In ‘04 we decided to make Thanksgiving mean something. So, retroactively and going forward, I love this day the best. I’m not sayin’ it’s unproblematic that my two favorite days are those with scary nationalist undertones. But this doesn’t have to be about that.
Before 1995 Thanksgivings were the same. And weird. Here are some landmarks since then, shoring up an archipelago for my memory.
1995 First year of college and last Tkx in Montana. I fly home with my hair short and dyed almost black. Dinner is what it has always been, I think. Friday I put on S’s ripped Levis, my old Vasque Sundowners and a newly-acquired burgundy sweatshirt from a Portland thrift and drive to Bozeman listening to Love and Rockets. Crunch across the giant icy lot at the U of Montana, and up to my boyfriend’s dorm. It’s strange, but sentimental. He says something about wanting to keep me, and later I write in a journal about the uncrossable ocean of the unsaid. But it’s not truly clear that it’s over for him until 11 weeks later, when he sends a huge pink heart-box of gas station quality chocolates for Valentine’s. Best blow-off ever. I deserve it.
1996 Semester abroad in Costa Rica. The students in my study program gather at the Costa Rican program director’s gorgeous hillside home. I’ve just returned from a weeklong disappearance to Cuba and said director is furious with me and concerned her superiors back in the US will learn of my adventures. But I soften her up by bonding with her daughter over Sor Juana Ines de the Cruz (there is a blurry photograph of us in green dresses—me in wooden jewelry from Havana—reading excerpts from the biography by Octavio Paz). Later when I get drunk and belt out nationalist Costa Rican folk hymns, she forgives me completely.
1997 To Beaverton with two dear friends at the moment just before the three-year love fest between us begins to die. M’s mom makes chili rellenos and we listen to Elliott Smith on the drive back on Yamhill County backroads.
1998 The Editor has recently written his quasi-fiancee (also my ex-roommate), who is off in England, to tell her he’s dating me. The blame-the-woman fallout in our incestuous little private school circle has not yet begun. I have a single apartment in an historic building on the edge of a rainy green oak grove. Spend the day happy there alone after (I think?) working the Thanksgiving brunch at the Golden Valley. At least that has been my excuse for not going home to the suburbs with The Editor.
1999 The Fulbright Commission has dropped me in Managua with a little bit of cash and no contacts or instructions. Four months in, I’m well immersed in Sandinismo, liberation theology, what’s left of the revolution, and a community of pissed off expatriates. There is a huge dinner at the Jesuit Service Volunteers house. As her Nicaraguan husband holds her, a blond woman cries as she tells of renouncing her US citizenship because she cannot accept the privileges it gives her over all the other people of the world. Especially because those privileges are bought with war.
2000 Living on the crest of capital hill in Seattle, looking right out over the space needle and the Olympics. I’m back with the Editor, and we go to his aunt Claudia’s place on Fox Island for the day. Other people’s families are boring. Bad owl.
2001 Now we are living in WeHo, on Larrabee Street just down the hill from where River Phoenix bit it. I am generally unhappy and have a cold, but the whole college crew comes to our place. It is the group’s second Thanksgiving this fall: we’ve spent the days after 9/11 huddled in a beach house talking about the way the world ends and eating mashed potatoes, gravy, bean casserole, pumpkin pie and I think Tofurky. Back in WeHo, the air is crisp and thin coming down off the Hollywood Hills. We listen to Pavement and drink pinot noir while M’s game hens crackle in the oven.
2002 I have come close to dying two weeks before, hit by a car. Having landed on my jaw, I’m only just getting back to masticating. Just the potatoes, thank you. There’s a lot of bird flesh on display in my cousin J’s new gated OC McMansion—a horrific and brilliant step up in the world he’s just made. My parents were in town the week before, on account of the accident. Stepping across my threshold, my dad got a call. His best friend’s dad, who is also his dad’s best friend, had fallen down the stairs in Colorado Springs on the way to recover gloves to shovel the walks. On blood thinner for a heart condition, he bled to death on the operating table. My dad’s heart was broken there in the entry of my house, and that night he re-told Don’s stories of storming the beach at Normandy. The hardest thing is that a week later, my grandparents (aged 85 and on what they have planned to be their last trip ever—to see J’s new McMansion) come to our Thanksgiving celebration anyway. Even though their best friend in the world is dead and being buried the next day. I try to ask why our Thanksgiving is more important than the funeral, but all my grandma can say is that this is a sadness that she doesn’t plan to bury in the years she has left.
2003 We go to West Covina, to the new apartment of The Editor’s brother. Small space, unbelievable amounts of food. I focus my energies on the pet lizard. I’m really a bad owl.
2004 Newly a practitioner, I catch early Mysore in Westwood, return home to roast and bake things, but swing by later because my teacher has brought late-morning cookies I wouldn’t miss. My brother and his then wife arrive too late for us to join the college crew in Silverlake for drinks before our own dinner, so we eat and then go for a walk on the beach. The next morning we fly to Denver for three days of grandparents and cousins and I let the kid drive because yesterday he became old enough to rent a car. And because he’s better in the snow now anyway.
2005 The Editor is off with his own ex-pats somewhere in South America, and my brother arrives again from SF, this time with a whole crew of friends. I practice early at Montana Avenue, and despite the crowd there realize it’s stupid that I’m not on the mat at 6 (rather than at 10) every day. I drive home-made baked goods to West Covina (good owl), where my meatlessness is ridiculed across a first course of Doritos and Diet. Then back to a feast at home, involving piles of drunken artists on my floor by the end of the night.
2006 B comes down from SF alone, and we roast every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Next day, birthday, a photo exhibit at the Getty. One of the college friends picks us all up in his giant new truck, and on the way up the hill The Knife plays on the stereo.