Thanksgiving in the Doherty house is not unlike a car fire; it’s loud, heated, and can explode without the slightest warning. It’s The Sopranos meets August Osage County meets that really angry lady you sometimes see cussing her boyfriend out on the street, wearing nothing but dollar flip-flops and an oversized Celtics jersey; you know, the kind of woman who you don’t want to mock because she may be mentally ill, but who also may just have absolutely no grasp on manners, or what is appropriate behavior.
I hate the holiday; I hate all holidays that require me to not only spend a heinous amount of time with my family, but also pretend I enjoy doing so. I hate the days when I can’t just barge into a friend’s house because they already have activities they plan on doing with their families they actually like being around. It’s unfair that my friends can go play board games and eat great food with their sane families, and I’m detained at the Doherty house forced to eat what may as well be space food while being emotionally water-boarded.
Now it may seem like I hate my family, but I don’t. I love them in the way you love anyone you share DNA with; it’s just that I generally can’t stand them. My dad is an alcoholic who’s done more stints in rehab than Lindsay Lohan; my mom can elevate your blood pressure just by looking in your general direction, and my siblings yell and swear so loudly and so frequently that you’d think my house was the set of a reality TV show. It’s also important to note yet again that not a single soul in my family can cook; Thanksgiving with degenerates and dry turkey should be outlawed.
Despite my hatred for Thanksgiving being greater than my hatred for the Applebee’s franchise and people who pronounce frustrated like “fuss-trated”, I am going to try and not actively hate the holiday and everyone in my family this year. Hell, I’m even going to try and enjoy myself; I have to because it’s the last Thanksgiving I will be spending at 15 Wentworth Drive, the place I’ve called home for the past 19 years. My mom, Nancy, is finally putting the house we could never actually afford on the market, which is something she’s been threatening to do for over a decade, but hasn’t done because of sentimental reasons and because we live in middle class 99.9% white suburbia where downsizing is a concept worse than death. This Thanksgiving will also arguably be the last holiday meal I’ll share with my family before graduation and relocation. My mom used to tell me that I’d one day move away and not even make the effort to call and check in on the holidays; I deny this not because I disagree, but because I know how shitty I’d feel if I admitted that aloud.
Dinner is always held at a crowded table full of Irish people. The table is covered with a cloth that is faded and grotesquely stained, and dinner is served on a mix and match set of china because my Dad’s penchant for throwing dishes during his drunken tirades made purchasing more seem counterproductive. Thankfully he’s at the sober house this year, so we can eat and drink in peace without worrying about him trying to aggressively Feng Shui the place by throwing bar stools across the house.
I have decided to invite my two friends from college to dinner this year because I thought it would be funny and because I knew they’d be lonely staying on campus for the holiday. My mother was thrilled when I suggested the idea to her, no doubt because it would provide her with an opportunity to not only show off for friends, but earn multicultural points in the process.
The first guest is Jon, my roommate, who is a drag queen and the only child of two first generation Chinese parents he absolutely hates, both of who are thoroughly convinced that his homosexuality and cross dressing are nothing more than an “American” phase. The second guest is Sara, who hails from Dubai, which as far as my mother is concerned is a country somewhere near Iran where beheading is a casual thing, which to be fair is an idea shared by pretty much every suburban white mom in America. At least she knew that there were only two Koreas, unlike my little sister, who said, “Well there’s North Korea, South Korea, and then like Korea Korea.”
The moment I arrive to pick them up at the train station I immediately begin to second guess inviting them. Unfortunately, they spot me and make their way over to my car before I can speed off into the distance. Sara is wearing in a conservative black dress, a nice lace one, and Jon is sporting a shredded sweatshirt and fingernails painted an almost offensive shade of pink. We drive around and I show them the white suburbia I originated from; the abundant greenery and tiny ranches are “quaint” and “quintessential New England” according to Sara, and Jon is further convinced that no state other than California is worth living in.
We get back to my house as my Uncle Jan and Grampie arrive, the latter who is trying to pawn off some encyclopedia to my little sister. Grampie’s a short guy, about 5’6, and he has more ear hair than anyone I’ve ever seen. Besides that he’s pretty much your typical grandfather. He loves telling old war stories, taking us out to breakfasts and paying for the meal solely with coupons, and continuously reminding me he was an adjunct professor at my college in the 70’s. The funny thing is that he doesn’t age; he looks exactly the same now as he did when I was a baby. It’s like he’s some sort of geriatric vampire.
My uncle Jan is a former drug addict with the personality of an eighteen-year-old boy and the haircut of a twelve-year-old one. I don’t really talk to him because he makes me uncomfortable, not because of his past, but because he has a more extensive graphic t-shirt collection than I do. I appreciate his help around the house though. God knows it would have fallen apart by now without him. My Nana is absent from the holiday affair because she is ill, and my aunt Susan isn’t present because apparently she’s feuding with my sister.
Sara, Jon, myself, and my sister Kara and brother Sean convene on the couch to eat snacks while we wait for the main course. Without any hesitation, Kara begins to tell her offensive jokes and mock Jon for his outfit of choice, cutting any tension in the room. She’s the baby of the family, small in stature, but with the mouth of a hardened sailor who is itching to harpoon someone. She’s tiny as well, and looks way younger than she actually is, and yet despite that she’s the only one of my siblings with multiple piercings and a tattoo. Interestingly enough, she used to be a child star; we even auditioned for the role of siblings in a movie once. She was cast and I was not because I apparently did not look enough like her, which was just a nice way of saying I was too fat to be on camera. Sean, my Irish twin, shifts away from Sara a bit; things are a little awkward between them considering she one drunkenly hit on him. He’s essentially the polar opposite of me; his hair is almost jet black, while mine is light brown, he likes sports, and I like theatre, and I resolve my problems with my words and he resolves them by threatening to bash your skull in. Sean is the volatile one in the family, the one who looks and acts the most like my Dad, and the one most likely to try and punch your lights out for making such a comparison. You’d think his excessive marijuana intake would make him more Zen, but apparently not.
We sit and chat on the couch while my mother begins to prepare things for plating. Sara asks my sister questions about her college sorority down in South Carolina, and does her best to be as polite and courteous as possible to my family. Jon, on the other hand, says I’m involved in Greek life as well, and mentions that I’m in the fraternity “SuckALottaDicka” the moment my poor Grampie walks into the room. Thankfully he’s deaf enough to miss the comment.
Erin arrives the moment my mother informs us dinner is ready. My family members begin to scoop the food she’s organized on the kitchen counter onto their plates: the canned cranberry sauce, the stovetop stuffing, the mashed potatoes and butternut squash so bland that you can’t help but wonder how white neocolonialists spent so much time killing natives and traveling the world to get spices just to end up under seasoning everything. Although I will say the turkey was not dry as anticipated.
We gather at the table, Jon and Sara sit close by me, and my Grampie takes one of the head seats in the absence of my father. My mother waits for us all to be seated before she even begins to make her own plate, and Kara walks over to the microwave and heats herself a bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup because it is common knowledge that she does not eat my mother’s “shit food.” Sean, who consumed a marijuana edible about fifteen minutes before dinner, is more than happy to serve himself a double portion, and I keep my plate scarce to keep up my appearance as the wilting flower of the family. Uncle Jan, who is as sober as can be, is more than happy to eat my allotment of crescent rolls.
The dinner itself is short and the conversation is unmemorable, but nice. My uncle Jan and Grampie leave immediately after dinner, but not before Grampie makes a plate of leftovers to bring to my Nana. The rest of us find our way to the living room, where Sean has made a small fire. The room is comfortably toasty and Sara, Jon, and I nestle up next to each other on one couch while my family members do the same on the other. We each have a plate of apple crisp with one scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on our laps, and I allow myself to not only eat one but two servings of it.
Sean takes control of the clicker and lands on Family Guy, which surprisingly no one complains about. Any frustrations or apprehensions I have about the holiday have long since passed, and I silently thank my family members for making the day not only bearable, but somewhat enjoyable. My family members have done a lot for me today, and I can’t help but think of how little I’ve done for them, nor can I help but wonder about how much my status as the black sheep of the family is self imposed. About how harshly I criticize them, how gently they view me, and how perhaps I’m the the difficult one and have simply not yet realized it.
One episode blurs into three, and I find it difficult to stay awake. Jon nestles up to my shoulder, and Sara comfortably cradles the arm of the couch, and Sean and my sisters have been asleep for almost a half hour. My mom and I are the only ones left awake; the food coma is real. My mom pulls herself off the couch half asleep, and begins to collect our dirty dishes. I watch her walk to the kitchen and place the stack in the sink, and can hear the faintest sigh over the hum of the television. The faucet begins to run, and without thinking, I remove the blanket from my lap, gently pull myself out from underneath Jon, and find my way to the kitchen to help her.