My aunt and uncle’s house was filled beyond capacity with ten tame adults and what seemed like 117 wild children running around screaming, laughing, tattling, crying and snotting up the place. Like many family-filled homes, the heartbeat of the house was in the kitchen. My aunt doled out home-cooked food, hugs to everybody, and goodies to the grand-babies (everyone under 12 was a grand-baby, related or not). “I love you’s” were given as comfortably and casually as a glass of sweet tea and an arm thrown over your shoulders. I spent most of that first night half-present. Sometimes, I was catching up with my cousins, who, in my frozen picture of them, were still little girls, but, with the snap of time’s fingers, had somehow grown into women with husbands, children, mortgages, and college educations. I tried to just be with them, enjoy their quick wit and easy laughter. Too often, though, I was pulled back into the darkness of having only 34 days left in the States and the process of accepting the death of this future I had expected as a wife. Thankfully, my Arkansas family was impossible to ignore, and they made it impossible for me to stay in darkness. Drinking seemed like the best way to move from walking zombie to some semblance of normal. My uncle had rum; my aunt had Coca Cola. Bring on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving handled itself in the way that most Thanksgivings do: juicy bird, buttery rolls, mashed potatoes with lumps in all the right places, sweet corn, green beans, a hangover from the night before, and pants with lots of elastic. If food could fill cracks in a heart, than mine was benefitting from some of that spackling with my aunt Linda’s cooking. I almost felt ordinary that day. Not too sad. Not too miserable. The memory of being once content, of being okay, was with me. My boys were enjoying the kid-time and the freedom of being able to squeal and run, laugh and jump. I guess our house in Illinois had turned into a sort of hospital waiting room after their dad moved out–everything hushed and grey. Waiting for news. The boys appreciated the release of fun they were allowed to express in this house without feeling sad because mom was sad and crying, again. My oldest gave me a lot of hugs that weekend. I remember that so clearly. He must have been starved for the unspoken permission to simply touch me, to give me love, to wrap his arms around me and feel safe. Over the past year, I had walled myself in as a means to protect myself from spilling out in an uncontrollable, slimy mess of psychosis and mental breakdowns. But I had, regrettably, kept my sons outside those walls, too. My sons began to get their mom back that holiday weekend.
The time spent in the company of unconditional love on Thanksgiving gave me drops of hope in an otherwise empty cup. And my cup spilled all over the place when I let my family talk me into braving the crazies, and joining their ranks, on Black Friday.