Thanksgiving Vignettes

Thanksgiving Vignettes
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We received our turkey from the farm at Boys Town. It was fresh, with little feathers still stuck to it everywhere. Mom had to dig out her great grandma's cookbook to learn how to take the innards out, since they weren't pre-bagged. It didn't fit into the giant pan we had, and we had to get the biggest foil pan at the store to hold it--for it to buckle underneath the sheer weight of the turkey.

It had to be big, to feed so many people, all the girls my parents were in charge of as "family teachers."

***

It's freezing outside, but the kitchen window and the dining room door were both slid open, letting the cold wind through the house. The kitchen was comfortably warm, but dad was sweating, red, angry, and cooking. He insists on giving mom a break from cooking on holidays (only to quickly start complaining about it in order to make us feel very uncomfortable.) We can't ask him to please at least close the dining room door, because then we'd be ungrateful for all of his efforts since that would be unbearably hot for him.

But, at least temporarily, he is on better behavior, because we have relatives over. We can relax, a little. Not too much, else it bite us the next day.

***

From the second story window over the driveway, I contemplate my escape. During the day, the alarm is off. I could slide the window open, try to quietly take out the screen, and then lower myself and drop to the ground. Or jump. Would it break my leg? Would I be fine?

This is how I made life more bearable, fantasizing escapes. I remember reading in a book--maybe it was the "Worst Case Scenario" book?--about how to jump safely. Aim for the soft areas. There was an ungodly amount of mulch in the yard--dad expanded the mulch year after year in his desire to make the yard look nice when grass was difficult to grow, thanks to thick clay and too many children. From my brothers' room, I could try to jump sideways into the mass of mulch--rain always overflew the downspout in that corner. Then I'd run.

But where? I had little money. I wasn't allowed to have a job for a while. I wanted one, but dad said, "You'll have your whole life to work," in a gesture of financial magnanimity and control. How would I afford hearing aid batteries? How could I protect them at night when I'm sleeping, or myself at night without them in?

So I stayed, as my siblings played, and imagined. And felt crushing guilt for even thinking about leaving without them. Who would protect them when I left?

***

Dad's crunching numbers, paying bills, as relatives and he and mom talked at the table.

"Is the new job going okay, Holly?" He knew about my second job, at the campus library. I didn't want him to know, but he somehow found out. "I don't see the deposits in your account."

I hesitated. The crushing weight on my chest. Panic. My brain blank. People staring at me. Dad can't rage in front of them. They can't know the real family.

"I--I have a different bank account now."

Dad turned red, then white, his lips pursed. End of discussion. But I saw it on his face. It was a gesture of abandonment. Of how much I hate him, according to him.

At the time, I was planning to move out. But he didn't know that yet. I didn't want him monitoring my expenses. So I took $20 here and there, and deposited it into my other account.

He didn't know that I was afraid he'd go into bankruptcy and my money be seized because his name is also on the account.

I was setting up my escape route.

In December, he'd find out that I was moving out...after I put down the security deposit.

***

Panic. Panic. Dishes clanking in the kitchen. Are people angry? Are they angry at me?

Laughter.

Wait, what? They're laughing?  Of having to hunt for the right one in the cavernous cabinet?

Nobody yelled at them for making noise. For dropping a pot. For spilling the cranberry sauce on the table spread.

I still buzzed with anxiety, bracing myself for the inevitable mood crash and rage, my jaws hurting as I ate because I'd clenched them so long.

***

He is a wine salesman. They have money. Wine freely flowing. A fluffy cat. My social anxiety is reduced, and while the food is strange (spicy cranberry sauce that burns your mouth?) the people were affable.

***

Even though it's been many years of peaceful Thanksgivings, I still panic. I still remember. I still brace myself for impact. Holidays are terrible. They always are. At one therapy group, the therapist says she never schedules vacations during this time--it's like tax season for therapists.

I keep finding myself back in the teenager years. Sometimes it's a flash of memory. Sometimes it's just the feeling of being a teenager as I function as an adult at work, at home, on transit. I hate the way I look, I feel...exposed to the eyes of men, I want to be invisible, I want to be home, I want to hide, I can't stand up for myself. I feel scared and panicky and want to run away at the merest hint of a confrontation.

The bus goes under the McCormick bridge, and I find myself lost--what is this skyline? Is this really my daughter? This is my home?

What is reality? my body will wonder as the teenage self is confronted with my adult self. It makes me feel crazy. I can't describe it in any other way. Like a clamor inside. When outside is clamoring too, like downtown Chicago during the holiday season with commuters and shoppers and tourists and bells clanging non-stop and hateful preachers and people soliciting--

***

I shut down. Get home. Get safe. Keep my daughter safe. Text my husband, "feeling anxious," to encourage him not to dawdle on his commute. I can't. I can't. Come home. Take all the responsibilities from me. I can't.

I didn't use to feel this way. Some Thanksgivings were fine for a few years. A little anxiety inducing, but nothing a bit of Ativan didn't help with. Or wine. But now--but now, it feels different.

I feel like my world is burning down around me, and the mere fact that Trump is the president-elect is making me anxious. So anxious. So many familiar things, and the walls disappear around me like the bathroom walls in my dreams where I am naked.

The memories are closer, my daughter reminds me of me, and I desperately want to rid myself of the old memories and focus on the new ones, but that's not how it works. I want to go back to the old days when I was vaguely uncomfortable and anxious but didn't really understand the deeper whys. But I can't.

I just have to grapple with it. Integrate it.

And as necessary, white-knuckle it through the holidays.

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