My sister and me (I’m in yellow), our first Christmas living abroad, 1969.
By Neva Knott
2016 has been a fucked up year yet as I say that I wonder what year in recent memory hasn’t been for me? This year began with our dear friend Jimmy Boyer dying, on January 21. I’d tried to reach him over the holidays and on New Year’s. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong until I saw the announcement of his death on Facebook, and woke Andrew to tell him. Less than two months later, Andrew died. Just days before, he’d told me he was done, and I asked him if he meant done with a particular procedure at the hospital or done like he wanted to go see Jimmy. He said he wanted to go see Jimmy now. On March 8, the love of my life and best friend to many, the man who changed my life thirty years ago, died. In the mix I didn’t work for 18 months after my return to Portland, firstly because it quickly became apparent that Andrew needed a lot of help with his health issues and then because I just couldn’t, after losing him. And I’m not rich, and Portland is hella expensive now.
Out of the ashes, good has come into my life. I had the opportunity to camp on Mt. Hood this summer, a ritual that had slipped out of my life the last few. I have reacquainted with persons I hold dear here in the town I love, the place I’ve called home since I was 18. I’ve reconnected, through Andrew, with the community that was my world until I gave up on my fluid, creative lifestyle and joined adult professional life–note to self: huge mistake. In that mix, I’ve met many people who were, at first, nice to me because I was Andrew Loomis’s “new” girlfriend; then, they got to know me and I have several important new friendships. I had felt alone for several years, and now I don’t.
I finally gave up on teaching, a career I think gave up on me long ago. It is an odd thing to know you are good at something and simultaneously feel like a round peg in a square hole, day in and day out. I strove my whole novice adulthood to not sell out, yet I did, largely out of fear. I am afraid to fail, and given the family I am from–grandparents and a father who survived the Great Depression–I am afraid to be poor.
Once again this year my family has come together in strength and quirky little similarities that make Knotts Knotts and Coopers Coopers, and we’ve fallen apart and suffered losses. It seems to be our constant state of being.
Christmas started to die for me in 1977, the year my dad got sick with cancer at Thanksgiving, and was given only a few months to live. Still, we bought him presents–items on his list like work gloves and a chainsaw. We knew, as we wrapped them that he’d likely not make it a month more. He opened them with the same pretense, and on January 26th was gone.
Christmas really died for me in 1997, which is the last year I remember my grandmother Hazel alive and there, opening presents with us in the gift exchange fray at my mom’s. She’d wanted a doll that year, for some reason…grandma wanted a doll. She unwrapped it, and held it in her lap, and just looked out at the scramble and the mess and the piles of stuff and wrapping paper and the kids going crazy and hearing all the bursts of “look what I got,” and turned to me and said, “Neva, I wonder if any of them remember what this day is about.” I was raised Lutheran, my grandparents steadfast church goers, and kind people. I loved the candle light ceremony with them, and went to it at their church on Christmas Eve 2012, the first year I lived in Olympia after mom died. I felt my grandfather there with me, and saw my mom’s cousin a few rows over.
Now, Christmas is a day that I spend with my sister and her family. It’s nice that we have this one time in the year when we all get together, exchange gifts, laugh, eat, have drinks, and this year (it’s legal now and the kids are grown) smoked a few rounds of pot. Yesterday, we went to lunch at my tavern, opened gifts, then we played Monopoly, and I, the family vegan, made a prime rib and my sister and I got in a fight right before dinner because the meat wasn’t done and everything else was getting cold and she kept trying to make gravy out of Au Jus package mix and I didn’t have any flour for thickener because I am gluten free and we each thought the other was acting like neurotic mom, who was always a bit perfectionistic about holiday meals. Later, we watched TV, all of us crammed together on the couch and my nephews on the floor.
And so this is Christmas, another year older, what have you done (to quote John Lennon)?
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss Andrew. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get pissed at cancer and addiction and our lost time. A day doesn’t go by without some level of an anxiety attack, PTSD episode, or adrenal fatigue kicking my ass. But days do go by and I am alive and I laugh and joke and smile and strive. I do not have survivor’s guilt, only sorrow.
The big sea change in my personal life episode 2016 is that I let go of the biggest thing in my life that wasn’t working and that I held onto of some sort of fear-based logic, the thing that was taking up space in a way that disallowed me to move forward. I quit teaching, a career that never worked for me except for my two years teaching at a community college. My license expired on my birthday in September and I didn’t renew it. That same day, the day I realized I’d forgotten to send in the paperwork and simultaneously said fuck it, the bar I now own came for sale.
In 2016, I realized a dream come true. I’ve been saving and fantasizing and planning to buy my own business since I was 15. On Andrew’s birthday, I signed papers and became that business owner. I own a bar–four college degrees and a shit-ton of life-questioning and anguish later, I own a bar.
In 2016, I have survived yet another big loss, but because of it I have added many to my life, members of my tribe, new close friends, I’ve deepened my relationship with old friends, I’ve reconnected with some I thought were long-lost, and I have continued to live with a little help from my friends who’ve always been there for me.
My BFF Jimmy asked me a couple of years ago, “What’s important to you?” I said, people–my friends. He replied, “That’s obvious.” I hope it is, and that you all know how much you mean in my life.
Most importantly in 2016, I have come home. After feeling displaced for a decade, Portland is once again, firmly, happily, my home.