Down With Holidays

This time of year is usually rocky for me. This year is maybe harder than usual because it was only a year ago in late November that my mother died, and that brings up old memories that feed too well into the persistent feelings of worthlessness that I’ve struggled against my whole life and that I find myself struggling against again now.

But the holidays are always difficult for me anyway. It would be easier if I could just go about my business without being constantly taunted with it, but of course our whole damn economy is organized around reminding us all at every opportunity that we’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, every freaking store everywhere turns the canned music up and plays the same fifteen novelty songs over and over again. In December I find myself wondering over and over again whether I really need to make this trip to the market, or can I make the rest of the laundry detergent stretch until after the new year?

When I was a child, the very blackest days of the year were Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Those were not the only three days of the year when my family — the portion that ever saw each other at all, anyway — would get together to try to hurt each other. But those three days were especially horrible because instead of a family visit lasting a mere hour or so, the visit on one of these agonizing days would last ten to twelve hours. By the time I was nine or ten, I had learned to dread these days weeks in advance.

One thing that made these holidays difficult is that they included a meal, and my mother’s mother used food as a weapon. Once, for example, when I was maybe ten or so, for some inexplicable reason my parents and my grandparents decided it would be a good idea to take a week’s vacation together, along with my brother and me, to a cabin in the mountains that my grandfather owned. On the second afternoon I was eating a plate of potato salad that my mother had made, when my grandmother snatched the plate out of my hand, scraped the contents back into the bowl, and added several more ingredients while making a big haughty fuss about how I shouldn’t have to eat that and how she would show my mother the way to make potato salad properly. Once she had corrected the defects of the potato salad, she put some back on my plate, handed it back to me, and demanded that I taste it and announce in front of the entire family which one I liked better. I was mortified and the only thing I could think to do was to say that I couldn’t tell the difference, and the result was a bitter quarrel and a sulk that lasted several days until finally some of us left early (I don’t remember now whether it was my parents and brother and me or my grandparents who left).

I learned early in life for incidents like this, then, that it was a very dangerous idea to have food preferences, or at least to express them. Or indeed to express any preferences at all.

For Thanksgiving dinner, Dave and I made ourselves a rotisseried turkey and mashed yams and steamed broccoli and cranberry tangerine sauce and mushroom gravy, and a pear cranberry crisp for dessert, which was very good and all in all not that difficult. Though part of me would have rather made, oh, grilled cheese sandwiches for Thanksgiving dinner and done the big meal on a non-Thanksgiving evening, just to give the finger more emphatically to my childhood memories.

We don’t haul out the countertop rotisserie as often as we ought to, because it’s not really any more difficult than roasting and the results are consistently delicious.

Then in the last decade there’s been the additional factor that another week and a half marks the eleventh anniversary of my brain surgery, and that always sets me to brooding on whether I’ve really done anything since then to justify the truly staggering amount of time and expertise and trouble and money that went into saving my life, and the long period of chronic pain I went through. I know rationally that this is nonsense, that nobody and nothing needs to do anything to justify its mere existence, and that it’s impossible to do such a thing anyway because none of us will ever learn anything about 99% of the effect, for good or for ill, that we have on the world. And yet around this time of year, when I get tired or stressed out, that’s the direction my thoughts take me in, and I find it very easy to talk myself out of valuing anything positive that I’ve done and into magnifying the awfulness of all the negatives.

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