All week, I’ve said, “Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,” to friends and strangers, while being conflicted by disparate considerations and visuals. Here’s something that’s renting storage space in my head, streaming my consciousness, a stanza of mythology I learned as a child:
The Pilgrims came across the sea,
And never thought of you and me;
And yet it’s very strange the way
We think of them Thanksgiving day.
It’s just an annual annoyance. And it’s juxtaposed with thoughts about the huge number of American households, 47 million, affected by cuts to the food stamp program. Juxtaposed with kitchen action—roasting butternut squash and prepping ingredients for Thursday’s recipes as I conjure up images of this time last year.
I was slightly Sylvia Plath-ish—you know, picturing my head, instead of the turkey, in the oven. I’d driven to North Carolina, longing for Thanksgivings past, wallowing in self-pity. On the way home, I listened to music, looked up at luxurious, cumulus clouds, was audience to synchronized flying, murmuration, and gasped in awe. Gratitude returned and by the time I saw Baltimore’s skyline, I was smiling, thankful, especially for family and all those years with Charles, despite five Thanksgivings without him.
I decided to write an essay about a particular period in my marriage—something very personal. I removed a letter from the dresser, one Charles wrote to me over 30 years ago.
The mind plays fascinating tricks. When I run the reel, there’s dazzling scenery, passion, eye contact and expressions that required no words. And a brief period of adjustment. Truth is, the time needed to reconcile inflexibilities was significant. I’d looked at this letter often, running my hands over it, to touch him. Previously, I focused less on the date and more on our emotional location. Knowing too that those five years (yes, five years) were necessary for our marriage to become the rare kind of marriage it eventually was. Probably, if the five years had been on the opposite side, we’d have said, “This really was quite awful.” But because they were at the beginning, they seem, well, like five months. Plus, since we did it, made it, glided to the finale, we could hold up old hostilities and pronounce them hilarious. “Remember that time…”
We always spent Thanksgiving with Charles’s family. After writing that essay, I thought of the trips we made in silence, interspersed with frigid interchanges. We were actors once we arrived. Usually, this acting was spackling paste to the cracks—a temporary repair. We played the blissful couple role for several hours, performing so skillfully that the anger actually subsided, charade over, at least until the next foundation shift.
This week’s been strange. I mostly think about Charles as he was during those last months—diminished and ready to die. It’s essential to accepting his death. But looking at that letter, reading the plans he thought would make him happy, this blueprint that didn’t include me, and all that ensued within two months of mailing the letter to me in Kentucky where I’d gone to stay with Mother and Daddy during the SEPARATION, and then the decision to try one more time, give it another chance to work, and finally placing our egos in the vise of a marriage therapist—well, I visualized THAT Charles, young and healthy, and I had to walk to the mirror, stare at my face, at the changes, and say, “You are not 30 and he is not 40. Think of him as he was at 68, sick and frail. This is the reality.”
Thanksgiving’s just two days away. I wish Obama would pardon Chelsea Manning (silly me), along with the turkey. Actually, I’d like to send him a pardon list that includes entire countries punished by sanctions, trade agreements, US imperialism, American exceptionalism.
My children will be here, the Sisterhood, friends. We’ll have traditional fare for the carnivores and options for the vegans, though there’s heaviness, a feeling that something’s wrong and irreconcilable, all this abundance, when countless human beings throughout the world are suffering. Yet, we’ll bounce our senses of humor off each other as always and maybe activate the karaoke machine.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.