We’d been married for six years when Pieces of April came out, and we didn’t see it at a cinema. I’m not sure we even heard about it while it was playing. The movie was low-budget, with no ads on billboards or TV. The director had no reputation, had never directed a movie before. It starred Katie Holmes, best known then for Dawson’s Creek (a show we hated but occasionally watched just to make fun of it), and later famous for tragically marrying Tom Cruise, and then triumphantly divorcing him. So the movie completely escaped our attention, but we later read good things about it, and had Netflix mail us the DVD.
It’s about a young woman named April, who’s always been a bit of a screw-up. She’s moved to New York City, where she lives with her boyfriend in a bad neighborhood. April has invited her family to Thanksgiving dinner, and she’s going to do all the cooking but she’s not much of a cook, and the family has agreed to come but they’re dreading it and looking for an excuse to back out. That’s the movie’s set-up, and I hesitate to give away too much more about the plot.
Pieces of April reminded us vividly of Steph’s first Thanksgiving in San Francisco, in 1998. Her family wasn’t coming, so it was just me and Steph, but she wanted to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for the two of us, and she did. In our crazy kitchen, across the hall from our apartment, she warmed-up a chunk of turkey she’d bought at Trader Joe (a pre-cooked chunk, not a whole bird). She made green bean casserole and mashed potatoes and pretty much everything else that April made in the movie, the same traditional menu that Steph’s Mom and Dad made for me yesterday. But unlike April, Steph prepped it all perfectly, and our 1998 dinner was divine.
The movie was also spot-on in the shocked reaction of April’s family, when they arrived at the slum neighborhood and run-down building where April and her boyfriend lived. It reminded us of the neighborhood where Steph and I lived for her first few months in San Francisco, before she got us in to a decent apartment. Except that our first neighborhood was far worse than the slum in the movie.
Re-watching Pieces of April in later years, after Steph developed kidney failure and a heart condition and other assorted health issues, she also identified with the character of April’s mother, who has a fatal diagnosis.
And one last, small spoiler – after Steph had her leg amputated, we laughed louder at a scene late in the movie when, after a neighbor has stolen a drumstick from April’s turkey, another neighbor carves and bakes some dough to make a prosthetic leg for the bird. The turkey’s prosthetic fit far better than Steph’s prosthetic, that’s for sure.
Stephanie and I loved that movie, and we watched it together every Thanksgiving after that. It was our tradition, as much as the meal. Watching it again today, the morning after Thanksgiving, I remembered some of the wisecracks Steph had made during the movie, over the years. The movie has a wonderful but realistic “family” vibe, and I remembered the warmth of being part of her family. There were parts of the movie where we’d pause it to talk about our Thanksgiving memories, and of course, I paused the movie today, to think about our Thanksgivings together.
Let me tell you what I’m thankful for: meeting Stephanie. That was the day everything changed. Everything was so empty before she came along. From the beginning, my luck and her courage were both unfathomable. She flew to San Francisco, not to see San Francisco but to see me, which still amazes me. To be clear, I don’t have a lot going for me, and I had even less going for me when we first met. I was not a catch. I was a middle-aged loser when Stephanie and I met, and I was never good enough to be the man she deserved. And yet, she gave me the rest of her life.
Now she’s gone, and I am devastated. I am missing her every moment of every day, and can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop missing her. But even after saying all that, and everything else I’ve said on this website, and the book-length future posts I’m already writing – after everything is said and done, I have to say this:
I am the luckiest schmuck who ever walked on this planet. I won the lottery the day I met Stephanie and fell in love with her. Won it again, because she inexplicably loved me too. And then I won the lottery again and again, every day we were together, all the time we spent together – the good times, sure, but even on the worst days I’d rather have spent that time with Stephanie than by myself or with anyone else on Earth. Every moment with her was something to cherish.
I spent years and years with the most interesting, adventurous, intelligent, funny, fascinating, frustrating, fulfilling, fun, and just generally fabulous person I’ve ever met. I had great times with her, and she had great times with me, and we helped each other through times that weren’t so great. We told each other all of this, often, so I know she felt the same way, but I also know that I got the better end of the deal – I got to spend much of my life with her, while she was stuck spending much of her life with me.
And now she’s gone, and I miss her more than I ever thought I could miss anyone. But does the luckiest schmuck in the world have any real grounds for complaint when, after all those years of all that impossibly good luck, his luck runs out?
We were nowhere near ready for “us” to be finished. We wanted many more years together, but it’s Thanksgiving so it must be said: I am immeasurably thankful for the years we had together.
OK, sorry, I’m bawling here. A paper towel dabs my eyes, and a clean, dry t-shirt replaces one that’s soggy from teardrops. Now, what was I saying?
If you never met Steph, or if you knew her and miss her, you might want to rent Pieces of April. Stephanie was not at all like April in the movie … but then again, she was. Today I spent three hours watching a movie that’s only an hour and a half long, and you know what? It was almost like spending time with my wife.
More about Stephanie.