Thursday, November 24, 2005

The storie of thanksgiving

as told to me by me

I clean the house all morning. Rearrange things on the walls. Laundry. Vacuum. Scrub toilets. I fall asleep on the couch waiting for M to get home, dream briefly and wake. We drive to my parents' house.

My cousin is dating someone who is her cousin by marriage. Her mother's sister's second husband's kid? I don't know. I can't keep track. They're at the house, as are Grandma and Pauline. It's warm, and smells good. I offer to help my mother in the kitchen when my aunt and uncle show up. I feel wrong. The day, the seems wrong. I ought to be happy here. Instead, I want to leave.

I mash potatoes. I pour wine. My brothers arrive, each with a wife in tow. I feel worse. My mother asks me to be extra-nice to my middle brother. He's struggling with his psychotic wife's insistence that the two of them have nothing to do with my family. She didn't want to come. He made her. I can't even look her in the face. I'm so angry with her. When the food is on the table and we're standing around with our heads bowed, my dad says a prayer. All I can think of while the words of thanks are coming out of his mouth is smashing her in the face with my fist. How could you do this to my brother, I think at her. How could you do this to my family.

At dinner, I sit next to my grandmother. She's going deaf and speaks loudly. "Hey Pauline!" she yells midway through the meal. "I hear you can get drunk on wine if you drink it through a straw!"

Pauline doesn't answer. Thanksgiving is hard for her. Last year's Thanksgiving was the beginning of the end for her and her brother. They were in a car crash on the way home from my parents' house, and had to be put into a nursing home afterward. Pauline is handicapped. No one's quite sure what's wrong with her. Her brother has looked after her since their parents died in the fifties. Now, she lives in the nursing home without him, and my dad looks after her affairs--emotional, mental, financial. She drinks her wine in silence.

I have a hard time eating. Across from me are my uncle and aunt. My aunt was in a car wreck last week, and slapped a nurse at the hospital who was trying to care for her. I have nothing for my aunt. I can't love her, and I don't despise her. I just want to be away from her.

After dinner, my brother and his psychotic wife leave immediately. I shake with anger in the kitchen while I pull slivers of meat for the dogs from the turkey carcass in the sink. Most everyone is lying around the house in a state of stomach-extended stupor. My mother is putting things into containers. We talk about my brother's wife. Words come out of my mouth about her, words I shouldn't say aloud. My mother cries. I feel terrible. I pull a hunk of cooked flesh from the turkey's ribs and reflect on how horribly things have changed since my brother married her. My mother says she told him she sometimes feels like she has two kids instead of three now, because his wife has done such a fine job of severing him from our family. I feel salted inside. Raw, and parched. I think how stupid I was to have ever taken an intact, healthy family for granted. I hug my mother without touching my hands to her. They're covered in turkey grease. I want to cry. I can't.

My uncle wanders through the kitchen in search of pie and the subject is changed. He leaves with a slice of apple pie and my dad and I talk some. I tell him that as time has gone on, I've felt more able to see multiple sides of situations in my life. To compromise, and forgive. But I can't forgive her. She has taken someone I love very much away from me, and broken something I thought was solid. And I'm angry at him, and I'm angry at her, and I can't get used to the fact that my family is not now what it was because she decided that she didn't like us and that my parents were cheap in their wedding gift to them and my dad offering a blessing at her wedding with his religion was unacceptable. The fact that this bitch has hurt my mother raises absolute murderousness in me.

But my mother is so determined to love her. To see her as a hurt little girl who is only "lashing out" because of "her pain."

Fuck her pain.

I realize that now is a time when I am even more ill-equipped than normal to try to deal with this. My anger is not a catalyst for change; it is only boiling up inside me, brewing in my gut and making me sick. I have to stop thinking about it if I don't want to lose my grasp on acting like I'm fine, like everything's fine. When my dad gets ready to bring Pauline back to the nursing home, I offer to go with him.

Outside, the air is knife-blade cold, and crackles. I nudge the dogs' metal water dish with my foot. The sound it makes is sharp, like dropped ice cracking on pavement, and grating at the same time. I help Pauline into the car. We ride in silence; it's 18 degrees, and that's not enough degrees for talking.

The nursing home is warm and bright and smells of hospital and urine. I look into open doors as we walk Pauline down the hall to her room. I see old people in beds with vacant faces, hear televisions blaring loudly. Someone is yelling, "Nurse! Nurse!" repeatedly down the hall somewhere. A machine is beeping. There are Mardi Gras posters on the walls.

Pauline shows me her stuffed dog when we get to her room. It's big. She hugs it to her and pets it. Her hands are busy with it, soothing its mane-like fur down, scratching its ears, clutching it. My dad asks her how things are at the nursing home, if lunch is going okay, if she feels glad to get out for a while today. She answers in her stilted bird-voice, smiles at us. She tells me that the picture on the wall is of her brother. I know this, and I tell her he looks good in the picture--and he does, in his military uniform at the start of World War II, squinting into foreign sunlight. She misses him terribly. My dad tells her she's been through a lot in the past year. She nods. He gives her a hug, and so do I, and we leave.

In the car on the way home my dad talks about how hard holidays are for him. I feel a little better--not because of his unhappiness, but because I feel a connection to him. I love him, this man who is my dad. Do you remember how terrible I was? he asks. I smile. "You're my dad," I say to him. It doesn't seem to mean anything, but it means everything.


At November 25, 2005 12:12 AM, Blogger H-Train said...

That sounds like a really difficult night. I know how you feel about your brother's wife, the exact same thing happened with one of my uncles, I wish I could tell you that it turned out well, but by the time I came around, no one was even really talking and I haven't even really met my cousins, or my aunt and my uncle for that matter and they lived right behind my grandparents' house. I've always been pretty upset about it, to say the least. But I hope that your situation doesn't end up anything like mine.

At November 25, 2005 12:15 AM, Blogger Heather said...

We had a situation very similar in my family. My brother's marriage to the psycho bitch ended, but he is still hurting and only just beginning to come back around the family. He waited for me and my kids to get to my dad's this evening and then left ten minutes later. It is hard for him to see our family so happy when all he wanted was to be a husband and father.

I hope things get better for you and your family.

At November 25, 2005 12:29 AM, Anonymous Fitèna said...

What does one normally say to such a story. You didn't write this to hear us tell you how WE too are facing or faced the same situation. No.

You have loving parents. i remember a post about your mother going with you and M to the zoo. She's adorable. Think about Pauline's situation. Focus on your blessings for the present time. Your brother will come around. Eventually. With or without the psychotic. She can't possibly love him if she's trying to make him cut off with his loved ones. He'll realise that.

Thank you J. For sharing your thanksgiving story. It's one of the best I've ever read.



At November 25, 2005 4:13 AM, Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Sounded hard...In the past, it used to be like that with my immediate family..with just only the four of us, we could somehow manage to turn something into a fight. I don't know how it goes now, since I haven't been there for such a long time (I mean, the three weeks went pretty much harmonically).

Anyway, coming to your 'sister-in-law' (or should I say 'cow-in-tow'? :p ). Have you even considered talking with her? I mean, seriously, has anybody in your family ever said something straight in her face that she's ruining the whole family tie? And has anybody talked to your brother directly about it?

At November 25, 2005 7:34 AM, Blogger Cincy Diva said...

Be glad for lovong parents. Mine have finally come around but it is still hard. Your brother will see the light in his own time. She will overstep herself. They always do.

At November 25, 2005 12:58 PM, Blogger HM said...

You are such an amazing storyteller. I'm sorry to hear that Thanksgiving was so rough for you.

Yes, thank goodness for dads. They screw up, but they're still our dads. I'm thankful for the 8 hours I got to spend in the car with my dad yesterday.

At November 25, 2005 6:30 PM, Blogger Q eye said...

I sorta know what you mean about some things. Some of my relatives are totally insufferable to me. I feel like if we weren't family, I would hate them. But anyways. In Celsius, 18 degrees is nice weather.

P.S. Your eyes are nice. just sayin'.


At November 25, 2005 11:47 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

Your family sounds just like so many others that I know. You write about it so poetically though.

At November 26, 2005 10:06 PM, Anonymous E said...

Hmmm....I came by to say "happy holidays and I miss you". I think I'll just stick with "I miss you" - the happy holidays part just doesn't seem to fit. It makes me hurt for you and your family to read this. Just know that I think about you on those family days.

Take care.

At November 27, 2005 12:59 AM, Blogger Sorted Lives said...

Just to let you know, I thought about you on Thanksgiving. I even let my roommate read your blog -- in her words, "it made me cry." You are a wonderful person, incatiable lover to "M", amazing photographer, delightful story teller, and an incredible son!! Don't ever forget that!!

At November 27, 2005 11:51 AM, Blogger cmhl said...

wow---- that was a powerful post. and nosiness on my part-- -is that your eye on the right sidebar?

holidays are always hard, I think. you have all these preconceived notions about how magical and wonderful everything should be, and unfortunately all of the players are flawed, and just human..

At November 27, 2005 3:00 PM, Blogger Philip said...

I feel like I was sitting at a corner of the table. You have described how hard family gatherings can be for *me* by describing your emotions so clearly. No half-measures.

I'm sorry this person has stolen your brother from you, from your family. And of course there is no easy solution.

I hope that a weekend with M has been more relaxing.

At November 27, 2005 8:03 PM, Blogger Mr. H.K. said...


I'm worn out just reading about it. I can't imagine how you felt going through it.

But hey... You have tremendous AWARENESS of your feelings... and that's brilliant.

Still, I'm glad I turned down the myriad of invitations and stayed home alone with my doggie and had a quiet night...


At November 28, 2005 1:10 PM, Blogger Sangroncito said...

You've written about your brother's wife before. I think she's the harpy from Hell. Why did she even come to Thanksgiving? You shouldn't have to tolerate her and I don't understand why your brother allows her to continue to behave that way. I'd like to slap her silly.

I visited my addled aunt in her nursing home when I was in Florida this past week. It's very sad to see her and all the others trapped in that place. It's basically a warehouse for people who are waiting to die. Yuck.

Family....way too complicated.

(and "see ya" back in Brazil on Thursday)...hugs, Sangroncito...P.S. good writing, as always.

At November 28, 2005 5:02 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

Reading your "stories", I really do feel like I'm right there. Right in the middle of the turkey grease and the nursing-home goodbye hugs and every emotion in between.

When I was here a few days ago I'd seen your new look and was so taken by the red/blue eyes that I failed to notice your 'dark rose' (still my favorite) photo enlarged for the background. Wow, brilliant.

At December 01, 2005 8:16 PM, Blogger Raehan said...


Well, at least your family is sweet and you are a kick-ass writer and artist.

In-laws can be tough. Really tough.


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