Something there is about diners open on Christmas.
There have been two instances that I have eaten dinner at restaurants on December 25th.
The first was 2004.
I had just returned from spending Christmas with my family,
my conservative Christian family.
I was pregnant, unbeknownst to them.
My secret was scratching me, clawing me from the inside.
I wanted to go back to my apartment, get shitfaced, be alone.
But I didn’t get shitfaced.
Instead, my best friend Karen and I drove back north to Kirkland where
we ate at Pegasus Pizza, the only place open in the town.
When I saw that red Open sign illuminated, I smiled, relieved
there was a place for people without families,
or people running from their families,
or people who didn’t celebrate the holiday
or people who just wanted a hot meal without cooking.
It was a warm, safe haven.
A place to be.
The second was last year: 2017.
I spent the morning with my children and my ex-husband,
watching them open presents, cleaning up.
When they left for dinner at grandma’s,
I picked up my friend and we drove in the snow to Denny’s,
the only place I knew was open. She called first, to make sure,
not believing me. When a woman answered and said, “yes,”
my friend said, “bless you,” because some of us needed
a warm safe haven, a place to be
where we weren’t shitfaced or high
because we had no other place to be on Christmas.
Something there is about friends, who hang out with you on Christmas.
In 2004, my friend Karen,
my ex-roommate, the only person who knew me
in any sort of honest way, the only person
I’d told my secret
to, ate greasy pizza with me, fed me,
fed my baby, filled me, nourished me
when I was starving, ravenous
for someone to care about me, love
me without conditions.
Last year, my friend Colleen and I ate club
sandwiches and french fries, in a diner
off I-80, the florescent lights buzzing,
other patrons eating quietly, hushed,
like it was sacred, this day we wanted to end.
“We should tip exorbitantly, which is to say, tip
what servers should make: a living,” she said.
It was all the human kindness in that diner–
how servers hurried to refill coffee mugs,
friends keeping company to those without families,
the smiling manager ringing out customers–
humans being humans to each other,
in the good way, the caring, considerate,
compassionate way that made it Christmas.
If I had a church, it would be Denny’s on Christmas.
Something there is about stomachs, about food, nourishing each other.
It was Colleen who told me about our stomachs
being second brains, about the entire ecosystem
of bacteria and the vast neural network
that communicates to our head brains.
“That’s why I get butterflies in my stomach,”
I said, amazed, “why I have ‘gut feelings.'”
That’s why I feel the most loved when someone
is feeding me, filling me. That’s why I say I’m
“satisfied” when I’m nourished.
I was satisfied, nourished, once
at a pizza joint, again at
an interstate diner on Christmas Day
when I was starving, ravenous.