Get Me Through December

It was a little ridiculous, honestly. After a while I started to feel like Wendy with the Lost Boys, with these guys: Andy who’d show up drunk on my porch and talk about how nobody loved him, Jake who was four days sick with the flu and had nothing in his house to eat but half a lemon turning green in the fridge, Mark who taught me how to make coffee with hot chocolate powder to stay awake for my 8 a.m. classes, who was pulling a 4.0, the jackass, when I could barely score Ds with the hours we were keeping, Jay who for as long as I’ve known him has been nothing but funny and kind with a consistency that almost isn’t human.

My parents lived mere blocks from their own parents, and so on and so forth. I’d never known family to be out of arm’s reach, for good or ill. You didn’t even have to pick up the phone. I grew up in a small town, all you had to do was yell extra-loud and you’d summon a relative. So when I split town, not yet 18, and suddenly there was nothing around me but thousands of strangers, who was I? Who did I belong to? Where would I go when I was lost or tired or scared or sick? Who would I take care of? Who would take care of me?

But here’s what happens: There are some things about you that are immune to circumstance. My mom likes to say I’ve been walking up to strangers and trying to get them to love me since I could walk and talk. I don’t remember it happening on purpose, but by the end of the first year my life was full of these people, these great kids, who stayed up all night with me when I was studying and told me to keep my eyes open so I’d pass that final, who took me out to a gay bar on my 20th birthday.

I’d walked into a newsroom looking for a job and walked out with a family.

It wasn’t a conventional place to find one. But we worked together and fought together and fought each other sometimes, too, and here’s how it’s like a family: there’s a thousand things we don’t talk about and dozens of scars we’ve left on each other, and you’d have to pry me away from them with a crowbar. They danced at my wedding and I danced at theirs. There’s no place too far to drive to see them, no hour too late to take a call. For four years I saw them first every day and last every day, thought of them sometimes before I opened my eyes, and they’re my brothers.

We have the family we’re born to, and I’m lucky in mine. But we also have the family we make for ourselves, the people we consider ourselves to have an obligation to. And that comes from taking an interest and taking joy in conversation, from shared interest and common goal, but it quickly becomes so, so much more. You need a laugh on a lousy day? Here, let me tell you a joke. You have good news? Oh, congratulations! Hey, I saw something on TV that reminded me of you, how are you? When something good happens, you dance. And on a dark day, you can only think, I have to talk to her, to him. I have to reach out, hold on tight.

And one day you wake up and realize that’s what love is, and you look around wherever you are and you’ve got yourself a family, crazy cousins and all. NTodd, the window’s halfway across the country, but the candle’s lit.

A.