The happiest I saw Henry was at church on Christmas Eve. He seems to feel he belongs with his congregation. He's lonely and rudderless since quitting his job, but among his fellow church members, he seems more comfortable and even a little happy. "Happy" is in short supply in Henry's and Reg's lives.
I loved it, too. Rev. Steve is very warm and a good speaker. His Christmas message was so positive. He likened each of us to the star that led the wise men. When we act out of love, we become like the celestial phenomenon that lights the path for others. When we find ways to love and grow, we lead the way. I love that sentiment. We can show we're grateful to God by being good to others and lighting their path with kindness.
After the service Henry and I had a fancy, if disturbing, dinner. He ordered the octopus appetizer, telling me over and over how excited he was to see it on the menu. His mother made octopus all the time and he always enjoyed it. I ordered the coconut shrimp entree with a side of rice. When our plates came to the table, Henry took mine. Now I've never had octopus before, but I know what rice looks like, so I know he took my plate. I didn't want to embarrass him, so I let it go. He ate my coconut shrimp and declared it just like the octopus his mother used to make. As I ate his octopus (which tasted like mussels), I found myself getting progressively freaked out. Our dinner conversation wasn't any more festive. He was dismissive of my fears about crime in Chicago. He insisted it really isn't that bad, that Miami is worse. It was freaky. He moved from Chicago decades ago and hasn't even visited in 17 years. He's never lived in Miami. What the fuck? I was happy when Reg joined us for coffee and finished Henry's plate. He never had octopus before and was surprised it was cooked with coconut (!).
Why must Henry argue about everything? Why does he think he understands what it's life to live in post-pandemic Chicago, or Miami? And why can't he taste the difference between octopus grilled with lemon and coconut shrimp?
Because he's living with a traumatic brain injury.
Talking to him is unpleasant and exhausting. I love him, of course. I was happy to try to be there for him, and to give him companionship and to give Reg a break. But I understand why he's lonely. Just conversing with is work. No wonder people no longer seek him out. I wish he was happier. I wish his brain worked.
Christmas was only marginally better. Both Henry and Reg were emotional, missing their families (Henry's in Puerto Rico hadn't called for either his birthday or Christmas; or if they did, he missed the call and didn't check his voicemail). I realize Christmas can be a melancholy time, so I tried to cut them slack and I dialed up my own merry.
We had a light lunch at a beautiful setting on the Gulf of Mexico.
|Isn't this gorgeous?|
Henry and Reg decided against gifts and that was fine. It was enough that we were together. Patrick and I exchanged, though. I had a mug made for him -- pictures of him all over Key West that will remind him of his "island home" when he returns to Maine. He gave me a book about movie making, told in anecdotes from the experts. The only really weird part was that Henry kept insisting that while he was enjoying his lobster quesadilla, it was nowhere near as good as the octopus he'd had the night before (I'm not kidding).
I had a turkey club sandwich. Hey! It's Christmas and I demand turkey! Because it was my last big meal in Key West, I went old school. I had a Key Lime Colada with my lunch and Key Lime Pie for dessert. (I like green.)
Our car was parked near the Custom House, a beautiful building that's home to the Key West Art and Historical Society. Out front is a bronze sculpture Pondering the Benefits of Exercise by Seward Johnson. I got such a kick out of it. I always like his work.
It was a good Christmas. Not a perfect Christmas, but it doesn't have to be perfect to be a good Christmas. Me and Patrick, Reg and Henry. We all love each other. That's what's important. I just hope 2022 is happier for those guys.