As soon as I walked through the gate at the dog park, I saw I wasn’t alone. It was near dark, but I could make out a yellow lab carrying a stick in its mouth, bounding out ahead of a man in a beanie cap and jeans, hands stuffed into the pockets of a ski jacket. A familiar pair: Marley and Jay. (Yes, Marley, just like the one from the book.)
I gave a quick wave, but kept my gaze down, walking on with purpose while my stupid clogs filled with snow. I wasn’t in the mood for chatting, and besides, my ankles were freezing. But Marley spotted Jack and made a beeline toward us.
“Working tonight?” Jay called out as he crunched his way across the snow. Jay knows I’m a nurse, and we’ve commiserated before about work schedules. He engineers sound for live music performances, so he, too, knows about working nights, weekends, and holidays.
I could have easily cut the conversation short by lying. Work provides the ultimate holiday alibi when you’re a nurse. It absolves you from attending parties and family gatherings, and can make you look virtuous and altruistic in the meantime.
Instead, I told the truth. “Nope, I’ve got the night off,” I said, crouching down to pick up a stick for Marley, who had just returned from gobbling up piles of glossy, black deer droppings under the spruce trees. Jack emerged from the same place a moment later, licking his chops.
Saying I had the night off was a partial truth. The whole truth was I hadn’t been working since October. The whole truth was that I had to take an extended break because travel nursing during COVID burned me to cinders. The rest of the truth was that I’d just returned home from several weeks back in Minnesota helping take care of my father, and that my head and heart were heavy with the knowledge that I’d be going back in January to help transition him into assisted living. But that conversation was too much for the dog park at dusk, on a holiday, no less. That truth wasn’t the pitch-perfect note to end the year on. Anyhow, my ankles were freezing.
“Big plans?” Jay asked, ignoring Marley as he nosed a ball he’d found somewhere through the snow. I could have told Jay my big plan was cracking open my brand new 2022 planner, writing my name inside the front cover, and looking optimistically at all of the blank, white calendar squares stretching out into the unknown.
“No plans… We’re in for the night.” There, I said it.
“Yep,” Jay said, “Us too. Me, my wife, and that goofball.” He nodded at the unremitting Marley who had just unearthed what was either a three-foot long branch, or a deer leg. “We’ll be asleep by ten,” he laughed as he wrangled Marley to head home.
I shuffled back home in the darkness, the insides of my clogs turning to ice. Jack trotted beside me, smug and satisfied. He, for one, was glad we ran into friends. As we turned into our driveway, light spilled from the living room windows into warm swaths across the snow that almost looked like sunlight. Inside it was warm; music played on the stereo, and the delicious smells of something my husband was cooking wafted from the kitchen. I freed Jack from his leash, hung it on the hook beside the door, and left my snowy clogs on the mat. It was New Year’s Eve, after all, and we were in for the night.