I ate lukewarm Thai food for Thanksgiving. The original plan was to fly home to Los Angeles — a place I haven't lived in since the '90s but will always refer to as "home." Expedia.com, however, made it painfully obvious that eating for one day would replace eating for the rest of the month. So a fiscally responsible decision was made. Choosing funds over family was never such a fail.
To backtrack a bit, I haven't had turkey in my grandmother's house since 1998. Thanksgiving is the hangnail of my holiday season. Better just to leave it alone until professionals can get the job done.
For more than a decade during my self-imposed East Coast exile, I've chucked Andrews-family tradition in favor of takeout food, cheesy movies or cocktails — lots and lots of cocktails. This year, though, something changed. Dice started rolling in my head to a concrete craps game I never started.
My grandmother, a woman I've never seen cry (unless Ghost is on) or cough (unless chain-smoking), has been sick. The "big C" is a silent but deadly relative in our family, like a crazy uncle locked up in the attic. She left me two voice mails a month ago to "please call," and when I did in a panic, all she wanted to do was chat.
After a roller-coaster relationship defined by stops and starts and her telling me once that "life is no plaything," finally, we've become good friends. Being away for just one holiday suddenly felt like cheating instead of saving. I told her I'd definitely come, before checking with my checking account. Christmas. Christmas would have to work. And the dice kept rolling.
As much as I hate to admit it — because I'm "i.n.d.e.p.e.n.d.e.n.t. do you know what that means?" — the Andrews family is my dirt. And I mean dirt as in my earth, my ground, my real estate, my road. It is the "start" to every path I set out on as the years moonwalk in my rearview mirror like so many road signs. I've made peace with that fact. Without Los Angeles, Manchester and Normandie, Grandmommy's house and the nickname "Lena," I'd be "lost in the world." Like Kanye.
See, I had a sister once. A sister in the sense that, 10 years ago we pledged a sorority together. Three years ago we lost her to the wind, and to those intangibles about strength versus weakness that none of us (the friends who allegedly knew her best) took the time to think about before we got the call. She voluntarily took herself out of the game. It's real in the field, and constantly being above everything is tough without an anchor to reel you in safely.
"I'm telling you, it's harder out here for us than it was for our mothers," I said out loud to no one in particular on the day of the funeral. We were lying across my full-size bed in our Sunday black after the service, staring at the ceiling with our shoes off, wondering if we could have saved her somehow.
"Is it really, though?" countered someone leaning against my bedroom wall.
"I think Helena's right," said someone else. "When there's so many ways to go, it's much easier to get lost." Too many choices coupled with just one possible outcome — success! — make the black girl a reluctant schizo.
While eating reheated pad prik king on Thanksgiving, I realized that turkey might stuff down those feelings of random dissociation, if at least for one day. It's the holiday where the entire country can numb its pain with food. And I missed it, in both the literal and figurative sense. Nostalgic for the days when I was young enough to be lulled by the tryptophan, with 3,000 miles making it impossible to do anything about it.
Usually I call the house where everyone is gathered and let the phone get passed around until I'm tired of telling another cousin that I don't live in New York anymore. The East Coast is all the same to them. This year I decided against it because I felt guilty with the knowledge that I should've just returned that BCBG dress. Or maybe I was annoyed that dinner's ready at 4 p.m., whether I'm there to "feed the tapeworm" or not.
A friend who lives just blocks away from her parents recently decided to buy her own Christmas tree this year for the first time. "I never do because I just assume their tree is my tree, but, you know, it isn't," she told me. I'm not ready for my own tree — or my own turkey — although the voluntary absence of both seems like a silly protest against something that's inevitable.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.