Turkey tastes different now.
In the past it was easy to be thankful. I could look around and see the food and the smiles and the faces, and I could stop and appreciate rather easily. Rather simply because that's all I really felt, awarded to this one dinner. Thank you for all that I have.
After you died it became harder to give thanks. Really, very, a lot harder.
There was a distinct moment last year around the Thanksgiving table when I pictured you there. Sitting on my lap knocking spoonfuls of cranberry sauce onto the floor and grabbing my hair with what would-have-been, should-have-been chubby, dripping, nine month old fingers. I can remember running mine through the smooth, perfectly de-tangled locks and growing very angry. Angry that I could do that. Angry that it didn't need brushing.
And I tried to be thankful, but I couldn't. Not in that moment. Not at that table. Not at the same time.
It was the same feeling from earlier that summer. When we traveled to Montana for a gorgeous wedding 8,000 feet above sea level, and I drank Huckleberry Vodka to my heart's content because I knew that I could sleep in the next morning. Or when we returned and I took your brother to the pool and I sat, relaxed, in my lounge chair giving dirty looks to all the parents hunched over, inconveniently chasing their toddlers around or toting their babies on their hips, who couldn't sit with me. Didn't have to.
SO much of my life was consumed with anger then. Angry that my jeans fit again because I had the time to work out. Angry because we had that Sunday to paint the kitchen. Angry last Christmas, when I did all my shopping online because I didn't want to accidentally walk by some frilly pink dress in some random toy aisle while searching Ninjago figurines. (People should really return their retail items properly.) Anger at the fill-in pediatrician who prescribed antibiotics for your brother, and scoffed when I asked her about the mortality rate of walking pneumonia.
"Worst case scenario, much?" Her eyebrows raised.
Um. Actually yes.
The holidays offer an exceptional torture though, because it seems that anger is every freaking where, because the reminders are every freaking where. You are different now. You used to be like this, but now you're not. Don't you wish you could be like that again? Here are a bunch of songs that remind you of a really happy and exceptionally tragedy-free twenty eight years. Don't you miss them? In every store and on virtually every radio station, the old you clashing with the new one.
And Thanksgiving? I mean, the name itself...speaks for itself. How can anyone be thankful when there is such an immense absence at the table?
Some people probably assume that the holidays are easier now, for me and for us because your baby brother is here. This is true and it's also inherently untrue. He is love and he is happiness in giggly, squishy 16 pound perfection. God-willing, this Thanksgiving and this Christmas he will grab and pull and spill as he pleases from atop our laps. This New Year's Eve I can take pictures of him in an adorable onesie with the drawn-in bow tie and share it with friends and feel slightly more normal. I can snuggle with him every frosty morning when he greets me with a smile, pull him up to my pillow and just breathe him in and I can really, truly know that he is here. That he is mine and that he is with me in this moment and last year, I couldn't do that.
But his presence will never make up for your absence. My life will never be the one that exists in the Christmas cards, at least not in the Christmas cards I used to stress over and meticulously plan for and send to family and friends. My life is different and paradoxical now. Always and forever. And sometimes when I'm looking at them I'm still angry, because we're still so without, and that will never change.
The other day I was straightening my hair when I came across a tangle. A vast, seemingly endless mass that was so thick and entwined that it may have had its own blood supply, right in the back above my neck. And through all the prodding and the pulling and the curse words, there was also a smile because I knew why it was there. Grateful that it wasn't smooth. Grateful for the pain.
That's my hope now, for this life. I know that there will always be pain because forever, this Christmas and my next birthday and on Flag Day twenty years from now you will still be gone. I will not feel your hands or see all the messy creations they'd have fostered. I cannot know your weight on my knee or your hand on my face, and I get to be angry about that. I get to cry about it and I'm allowed to roll my eyes at the gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of Kohls because I think it's always going to hurt. And I think I'm okay with that, because that's how much I love you.
But my hope is to live holding both. To feel your absence in every twinkle light and to be as angry as I deserve to be, and to also feel the gratitude. Really, truly be grateful for the food and the turkey and the faces. Grateful for the catch in the brush.
For the love behind the pain.