[Originally published November 22, 2011.]
I wake up in a cold sweat. The day has arrived. The day when my mind and body will be tested in the meanest, most agonizing way. When, by the end, I’ll be yelling out in horror, “Enough! Stop! I’m not hungry anymore!” When the family arena shifts into a no-holds-bar-battle-royale.
But that’s why it only happens once a year: Thanksgiving, the ultimate hunger games.
I enter the dining room. There’s a gold cornucopia on the table. I think, what a wonderful seasonal flourish. But I know it’s dangerous. My ten relatives rush towards it, grabbing at the appetizers that are sprinkled around like land mines. I want to do the same, but I waver… early-eating is a deadly mistake.
I’m saved by the shrill screech that makes my blood turn cold. “OH NOOO!” My mother’s wail, the official sound that a relative is down.
I sprint to the kitchen. My aunt has spilled hot gravy all over herself. Her skin is a horrible bright pink. I think I see blisters forming right before my eyes. She leaves in a rush, the smell of loss, burning flesh and meat juice trailing behind her.
One down. Nine to go.
I swerve away from the scene, stunned and shaken, only to come face-to-face with a bigger problem: my cousin, the glory hound, just entered the room. He was still sucking on turkey bones last year when everyone else had retreated from the day.
Now though, he has a new wife. Easy prey.
They don’t notice me until it’s too late. I walk so softly. I casually ask my cousin if his ex-wife’s birthday party was fun. Bullseye. They’ll be sorting out that emotional bloodbath for the rest of the night.
Three down. Seven to go.
My uncle is throwing up out the window. He’s already had too much to drink. The sounds and smells are disgusting. I turn away retching and in desperate need of water. I’m so, so desperate for it. I ask everyone for a glass, but no one will give me one. I should have known better than to look for compassion today. This is Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
Four down. Six to go.
Dinner time. All the weapons are laid bare: turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, wine, salad… and… what? Is that…?! IT IS! I should have known! They’ve put out my mother’s famous stuffing. STUFFING! They know that I can’t have gluten! They’ve done this specifically to test me, to work away at my weakness. And it’s working…
Maybe it’s okay if I have a little bite…
But before I can ask for it to be passed down the table, my grandma face-plants straight into the delicious dish.
Everyone’s saying that it was the turkey’s poison, tryptophan. That’s what did her in. But I think differently. I saw her neutralize that stuffing, the one chink in my armor. Not only did my grandma sacrifice herself, but she’s also taken out my dad since he now has to drive her home. It makes me wonder… were we allies?
Four to go.
Great. Now my brother is pretending to fall into the cranberry sauce. Real clever. I roll my eyes.
My mom gives me a reproachful look. I know what she’s thinking. She’s silently telling me, “Just put on a good show. That’s all
anyone wants: a good show.”
“HA HA HA,” I laugh in my brother’s direction.
He smiles at me. I laugh harder.
Emboldened by the attention, my brother crashes his head into the serving dish. No one is laughing now. He looks up, cranberry goop and embarrassment smeared across his face. He leaves in a huff, beaten by his own 25-year-old ego. I want to yell after him: That’s for grandma!
Three to go.
The two teen cousins are too full to continue. They stagger towards the couch, holding their stomachs, moaning about how fat they are. That’s what you get for eating the appetizers.
One to go.
She wastes no time. She’s brought out the desert. Ice cream, cake, coconut shavings, marshmallows, chocolate, cereal and gummy bears all rolled into one. A muttation. An unnatural, unnatural muttation. It’s horrible. My teeth hurt just looking at it. But, I have to eat it, I have to…
This is my second bowl. I feel the sugar lift me up and drop me off. I’m having crazy mood swings. I want to cry and yell and laugh at the same time. Why are family gatherings so difficult?! My mother won’t stop asking me when I’ll get a boyfriend. The wounds are piling up so quickly.
But then, in a flash of clarity, I remember something crucial about my mom.
With ice cream dripping from my lips, I put the spoon down and smile. I smile and say, “Mom, I love you. We’re both going to survive this day.”
Tears appear in the corners of my mother’s eyes. She reaches out for a hug. For a truce. I lean in, wrap my arms around her body, bring her face close to mine and whisper in her ear: “I never liked your stuffing.”