Hectic smells, feelings of anticipation, and gurgles in my throat for sparkling cider brew. Sure, there will be cranberries, jello with surprises, or green bean casserole, but I had discovered from an early age how to dispose of unwanted onions, and other things in the napkin on my lap during thanksgiving dinner. Instead, I focus on mashed potatoes, and dark meat drenched in homemade gravy. I make sure to pick at everything else, or pretend to take bites. Why can’t I just eat what is most delicious to me? We are with my German family, so the “try new food, evade that food” game I play is about to start.
I long for something or someone I can’t put my finger on, as I stare at the places carefully set at the adult table.
There is always the presence of absent space. The Thanksgiving smorgasbord table spread doesn’t fill up my unsettled questions. The kid’s table is separate. Perhaps it is the loneliness and desire my mom feels for her familiar traditions and her family that most haunt me. The differences in the cultures of my father and mother are drenched in good Midwest gravy today. My dad cracks some puns, the food is still covered. We decide to sing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” It’s Thanksgiving. I am not thankful. I am 10 years old and lonely.
The food is uncovered, and large serving spoons dip in and out of dishes – filled with only home cooked foods. Conversations center on family relation updates, and the missionary in town from Africa. I smell the gravy, cradling, savoring, tasting. I continue mixing it with potatoes and dark meat. Just like me. Just like us. We are a family of dark and white meat. The dark meat isn’t as good for you. It’s not healthy. It’s fatter. But, it’s so juicy and rich. The white meat is healthy – pure, and needs more gravy. My brother whines about fruit surprises in the jello. I want to tell him, “Shhhhhh…don’t call attention to us. I don’t want to eat mine, either.” Too late. My Dad is revising our plates. Sheesh. My brother’s antics remind me we are probably feeling the same thing we don’t know how to describe: a sense of loss.
Fake smiling, fake laughing. Will, I like the pie? (I don’t know why that little girl didn’t enjoy apple or berry or lemon meringue pie at 10 years old, but she didn’t.) The turkey hangover creeps in. I look for a space to wrestle with feelings. The rest of the crowd spreads out on couches, or folding chairs. Some stay at the table. Others urgently wash dishes. In the end, I submit to a few bites of the jello with surprises so I can eat the pie or whatever dessert I like.
The after dinner predictable rhythm drags on in unspoken words. There are conflicts mirrored from adult face to adult face. I make guesses. Maybe someone heard about my cousin drinking alcohol. Someone at church had an extramarital affair. My uncle didn’t get the raise and was told to keep his head down and keep trying.
Or, my mom said out loud how much she misses her family, the family that isn’t here. Her family makes a Thanksgiving meal, too. They probably have pies and for sure vegetables. Followed by coffee or beer, kicking back telling stories. It’s at least as crowded. Kids running, doorbell ditching. Someone asking my Dad for financial advice or telling him about their business maneuvers. He’s included in conversation, admired and or told how intelligent he is.
Both silence and dismissal follow my mom’s revelation. Her tears are honest. I cringe. This is the absent space. It is full of pain. It covers her longing in shame. Maybe someone said to my mom, “Oh, don’t cry.” Or, “Enjoy your family here.” Sometimes, they just ignore its happening.
I whisper vows to myself: don’t cry, don’t show emotion, never let them see your weakness – after all, I am not emotional. I stand and leave the room. I don’t want to see her tears or remember they are spilling. To fill the space, chanting, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter… to myself…… it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter….
……Settled. I decide to join a game of tag outside. It’s too complex. I don’t want to choose between dark meat or white meat.
My last vow: next Thanksgiving, I will eat white meat, too.
Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican, Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.