” He had wrinkles that traced from the corners of his dark baby blues out to the side of his face. He seemed like a very caring person.
I looked back at the group. There was my sister, Leah, and her husband, Brian, standing to the left in their matching Lands’ End cream woolen sweaters and brown corduroy pants. My cousin Shannon was standing next to them, deep furrows of concern cutting across his forehead. My best friend, Amber, was there too, with her arms folded across her pink Angora sweater, giving me one of her, “I love you but this is for the best looks.” Mom was next in line, wringing her hands together, twisting her rings around, around and around. I made a note to use Mom’s nervous tic in one of my short stories.
Jim stood next to them, looking grim. His face was half-hidden behind the Grizzly Adams beard he grew each November. He claimed it was to support prostate cancer awareness but I was certain he just liked giving up shaving for a month. “Look, Joanie, we had to do this and we thought Thanksgiving was the best opportunity. It’s time for you to acknowledge you have a problem and begin to deal with it. And we thought by having the people who love you here, you would do this. For you. For us.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” Still seated on the couch, I was slowly coming out of my shock. It was like walking through a swamp where every step was a fight against sinking down into the muck. What was wrong with them? They were treating me like a meth-head. I began ticking off all the addictions I could recall. “I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I don’t eat weird things. I’m not OCD. I’m not a hoarder. I don’t have porn anywhere. I don’t own a handgun. I never spend more than 30 minutes on social media. I haven’t even used my credit card for shopping in the past two months. My weight is within my body range and I rarely even work out. Why the heck do I need an intervention?”
Vince held his hand, palm up, out to Jim. Jim took a deep breath and looked at the group for affirmation before continuing. “It’s about your writing, Joanie. You’re obsessed. You never stop working. You always put your client’s work first. Above you. Above everyone else.”
Leah nodded energetically. “You always have a pen and paper with you. You’re always taking notes. How many of those little note pads have you filled up? I’ve seen at least three this year. You probably have one in your pocket right now.”
“And you’re always distracted,” my mother piped in. “When we’re on the phone I can hear you clicking away on the keyboard. You never stop.”
“And you only want to talk about a project or an idea. You don’t know how to have fun anymore!” Amber pouted. “I miss hanging out with you.”
The rest of the group nodded in agreement.
“Joanie, what do you think?” Vince reached out and touched my arm. I shirked away.
What did I think? I thought they were nuts, of course! Writing? They thought I was addicted to my writing? It was absurd. Of course, writing was my life. My complete life. It was all I knew how to do, and it was how I made my living. I had to write all the time otherwise the bills weren’t paid. In fact, my writing had paid for the delicious chestnut stuff from Chef Pierre that was getting cold on the dining room table at that very instant. But it didn’t mean I didn’t know how to live my life. It just happened that writing took priority over everything else. There were certainly worse things I could do.
“What do I think?” I stomped over to Jim and grabbed my coat before picking up my Corningware dish of stuffing from the table. I opened the door, stopped and turned to the group. “I think that if you really wanted me to take this seriously, someone would have used spellcheck.”
The group turned to look at the sign hanging above them.
There, in big bold letters, the banner read “INTEVENTION.”
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