the last time
At right this moment, I am sitting in my very comfortable bed as J prepares our breakfast–broccoli quiche with sides of bacon and toast with butter and jam. I’ll probably have some coffee and OJ. I’ve been awake since before six–since my oddly affectionate cat decided before buttcrack was the appropriate time to get some lovins. I am not really awake. We cooked all day yesterday, and there is still more to do, but it doesn’t feel like much and we have time for a leisurely something. I still have to arrange the flowers and dress the table and make a few cocktails. But, for now, all I can muster is episode after episode of shows I’ve missed these past several days. Well, and now, I’m doing this.
If you go digging through the TweetyBird slipper box that contains every family photo since before I existed, you will find a picture of a three and a half month old me sucking on a turkey leg–much to my mother’s surprise. It’s one of my favorite photos of us–even if half her face is cut off. Such a genuine moment. And me, grabbing on to things so unexpectedly. I kinda keep doing that, to equal effect sometimes even today.
Thanksgiving, for me, was magic. It was that day when I was an equal to my parents–and together–we created an amazing feast from almost nothing. No matter how broke we were, we always had yummy food at the holidays. After my father passed, I took the lead–challenging myself to create ever more elaborate menus of food I’d never cooked before–with Mama as sous chef. We made a good team. It was exhausting, but every time, I was just so happy. It was like putting pieces of my soul on a plate and offering it to one of the people I loved most on this planet. For the most part, it was just the two of us and our cats–who always got giblets.
The last time I celebrated Thanksgiving like that, Mama was sick. She couldn’t eat like that anymore. Everything had to be filtered through a healthy lens. It pained her to not be able to cook–or eat–and I remember how she cried about it–though my Mama was not known to ever cry for anything. All bets were off after the congestive heart failure.
So, I decided to cook two meals. One for her, and one for me. All by myself. In addition to bathing her, keeping track of her 31 different medications, making sure her oxygen wasn’t empty and that she wasn’t in need of emergent care. Back then, when the ER was like our second home, any day could be ruined in just one heartbeat. So, I was taking a gamble. But I wanted it enough that the risk felt manageable.
It was a great holiday. One of the best I’ve ever had in my life. I would tell you about the food or the conversations if I remember any of that. I just remembered my Mama was happy and that she begged for a real bite of pumpkin pie and stuffing. And I let her have just a bite. And we didn’t go to the ER that day.
A little under a month later, she would be dead and I would spend the next few years not celebrating the holidays. I said I had broken up with them. I had no family left that I wanted to claim. For the first time in my life, I was truly alone–alone in ways most people cannot possibly fathom. And most holidays, I spent sobbing and dreaming about her sitting on our old porch. The one that was no longer mine.
Throughout the years, that changed as I let people love me. I tried to celebrate with exes–but always as some lesser version of the holidays I’d celebrated with her. I’d edit and amend to suit their tastes and interests. And sometimes, while I’d want to try, I’d simply pussy out and let them do it–to mostly disastrous (to me) results. I was always disappointed, and that disappointment just reinforced how stupid I was to even try to be normal. But I kept doing it, to various disastrous results–hoping that, one day, I wouldn’t be disappointed. That, one day, even if it wasn’t the same, there would something to hold onto.
Last year, I almost fully celebrated Christmas. We even had a small tree–though not really decorated and very Charlie Brown. I listened to Christmas carols and made food. It wasn’t the same, but I committed to it. And it didn’t kill me. And I actually had a decent day. It felt kind of like a miracle.
As tough as this year has been, in so many ways, it’s also been a wonderful year. Whatever weight that was on my shoulders about my parents’ deaths finally lifted. And when the dreaded October-January memorial hell season began, I found myself more emotional and a little sad–but not broken anymore. And a crazy thing happened–I started looking forward to the season. I started looking for recipes. And I started planning an elaborate menu–no apologies and no compromises that mattered. And I bought a tablecloth and real napkins.
And this week, we have cooked so much food–though we both cut 3 fingers between us–and we had a broken garbage disposal/sink. And nothing is perfect. And the recipe I dreamed up didn’t turn out as pretty as I hoped. And there is never any damn room in our fridge. But today, I am happy. Today, I don’t want to be anywhere else. And while I still wish she could taste how amazing my stuffing damn sure will be, I don’t feel like I’m the walking wounded. I feel like I’m finally me, and I finally have my life back. And I am once again the girl who loved the holidays and did them up because life’s too short not to.
I can’t wait for Christmas.