The discomforts of rehearsing for Lucy’s wedding did not rise or sink to the level of a fight: they just exposed some differences in the ways Johnny and I approached music, performing, arranging, rehearsing. Our first real conflict materialized on Thanksgiving weekend, the day after our first Thanksgiving meal together.

Thanksgiving is my mother’s favorite holiday and for forty-plus years I had been assisting her in making the food, an extravaganza of free-range turkey, chestnut dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, tossed green salad, cranberry sauce, yeast-risen rolls and two kinds of pie. We made everything from scratch, our only shortcut was using canned pumpkin in the pumpkin pie. We made the same menu every year, the only variable the second pie we would choose to make. Mom and I had a well-practiced routine. She is a good cook, known for her thin, crisp pie crust.

We invited Johnny for Thanksgiving dinner and sat him at the head of the table next to me. He ate well, although my family of origin did not direct much conversation toward him. I tried to pick up the slack.

Before he met me, Johnny had sometimes attended a Thanksgiving dinner for local “orphans,” people who did not have immediate family in the area. In 2012 that dinner fell on the day after Thanksgiving and I agreed to go with Johnny. I made an extra pie to take to the gathering and, because I was transporting food on the bus, I chose to leave my guitar at home.

Johnny arrived by cab and, as it happened, the party took place in the same Berkeley home as the ballad group where Johnny and I had met, so we took our customary places at the end of the dining table where we ate our second Thanksgiving dinner with six other people.

We sat at the table for several hours, eating, waiting for food, talking. I think Johnny had brought some beer and I know that the hostess, Marlene, brought out a bottle of bourbon.

As is often the case, I wasn’t drinking at all. My tastes run to champagne and single malt whiskey and I am careful to limit quantities of alcohol due to my family history and my own low tolerance for alcoholic beverages.

Johnny drank, of course, and I noticed that he drank more than anyone else at the party. That should not have been a surprise to me — I had seen him drink on previous occasions: he was a big guy and liked to drink. This time, though, I saw signs of slippage: he referred to a politician as a “fuckhead” and when I said lightly “Bad boy!” he responded by saying “You know you love it” and grabbing me.

I was shocked. It’s not that he couldn’t grab me physically in private, but I did not know some of the other guests and am fairly circumspect about public displays of affection. I attributed Johnny’s coarser language and behavior to his drinking.

When we had eaten dessert we moved to the adjoining living room to play music and sing. I took up residence on the couch, where I eventually stretched out flat: the long hours of sitting at the table and the long hours on my feet preparing Thanksgiving dinner the previous day had taken their toll.

I am the kind of limited player that needs to play my own instrument: I have hand damage from earlier fractures that affects my ability to play and, as I said, I had left my guitar at home so that I could carry food to the feast.

Once or twice Johnny suggested I play something and someone would hand me an unfamiliar acoustic guitar (Johnny was playing his Telecaster). One guitar I could not play at all; I eked out something on the other. Johnny, meanwhile, led songs, accompanied people on songs of their choice and played duets with his friend Beth. He stayed in the center of the action, played tirelessly and kept drinking while I grew tireder and tireder.

I don’t remember what time we left the party or how we got home that night, but I do remember a bus ride where Johnny said, “I’m going out with a crazy person.”

He said that because I mentioned his drinking and behavior at the party. He chose to interpret my comment as a complaint about how he behaved in the session. He accused me of telling him he was hogging the session or grandstanding, but what I wanted to address was how his demeanor toward me had changed.

“You weren’t acting like yourself,” he said. “You were being passive, not participating.”

“Johnny, I was tired. It was a long day and I didn’t have my guitar because I had to bring a pie.”

He told me I had to stop behaving like I had toward my father and my alcoholic brothers.

“They weren’t there,” I said.

“Oh, they were there,” he insisted.

Johnny thought that everything would be fine if I just accepted his drinking and trusted him to handle it, but I didn’t trust anyone who drank until they proved to me several times that they remained pleasant, trustworthy and, above all, fully present.

When Johnny referred to me as “crazy,” I cautioned him not to say things he might regret. I knew that I could react to certain words or behaviors, but I also knew I was not crazy, that I was reacting to things that Johnny had done and said.

It took hours of accusatory emails and conversations to sort it all out and come to peace. The underlying issues remained, however, and would rise again.

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