This will be my eighth Thanksgiving. I remember my first one being one of bitter disappointment. I had thought that we had a chance of some kind of happiness, of resolution. I still thought we could get free of the problem that kept me tied to Japan and tied to the man I married. I thought I could get a divorce. I thought I could survive. I had just started to realize there was no starting over for me. I had just started to realize that I was wrong. It was a bitter first Thanksgiving for me. I still had hopes that had not been massacred. I still thought there was a future for me. Now, looking back at the past I realize that there was only the illusion of possibility. The only thing I managed to secure was a little time, and perhaps my life.
If I knew then what I knew now, I would run back. It was too high a price to pay. There was no way I was mentally tough enough, or so I thought, to survive long term being undocumented. I thought there was a route to being safe and a citizen, so I could sit somewhere that I was not in danger of being deported, or jailed under the Hague for saving my own life, and that of my children. I was wrong. There was no hope, so solace, no future. Nothing.
It is not as if there was nothing to be thankful for back then. It is only now in my spoilt existence in San Francisco, after I have withstood so much loss that nothing means much any more, and I spend days wondering if killing myself is better than living with the possibility of losing any more, that I can look back and remember walking out of a snow covered RV with the Girl’s mittened hand in my frozen one, and looking out over the snow capped mountains of somewhere north of here, and my breath being taken away by thousands of festive frosted trees on a mountainside, and the frozen dead air. I am ornery. I would rather live to spite those that hurt me, than give them the satisfaction of my death. I dream of losing everyone I have left. The nightmares haunt me and I wake up in a cold sweat shaking. I cannot withstand losing any more. I cannot take the possibility that I will have a Thanksgiving ahead of me without the Boy, without anyone that I loved so dearly, left to be tortured in my solitude by the ghosts of Thanksgivings past. Living with the possibility of more loss is almost too much weight for me to carry. I am dreading tomorrow becoming a memory that I cannot bear to look at, just like the others that chase me around the corridors of my mind.
I wonder how those first settlers felt when they realized that their land of milk and honey was going to let them starve to death. They were like children, unable to fend for themselves, but dangerous to the original inhabitants nevertheless. My vehicle felt like a prairie wagon as I dragged it from this State to that. Each parking lot and campground along the way barely provided somewhere to shelter, cook and wash ourselves. It was still preferable to the constant beatings and rapes in Japan. My first Thanksgiving had no turkey, no big meal and no way to cook or purchase one. It was spent in a campground with my friend and my children, around a big campfire. The children ate cans of chef Boyardee pasta. I had nothing to eat at all.
The last three Thanksgivings have been quieter and safer. There has been food and shelter. The first San Franciscan Thanksgiving I spent huddled around the television watching old movies with fresh faced boys living a 1950s wonderland life, and eating take out food from the box. The next one was here in my home, huddled up with my Boy. There is still a huge hole left by the child I no longer have, and the friend that has been lost. Thanksgiving has become yet another holiday to suffer through. An extra Christmas. Another day that I spend in semi-tortured contemplation of everything I have lost in my quest not to be murdered by the man I married.
I think I have decided to try and have a good day tomorrow. I will go shopping today with a card given to me by the women’s shelter. We don’t eat meat, so no turkey for us. We will roast chestnuts, and make a big meal of roast vegetables. I can’t cook. I never have been very good at it. The boy will make a pie. He is in the kitchen crushing gluten free graham crackers and melting vegan butter. The house smells of pumpkin spice and sugar cookies. We will find someone sleeping outside to offer a plate to. One year a lovely family came and knocked on our door and passed us a thanksgiving meal. We were in a campground at the time. The children’s faces lit up. Turkey and cornbread, overcooked vegetables and something gelatinous and green and creamy and strange, not at all the kind of food we usually ate became a treat. They marveled at another family’s traditions and love. Thankfulness and appreciation are precious.
I was thankful for the beastie’s tires staying inflated, at the starter engine not giving up the ghost. I was thankful the roof was not leaking too much and the little heater kept on blowing out hot air. I was thankful for five bucks of gas and three bucks of food. I was thankful I was alive, thankful I had my children..then my child…I was thankful for the time I got. I was heartbroken at everything I lost. Then I lost and lost some more.
Sometimes I want to run away from myself. It becomes too much to take, too much to look at, too much to experience. For much of the time I felt alone. Then Ruth came along and helped me. I would not be here right now with the Boy if it wasn’t for her. She gives me kindness. She tells me it wasn’t my fault and she knew I tried. She tells me that despite the fact she knows I will never accept any of it. I should have done better. I should have done more. I should have done something that had a better outcome. Despite all of it I am grateful beyond words I still have my Boy. I am grateful for the little memories we have made out here in this City on the Bay. I long to hear that he is too. I am grateful for him hugging me goodnight and smiling that boyish smile at me in the mornings. He is my comfort and my heart. I get to see him grow into a man. He is so beautiful. He is kinder than I am. Brighter than I am. More stable than I am. That is the goal, after all, to have a child that is better than me, that has more hope for happiness than I ever did.
Despite it all, and despite the fact I don’t trust life not to kick me in the head again, I am thankful for my life. I manage my past as best I can. It is hard to be thankful for the suffering, and harder to not feel like so much was a waste of my time and years but I try.
In the end, does this holiday built on genocide even mean anything anyway? Is it anything more than a marker of time and an excuse to feast? This modern world rips the meaning out of everything, it has gutted empathy and evened the playing field for hatred. I don’t know if I even care for anything more than the small nudge that reminds me of Walmart shopping trips for elderly discounted one dollar pizza for the children, and frosty walks across frozen campgrounds. There are sand dunes to the north, that butt up against houses and forests. I used to stand in them and look out and wonder what on earth I had done in my selfish attempt to get free. The sand dunes used to answer back with a whisper as little foxes gamboled and nutria gnawed on rotten swamp logs. “What does it matter? You are here anyway? Aren’t you thankful for surviving?” Always I had to be thankful for another day, for the suffering that I withstood, for being cold and hungry and desolate and lost. I always had to be the cheerleader telling everyone they could do it, because, selfishly, I could not cope with losing them all and there was no other choice but to live on the road. I would preach gratefulness when what I was actually begging the people I loved was ‘don’t leave me, please’. Most of my love drifted away just the same. Why does it all have to be so hard?