While I was cooking the cranberries, Ryan and his wife were behind me, preparing our turkey. Anne and Nolan were in the living room, reviewing the short list of “things Wil forgot we needed” which was only 2 items this year, a new family record.
The spray of orange oil as I zested the peel into the sauce was bracing and wonderful. I looked up and just took in, for a few seconds, the love and the joy all around me.
And I didn’t want to, but I remembered, all at once, 40 years of holiday meals with my parents where I was the scapegoat, my brother was the golden child, and my father was the racist uncle. (About two years ago, I was talking to my sister and one of us said something about how weird it was that we didn’t seem to have that racist uncle. Both of my uncles are awesome. And that’s when I realized that, just like if you don’t know who the sucker is at the poker table it’s you, who our dad was at every gathering of extended family.
And then I was as grateful and thankful and overwhelmed with happysadness as I’ve been in a long, long time. After a lifetime of being an unwilling but fundamental part of my mother’s Happy and Perfect Family lie, which included the demand and expectation that, at all family gatherings, I would make myself as small as possible, that I would absorb all of my father’s humiliation, mockery, and bullying, in front of generations of family, that I would be a thing to show off as evidence of how successful she was, how they were all wrong about her, I noticed something profound today.
Today, when I had those memories, I didn’t get angry. I didn’t get depressed. I didn’t get triggered or disregulated. I felt sad for the loss I always feel for the childhood I never had, acknowledged the grief that comes with it … and then I noticed that the hard work I’m doing with my therapist to heal and recover from my CPTSD and pain has created space I never had before to feel all of the joy and love and being part of a sincerely and genuinely happy family that doesn’t need to be perfect, because we are all enough, just as we are. I realized that I used to dread holidays, but I’ve been excited for weeks to be with my family today.
And I am so thankful for that love we share. I’m thankful for it every single day, but I’m thankful for it today, especially, because I can still feel what it was like, and how much it hurt, before.
The cranberry sauce bubbled as it thickened. I turned down the heat and grabbed a handful of herbs to chop up for the rub. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and fresh black pepper mingled with the orange oil. The faint aroma of boiling sweet potatoes was just behind it, growing stronger by the minute. A cranberry snapped, releasing a tiny burst of steam.
We got the turkey into the oven, and quickly cleaned up as much of the kitchen as we could, in consideration of our future selves who we expect to be very fat and happy in a few hours, and probably won’t want to clean up a messy kitchen.
We did it all together, a simple expression of love for each other.
When we were done, my sons and daughter in-law went out to my game room to play video games. I came into my office to get this dust out of my eyes, and write it all down, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do, even on holidays, when something special happens that we don’t want to forget.
I am so thankful for that love we share. I’m thankful for it every single day, but I’m thankful for it today, especially, because I can still feel what it was like, and how much it hurt, before.