Being a charter member of the Hopelessly Single club, the Holidays were supposed to be a reminder of what I don’t have. Holiday parties have to depress me. Spending hours alone in my car should be a conduit for thoughts of loneliness. I’m supposed to look out my window at the holiday decorations, look around my empty place and wish that I had someone there with me to celebrate the season.
Yet for a variety of reasons here I am, three days from Christmas and a little over a week from New Years, and I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I was ever happier.
The realization came Sunday after I’d returned home from a getaway weekend with a lot of family and friends. I was exhausted from the travel, the lack of sleep and the damage I’d done to my body with all the eating and drinking. But I started a fire in the living room, plopped myself down on a couch and thought about how lucky I was.
I love my job. It’s not perfect and maybe it’s not ideal in some ways, but for someone with my skills and background it’s an incredible situation. I went from a struggling agency to a successful international company that had real use for me. I’ll be working here for a very long time.
It took a couple years, but I’ve come to love Eau Claire. So much so I don’t know if I’d want to live anywhere else in Wisconsin or Minnesota. Recently voted one of the 100 best places to live in the US by CNN, I can’t really argue. At 66,000 people, it’s certainly not small. The local universities ensure there’s always going to be entertainment for the younger crowd. The golfing is amazing. There are lakes and rivers and bike trails all over the place. We’ve got a Northwoods team that brings in a great crowd during the summer. The music scene is remarkable. Phoenix Park on any given Thursday is a great place to catch a couple bands. The bars range from dive to chill to sports to classy to dance club to places you can catch a good band. What EC doesn’t have in fine dining it makes up for in mom and pop joints that make for ideal meet-ups after a night of drinking or during the week when you need a good meal with good people over lunch. The housing market is great and affordable. It’s about the perfect place to raise a family.
But mostly, what has endured me most to EC is what it doesn’t have. Crime. Traffic. Ridiculous prices. The feeling that no matter where you are you’re always invading someone else’s space. I love that if I have to take a cab home it’s a five minute ride instead of thirty. I like that after going to a bar or restaurant or grocery store or golf course a few times they remember your name, who you are and treat you like a friend.
I’ve known the above for the last few months. It is important. But what really drove home the realization that my life was so great came this weekend. I was sitting a table with my brother and his girlfriend, my sister, my cousin Adam and his wife. We were playing a drinking game, telling stories and making each other howl with laughter. Here I was, sitting with some of the people I’m closest to in the world, and it hit me that each of them is local.
The four people I grew up with are my brother and sister, and my cousins Bobby and Adam. I moved often but they were the constants in my life. Now they’re all living in the same area as me, available at the drop of a hat. Through them I’ve met other awesome people, too. My brother calls me he wants to go golfing. My sister stops by to watch the Packers. Bobby and Whitney like to get drinks on the weekends. The Katies insist I come along when they need a happy hour or a big breakfast at Chucks. Now we’re adding Adam and his wife to our clan.
I’ve known some amazing women and had a few very special relationships. But when I look back at the times I’ve been the most happy, they involve a great group of friends more than anything else. My senior year(s) in college with my housemates and neighbors. My second year at Footlocker with my coworkers. Back then I knew none of that would last for one reason or another. It couldn’t. This is the first time I can look around at the people I love spending time with and believe there’s some staying power. These are people like me who are looking to make a life, put down some roots and stick around for a long time.
The thought that I might have this kind of company for a long time does nothing but make me thankful for the kind of life I’ve got.