Requiem for a Turkey

Nov. 22, 2017

Seven years ago, as Thanksgiving loomed, my household was slowly unraveling. I was a single mother with two teenage sons, one of whom was experiencing the onset of serious mental illness. We had not shared with our friends and family anything about his condition. We hadn't really acknowledged it yet ourselves. In fact, my sons' father was unwilling to discuss it with me at all, citing only typical teen angst and a mother's over-reaction. And, as far as I could tell, my younger son was well-distracted by video games, 13-year-old girls, and new pimples. I had hoped he had not noticed the gradual disintegration of our home.

Only my immediate family knew that my 18-year-old son was seeking mental health treatment and that he'd been diagnosed with depression. That was the extent of it, and most people didn't even know that.

I was denying the obvious, determined that silent resolve was my only option.

And, because I usually hosted my parents for Thanksgiving, I first thought I'd just put on my game face and power through it. Only a few times a year I attempt a Martha-Stewart-Style meal, so I figured I needed to suck it up. But as we reached mid-November, it became clear that I was not cooking a turkey this year.

I remember agonizing over how to tell my parents I wasn't hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. At no point did I recognize that what I really feared sharing was far more intense than the thought of thawing and stuffing a 12-pound Butterball.

Instead, I convinced them (and myself) that I wanted to do something for others on Thanksgiving rather than host the traditional, gluttonous holiday meal. I expressed disdain for our society's disgusting obsession with the "wrong" message, even dipping my toe into the Pilgrims-Natives historical perspective and claiming revenge for our American Indian ancestors.

Frankly, I was off the rails with rejection about hosting a classic Thanksgiving. I researched local organizations that offered service opportunities for the day and opted for Meals on Wheels. Under the veil of social consciousness, I pitched the idea to my parents.

They weren't thrilled, but they agreed. My mom offered to help me make plans to "give back" for Thanksgiving. Funny, I don't even remember telling my sons about this. I suppose it didn't rile them one way or another or I'd remember, right? In hindsight, my suspicions are that my older son was so deep in the throes of his illness by then that he wasn't able to care, and my younger son was so traumatized by the daily uncertainty of his family life, that he wasn't able to care either.

My only recollection is that I stressed out about telling my parents that I wasn't cooking a turkey.

As all the planning for holiday humanitarianism was playing out, the symptoms of my son's illness were becoming more obvious and harder to ignore. Yet, somehow, I did just that. His volatile moods had become an expectation rather than a surprise. His swings between angry accusations and weepy apologies were now the norm.

Each day, driving home from the school where I taught and where my younger son attended, we avoided discussions about his older brother. He didn't ask any questions and I didn't offer any answers. It was as if we had made an unspoken pact of distraction and denial. Instead, we silently savored the steady, predictable hum of the engine as we traveled the 25-minute commute back home, never acknowledging the reality and unpredictability of what may be waiting for us there.

Thanksgiving Day went off without a hitch at first. We used two cars between the five of us and distributed hot meals to grateful individuals living in seclusion for various reasons. Some were elderly, some ill. All of them were alone and deeply appreciative of our offering.

I remember thinking, "This is really good for the boys to experience. I'm so glad we're doing this. They need to see what outreach looks like. They need to be involved in caring for those in need of support, those who really need help."

I never once realized that we, too, fit in that category.

Once we'd delivered all the dinners, it was time for us to seek out our own hot meal. I had imagined we'd go to a Chinese restaurant. In my mind, that would be the perfect outright objection to the holiday nonsense that I'd claimed had inspired me to skip all turkey prep this year.

We piled into one car and began our search for the perfect Anti-Thanksgiving respite. The Chinese restaurants that I had in mind were all - surprisingly - closed.

Somehow in my planning, I'd failed to actually call them to check. I had believed completely in my fantasy that our local Chinese restaurant owners would ignore their new home country's holiday and remain open to serve revolutionary families like ours.

So we drove up and down the highway in search of a restaurant that was open. My sons were hungry and so was my dad. I bit my nails nervously, scanning both sides of the street for someplace with lights on. The first time we circled, my dad had spotted a diner serving a "Traditional Turkey Meal". I immediately opposed the idea - citing my determination to rebel this year. As we made our second and third pass by Said Diner, the growling from my companions grew louder.

I finally relented.

We slid into a booth at our neighborhood diner less than one mile from my house. And, despite my strong objection, most of our party of five chose from the menu the Traditional Turkey Meal.

There's a lot to give thanks for these days, seven years later: my sons, my parents, my husband of three years. But, I really can't get into that right now.

I've got a turkey to cook.

No comments:

Please share a comment