For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving weekend has been difficult—often the most trying time of the year. In general, I have never been much for official holidays. Valentine’s Day is drek; the “parent holidays” are the emotional equivalent of an emergency root canal; New Year’s Day is amateur hour layered upon the fake birthday of Jesus. I even find Groundhog’s Day to be unhappily charged, though this stems from a personal coincidence.
But Thanksgiving has always loomed as the worst.
It’s not just that it is a blithe celebration of the worst strain of colonialism. It’s not just that a yearly gratitude practice rings as false as a Hallmark sympathy card. (Gratitude is a daily—hourly!—value in my cosmology.) It’s that no other day is so much about biological/nuclear family, and I became a conscientious objector to these institutions for very real, very painful reasons.
I won’t get into how much I hated the holiday as a kid. Suffice it to say Norman Rockwell would not have found many opportunities for his sentimental tableaus at my family tables–not that anyone bothered to do anything as civilized as eat around tables at most of those gatherings. In my 20s, I got very punk rock about the whole business and would do things like go to Coney Island with a flock of other black sheep. But starting in my 30s, no matter how much I crowed about my independence the rest of the year, a mania would grip me in the weeks leading up to the last Thursday of November, and I would attempt to transform whatever dalliance I had at the time into a Relationship.
For years my best friend Melina felt the demise of those relationships were her fault. Though the blame could never accurately be assigned to her, it was true that every Thanksgiving I would stay in her cute Greater Boston house with her cute husband and cute children who are also my cute goddaughters, and whichever footloose-and-fancy-free beau I’d enlisted that year would balk when confronted with the rigors of family life. Not once but five times did my relationships end on the drive back to New York—the last time with a violence that turned me off romance for a half decade to come.
But when I showed up in Massachusetts sola—and I usually returned to the scene of the crime whether or not I was partnered up or in communication with my biological family—the drama of that weekend still got me by the neck. (One time I literally broke a vertebrae in my neck, which is a story I’ll tell another day.) Even when I opted out entirely and holed up alone in my Brooklyn apartment, I fell apart. There was something in Fangsgiving (as I came to call it) that brutally revealed the fissures in my self-composure. It was a truth serum of a holiday, one whose chemical composition proved nearly lethal to my internal ecosystem.
I figured this Thanksgiving would be no different. 2015 had so far been marked by enormous growth spurts and proportionate growing pains, and I didn’t have a car anymore to serve as an escape pod if things got hairy. True, I had very good plans—spend three days with my dear friend Rachel in her gem of a beachside house; spend three days with my godfamily in their gem of a hillside house—but I knew all too well that the best-laid plans turn out to be a lousy lay this time of year.
Here is the miracle of miracles, the happiest of happy news (at least in my Lisa universe): I had a wonderful six days. Really wonderful. There were no ugly confrontations, no bottomless disappointments, no indelible injuries. Instead, I cruised into South Station Tuesday night with my tiny bag and was met by Rachel’s glowing face and unequivocal hug. The two of us sped to a French bistro and feasted on oysters and cocktails and then repaired to her home in Winthrop-by-the-Sea, where her lovely husband Mike and two (2!) corgis greeted us with more unequivocal hugs. I spent the next few days puttering with those guys–taking sunrise and sunset walks by the beach, drinking tea, having impromptu dance parties in the kitchen, ducking out for lobster rolls, and buying the hilarious underwear of Target. (That store is so shopped out in Brooklyn.) T-Day itself was full of warmth and cranberry—Rachel and Mike’s parents are lovebugs, and I sidestepped the sweets with an ease I didn’t anticipate. (A shot of Jameson’s helped; I still permit myself “adult sugar.”)
Then I sped over to my godfamily’s for the sort of magical days Melina and I have been having since we discovered at age six that we shared a penchant for extraordinary ordinary adventures. I went to cozy parties in her neighborhood. We got our nails done. We lolled by the fire with books. We ate clam cakes and french fries. We drank americanos and watched movies in flannel PJs with pals and puppies all around. There was so much good feeling that it flowed elsewhere: I exchanged friendly notes with a man with whom I never thought I’d be friendly again. I gave my biological sister a real hug.
One morning my godfamily and I drove up to Crane’s Beach on the North Shore. We explored an empty estate and took off our shoes and socks and danced by the sea like the ham sandwiches we are. At one point we happened upon a stretch of beach populated by tens of dogs off their leases, cavorting in the sand and glorious sunlight. It was like a Fellini film with a cast of canines. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody so happy!” cried youngest goddaughter Luci, and we all agreed, grinning from ear to ear. Then we each threw a wish in the form of a stone into the sea and removed a piece of litter to clean her awesome altar.
The next day my wish came true. I’ll talk about it more in a later post but the headline is that I have a new car and she is bright blue and cute as a button and I bought her entirely with money I made myself. In my drive home—and just that phrase fills me with immeasurable joy–I realized why this Thanksgiving was different from all others. I don’t just own my car outright. I also own my life.