Like last year and the year before, I spend Thanksgiving Day with only my partner (who I’ll call K) and our two pets. I can’t actually remember the last time I traveled on or before Thanksgiving Day to spend it with my family. In previous years K has worked in retail, and although “She has to work Black Friday and I’m not coming without her” isn’t the most satisfying excuse for my father and stepmother (who see K as some sort of not-quite-family hybrid; who, even with a ring on both our fingers, will still probably never see her on the same level as my sister’s husband or brother’s wife), it’s at least an excuse they accept.
This year, my excuse is “It’s her birthday and her family is coming,” which is partly true. Her birthday is the day before Thanksgiving and her family did visit, albeit they left before Thanksgiving Day.
So it is just me, my partner, and our two pets.
I put myself completely in charge of cooking and shoo K away when she offers to help. It’s not the most impressive spread–just turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and rolls–but the stress of being solely responsible weighs on me, which makes the triumph that much more satisfying when everything turns out well.
The triumph gives way to melancholy, for reasons I don’t quite understand. I suspect something to do with a crash from the morning’s stress, a sense of “What now?”, a vague feeling of dread about tomorrow’s trip.
We play card games and Battleship. K, a children’s librarian in training, reads me picture books about hats while we sit on the couch.
I mentally make a list of what I need to pack tomorrow, when we’ll drive to visit my family for the weekend, and decide to bring a selection of sex toys since we’ll be staying in a hotel. (Some of my best sex has happened in hotel rooms; I have associations.) I set my Mona 2 up to charge and set aside my njoy Pure Wand and my Hitachi before I go to sleep.
I’m up early, stressed about seeing my family.
Intellectually, I know that there are some people who are close to their family–who don’t just tolerate or grit their teeth and bear family get-togethers, but who actually seek them out and enjoy them. I know this, but I don’t understand it. I can’t even imagine it. It’s beyond my comprehension.
As I pack, I keep finding myself thinking, “Well, this’ll be the only good thing to come from this trip,” about stupid things ranging from finally untangling the cord of my hairdryer to finally cleaning out my makeup bag. It’s not true, of course. The only good to come of this trip will be the Christmas money from my dad, given the Saturday after Thanksgiving since it’s the only time we’re all together.
I spend most of the six-hour drive pondering how strongly I don’t want to be doing this, how badly I don’t want to see my father or stepmother or brother. (My sister, on the other hand, I’m usually quite fond of and would be happy to see if it weren’t for the other members of my family.) At some point I find myself crying, smearing tears on my cheek with my sleeve and trying not to choke on snot, while K looks on, unsure what to do.
“I feel like a disappointment,” I tell her. “I feel like a failure.”
Those are the only words I can find, but they represent only a fraction of the emotional tangle in my head. I’m crying because my mother is and will always be dead, I’m not where I ever wanted to be in my life, and I am the blackest, ugliest sheep in a family of snow-white wolves.
When we get to the hotel, I have a zit forming on my chin and the one-hour time difference is already fucking with my head. My father, who reserved the room for me in September, has gotten K and me a hotel room with two double beds. I’m tempted to read something into that, and I text my sister to see what she thinks.
Maybe it was the only type of room they had left? she says.
I still have my doubts. This is the man who, the last time we visited, asked K to be the camera person for our family photograph instead of joining us in it. But I don’t want to dwell.
Before we go to sleep, I grab my Mona 2 less out of a desire to get off and more out of a feeling like I should want to get off. I crawl into bed with the vibrator, a condom to put over it, and a small bottle of lube, and K slides in next to me.
“Can we keep the light on?” she asks.
I say okay, although I end up getting self-conscious and she obligingly turns her face into my neck. She’s half on me, one of her legs thrown over mine, almost but not quite holding me down.
It doesn’t work. My G-spot is too sensitive today, and the Mona 2’s vibrations are uncomfortably, even painfully strong. I turn it off and say, “I’m going to get my Hitachi.”
And like that, with my nonvibrating Mona 2 in my cunt and my Hitachi against my vulva, I have two weak, disappointing orgasms before, as always happens, I start to feel guilty for being the person I am, for preferring something closer to masturbation than sex.
“Here,” I say, and move K’s hand so that she’s gripping the Mona’s handle. I show her how to move it, and I flip the Hitachi on again. The gesture is intended as a sort of consolation–“Sorry you can’t get me off. Here, I guess you can do this”–but it ends up being more. She finds a good angle and a nice, leisurely rhythm that I ride to an orgasm that’s far better than the two earlier ones.
I fuck her afterward, and she scratches up my back.
It’s a good night.
Here is the thing: my sister and I used to be close. Only a few years ago, I considered her my best friend. We talked regularly. Visiting her was a delight.
Today, I find out that she’s had health problems this year. I had no idea about this, but my brother–whom my sister and I both dislike–did.
In the afternoon, we sit in my father’s living room, me and my siblings and our partners. They talk about their children’s dating lives while K and I sit silently and awkwardly. The conversation is rife with sexism and heterosexism. My sister bemoans that her oldest daughter isn’t interested in the boy who has a crush on her. She says, “I’m going to be the mom who’s like, ‘When are you giving me grandchildren?'” She says, “I can’t wait for [cousin and cousin’s boyfriend] to get married and start having babies.”
I look at her and think, Who are you? And when did this happen?
Meanwhile, my stepmother asks me if I’d like a soda–her only comment to me all day–and my dad tries to talk to me about sports, which I hate.
In the evening, we open Christmas presents. My dad gives me a bigger check than I was expecting, along with face cream and makeup. K gets a new Nintendo 3DS, the new Pokemon game, and the illustrated Harry Potter books. My brother makes comments about how K and I are like my nephews, who like Pokemon, and my nieces, who also got cosmetics from my dad and love Harry Potter. My sister gets a new printer and a lighting fixture. My brother gets underwear and a suitcase.
I think, They must see me as someone who will never grow up. Thirty years old without a house or a full-time job and interested in the same things their kids are.
At the end of the night, K and I carry our gifts out to my car and go back to the hotel. My dad stands on the front porch and watches me drive away, as he always does with me and never my siblings. And as always, there is something so hopelessly sad about the sight of him standing there with no shoes or coat, waving at me as I leave.
It stays with me for the rest of the night, stamping out any desire I might have to put my toys to use again.
We’re supposed to have lunch with my sister and her family, but there’s a miscommunication and confusion. She sends me a text telling me something’s come up. Should we just head home then? I ask, and get no response. So I assume yes, and we check out of the hotel and begin the six-hour drive home.
(It turns out I was mistaken; she still wanted to have lunch. She didn’t have her phone on her and got my question too late. Her texts are punctuated with sad faces.)
I’m upset, disappointed, but not because we didn’t go to lunch. I’m sad because I don’t know her well enough anymore to say for certain that she would want to have lunch with me even if it’s inconvenient. It’s a devastating realization, and I spend the better part of an hour trying not to cry.
I think about the slow dissolution of family relationships, about how sometimes people just grow apart. At some point during the trip, I realize that I’ve driven through St. Louis twice this weekend–once today, once Friday–and not seen the Arch, not even looked for it. The sight of it in the distance used to be a sort of touchstone for me, filling me with a feeling of comfort and relief, a sense of home. I used to cross the bridge over the Mississippi River and think, with a small amount of contentment and even pride, The mighty Mississippi, but I crossed it both Friday and today like it was any other forgettable part of the east Missouri scenery, neither noteworthy nor mighty.
I remember, probably ten years ago now, driving to my hometown in Missouri for Thanksgiving. We took family photographs in front of my father’s Christmas tree. There was one photo for the whole family, then a photo for each of the smaller family units–my sister’s family, my brother’s family, my father and stepmother. I was struck by the crushing realization that everyone there had a family but me. I cried the whole drive home, sobbing so hard I shook.
It feels like that now, oddly. The sadness isn’t nearly as strong–more of a dull ache than a sharp pain–but it’s there. I wonder why I can’t move past it, why it still upsets me to feel like I don’t belong in a family that, when it all comes down to it, I don’t really want to belong to anyway.
K and I arrive home, at our apartment. There’s cat puke on the carpet in the middle of the living room. The cat always looks strangely small to me when I come home after a weekend away, like his fur is lying flatter than usual. He yowls at us to show his displeasure at being left alone for days.
The hedgehog cage is a disaster, and the hedgehog himself has huge clumps of dried feces trapped under his nails. I pick them out while he squirms and huffs, and then I carry him downstairs where I sit with him on the couch. K sits next to me, and the cat sprawls on the floor and eye-kisses up at us.
The quiet that falls over the apartment is welcome and familiar, and we bask in it–me, my partner, and our two pets.