So while I was home for Christmas, my mother asked my sisters and me if we would make a list of five things we were grateful for from 2014, and she wanted us to share these lists on Christmas Day. Well, we all sort of dropped the ball on that one, and when Christmas Day rolled around we were all a little too shy to be super vulnerable in front of each other. I know it meant a lot of my mother that we make these lists so here’s mine now:
1) Career Success: The year started with the biggest high and the biggest low of my life. I was cast in my first real professional show as a dancer in 42nd Street. It was fucking amazing. I got to wear all the original costumes from the Broadway production, and I was getting paid to tap and sing every damn day! I am so grateful for that. But near the end of the production, my grandma passed away unexpectedly. I flew home on my two days off for her wake, I sang at her funeral and then I flew back to Florida immediately afterwards. It was really hard for me to be a tap-dancing ray of sunshine after that, but I told myself that she was sitting there in the front row watching me. After that, I performed every show for her with the biggest smile I could muster. Also 2014 ended with another career success for me: I was finally cast in my first professional lead role as “Burt” (or if you’re my mother: “Dick Van Dyke”) in Mary Poppins. I am very grateful for all the gains I made in my career in 2014, and just so everyone knows: it took me three solid years of auditioning in New York to be cast as a lead. So if you’re moving to NYC to pursue acting, BE PATIENT, GOD DAMNIT.
2) Stacy: When my grandma passed away, I called Stacy to see if she was available to come to the wake and the funeral since she’s basically like an honorary Hansen. When she picked up the phone she said, “I’ve already asked off.” The wake was on a Monday, and she worked a 9-to-5 desk job at the Department of Transportation. After she finished her workday, she drove for an hour to make it to the end of the wake. She then took me to the church where I practiced the song I was going to sing the following day at the funeral while she sat quietly in the pew while I learned a song I didn’t know at all. Then she drove another hour to take me home. She came to the funeral the next day, and when she tried to sit in the “Friends” section instead of “Family” my older sister yelled, “STACY. GET OVER HERE.” After hearing my big sister raise her voice at her while in the House of God, I think she was so frightened that she unintentionally shit her skirt for the second time in her adult life. But she scurried over to sit with my sisters and me. She sat next to me the whole time, and she didn’t try to comfort me too much with touch. Afterwards, she drove me back to the airport. When my parents tried to give her money for the gas, she refused. And when it was just the two of us in her car, when I no longer had to put on the façade of being the big brother who keeps the show running smoothly with jokes and smiles, I started sobbing as she drove. And she didn’t pull over to give me a hug or try to hold my hand; she just calmly put her hand on my knee while she drove. She understood the core of loss. She understood that there was nothing to be fixed or bandaged, and she let me be un-okay for a few minutes of my life. I have never been more grateful to Stacy in my entire life.
3) Caity: 2014 was a big struggle for me. I remember having just a really terrible day after a particularly grueling night of waiting tables. I trudged into my apartment, went to our room, took all my clothes off, turned on my box fan, laid down on my stomach on the hardwood floor in my underwear and just started bawling. Caity came in to see if I was alright and I remember saying, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere. I’m not suicidal, and I don’t want to die; but I just want to not exist for like ten minutes.” Everything finally just got to me. The unkind people, the auditioning life, my self-doubt, my wreck of a dating life, my loneliness. I cracked. And I laid there on the ground crying while Caity laid there next to me rubbing my back until I calmed down. To be frank, I’ve cried alone in my room countless times. But this was the first time it happened in front of Caity, and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to feel so alone this time.
4) Summer Vacation: For the summer of 2014, I finally gave myself a summer off. I did what I wanted to do. There weren’t really auditions happening, so I just stopped looking. I stopped working on my craft for a second. I’m sure I went to a dance class and a voice lesson here and there, but for the most part I gave myself a summer vacation. I laid out almost every day. I woke up early, took the train down to West 4th Street, walked to Starbucks, ordered the largest iced coffee they had and laid on the grass of the Christopher Street Pier until it was time to go to work. Then stumbled to work, crispy like a piece of bacon, worked a lazy summer shift, went home, passed out and did it all again the next day. I also realized I had never been to California, and I had been told by a therapist that I would enjoy it out there. So I asked friends when they were available, and everyone responded back with their finicky, specific schedules. And instead of doing what I always do which would be to plan my entire life around everyone else’s, I thought to myself, ‘Fuck it! I’m going by myself!’ And it was fucking amazing. Kaylee accompanied me for a few days, but then I hung out by myself. And I had such a good time. I am so grateful for the courage to travel alone, and I’m so grateful to have had the means to take a little vacation. Yes, it took me a little bit of time to catch up on my finances, but it was worth it for a real fucking summer, god damnit.
5) Strong Sense of Family: Most of all, I’m grateful to have such a strong sense of family within me. After the sudden loss of my grandma, I’ve made myself try harder with my sisters. It’s not that we aren’t close, but I wanted to feel them even closer. And I can feel the mutual effort. I can feel us all trying to be more vulnerable with each other. We tell each other that we care about one another instead of assuming that we all know. We reach out to each other even though it’s scary to put ourselves out there. And my New York family feels stronger than ever. Stacy sleeps in my bed every night even though she has her own room. When I’m getting ready for a date, she sits on my bed telling me how beautiful I am so I don’t get nervous. And then when I’m on my inevitably boring dates, I can’t help but think to myself, ‘Man, I’d rather be at home playing with Stacy.’ Whenever I fly back to NYC, Caity offers to meet me at the airport. Even when I ask her not to, sometimes she shows up anyway just so she can ride the bus home with me. Also, she waits up for me every damn night. Even if I get home super late from work and she has to wake up super early for work, she’ll be waiting up for me. Whenever I go visit Stephanie and Chaz, they offer me food and coffee the second I walk in the door. And we all fight at dinner when one person tries to pay the whole bill. I have long-distance friends that I don’t talk to for weeks or months, but when they call it’s as if nothing has changed. They make me laugh within seconds, and we don’t hold it against each other for being MIA for a bit. We recognize that everyone is dealing with their own shit. With all these people combined, I feel like I’ve unknowingly assembled my own team of Avengers. I have a whacky group of people who are all vehemently Team James, telling me that I deserve better every time someone mistreats me. They tell me it’s okay to be picky when selecting the people who deserve to share my joy. Team James cheers for me when I’m winning and lays with me when I’m not.They constantly remind me to be my own friend. God, I only hope that I reflect the light that they shine into my life. I love you guys, but it’s absolutely your fault that I can’t find a boyfriend that meets my extremely high standards. Thank you.
I remember laying on the beach with Alison at the beginning of 2014. I told her, “This is gonna be my year.” And she said, “Yeah? Well, good!” My spirit was definitely tested, but 2014 brought be a great influx of love. Though I wouldn’t say it was the best year of my life, I’m grateful for the things that the Universe gave me: hope, love and peace.
I hope you enjoyed, mom. 🙂 I’m grateful that you asked me to do this.