Thanksgiving morning. Kristin made me a breakfast of exotic cheeses. She knows that I love nothing so much as trying new forms of fermented milk. Yum. Cheese and warm, crusty sourdough bread. And grapes. Surrounded by the scent of bread mingling with the scent of the roses that she had given me the night before, I could almost forget that it was Thanksgiving. I am so grateful for my wife, for my daughter. Our morning was delightful.
And then we cleaned. And did laundry. And it felt good to put things in order, to put things away. We wrapped Christmas presents and got our packages ready to mail. We chased Julia around the house. We fed the dogs beef stew. We cleaned so hard I got sweaty and exhausted carrying things up and down the stairs. But I did not lose my breath. I did not crumple around fits of coughing. I am so grateful to my body for healing as quickly as it did. I am so grateful for our beautiful home, our material comfort, that is so much more than so many others have.
And then we baked a blackberry pie and some green bean casserole. And then we went to my parent's house. I had told my father that I was only going to come if I could have wine. Lots and lots of wine. My mother gets anxious when we drink around her family. Primarily because she has a sister who gets upset when people drink around her (fully grown, married) sons. It's a simmering resentment on the part of those of us who are non-mormon (read: me, my siblings, my father) that we must cave to the tyranny of this particular aunt's sensibilities. We do so out of love for my mother. So my father told me not to let mom see...
Sister in-law the Maybe had been at the house since 10 AM... folding napkins, cooking, helping to decorate. She's a better daughter to my mother than I am... if my brother doesn't follow through and marry her after all these years we'll probably disown him and adopt her, but that's another story. As soon as I walked in the house the Thanksgiving panic began knocking on my mental door. I ignored it, but the effort made me a bit fuzzy. People started arriving, and with each new arrival I felt less and less present. I'm not entirely certain why this happens. I used to be so close to these aunts and uncles, these cousins. Maybe that's the problem. I don't think they really see me, who I am, what I'm like, what I love, what I want, what I think. They don't accept my current reality, they only tolerate it. I get around them and I feel all the color, all the substance leeching from me... I become transparent and colorless as glass. They look through me, not at me. I speak, and they hear what they want to hear rather than what I'm saying. I think I'm just too alien for them to really hold a place in their world view.
I kept the panic away. But a deep depression descended during dinner. Helped, in part, I'm sure, by listening to two male members of the family talk about how they like to flirt with gay waiters just to see the looks on their faces, how funny it is when the waiters slip them phone numbers... I should have said something to that. I should have, but I didn't. And that failure on my part helped push me down. It's not that they were using slurs, or saying anything BAD exactly about the men they were talking about. It's the attitude. The actions. How can I explain that without screaming and bursting into tears? How could I explain what it's like to try to flirt with a stranger when you're gay and when flirting with the wrong person can get you beaten or killed, even today? How can I convey the cruelty behind their actions without becoming the overreactive harpy who takes everything too personally and makes it all political?
And then there's the aunt who, while my mother was holding Julia, touched Julia's hair and expressed surprise at how soft and fine it is. Because, you know, she expected it to be so much coarser! My mother explained that Kristin has very curly hair, and that Julia actually has Kristin's hair and not her donor's. And that was that. But still. And I'm still left wondering if there's something more I could have said. Something sharper. Something smart and savvy. Something that would have let her know that her attitude is all wrong. It's not the question, exactly, that bothers me. It's the automatic assumption of otherness that members of this family place on Julia. Not all of them, to be sure, (and not my immediate family!) but enough. I can see how when they look at Julia they don't see my daughter. They don't see a member of the family. They see Trista's lesbian lover's black daughter. Only they would never use the words "lesbian" or "lover" or "black".
Before the dinner started, I stood in the kitchenette in my parent's basement... steps away from the huge banquet table... and realized that there was no way I was going to be able to get a bottle of wine open without everyone seeing. Sister in Law the Maybe, apron on, bustling around doing last minute prep, saw me looking intently at the lines of liquor bottles trying to figure out which would make the most innocuous, and yet potent, drink. "What's the matter?" she said, "I need a drink," I muttered. "There's water on the table" she replied. "Not that kind of drink." "Oh." "I need something that no one will notice." "I got just the thing for you." And she opened the fridge and pulled out a bottled lemon margarita and started pouring it in a glass for me. Mom came in the kitchenette, drawn by our furtiveness... she saw the bottle and raised her eyebrows, "don't let anyone see." "It's ok, it's just lemonaid." SiLtM assured her. I took my drink and fled. Later I snuck back and made myself a gin and tonic, heavy on the gin. And yet one more trip to raid the liquor to make a Kristin a gin and tonic (heavy on the tonic) too. I am grateful for alcohol and it's dulling effects on my rage. We made our excuses and left the dinner a mere three hours after arriving. We didn't overeat. In truth, I barely managed to eat at all. But my parents were happy. And this is the last Thanksgiving the entire extended family is gathering. I couldn't be more thrilled.