Therapy Excerpt – Thanksgiving
Mark sat week after week in the infamous green, wingback chair; comfortable but not so comfortable that one would be inclined to be totally relaxed. Dr. Waleed sat in an identical chair facing almost directly across from Mark. “I have told you about my mother and father, about Frank, my brothers, my wives but you have never asked about my old girlfriend Jan.” Mark rubbed the arms of the chair back and forth before he continued.
“Jan was just about the only gal that I was interested in for more than just sex. I had a strange conversation with her before we drifted apart. I don’t know if she was fishin’ for an ‘I Love You’ or what, but she looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Mark, have you actually ever really been in love before?’ I was a bit taken aback because we had never talked about love before and I am not sure that I wanted to. What is the point of talking about love? You are or you aren’t I figure but at any rate she pushed me for an answer.” Mark paused for a moment to let Dr. Waleed finish writing a note.
“Do you want to hear about this? I told her that my first wife, Rose, and I loved each other but we never actually said those three words. It started out as a bit of a game. Kind of like who’s going to hang up first when you’re dating and swooning over spending every minute with the person. She didn’t want to say it until I said it and I didn’t want to say it until she said it first because I knew she was playing this silent game of who speaks of love first. I think that I loved her. I wrote I L O V E Y O U ! ! one letter per square on the toilet paper one time and rolled it back onto the roll just to see if what her reaction would be. She never said anything. To this day I don’t know if she just wiped her beav with it and didn’t notice or what. How could she not notice bright red letters, big letters, one on each square? I wasn’t going to ask if she saw the letters or not so to this day I’ve got no idea. Maybe all she saw was E YOU.
“Even on our wedding night all I could say was ‘love yah’ and all she said was ‘right back at yah.’ It’s kind of like how I was raised. I don’t ever remember my mom or my dad saying ‘I love you,’ or even ‘love yah’ for that matter. They never said it to me or my brothers for that matter. I can hear my mom saying – ‘You don’t need to say such things with words. I say “I love you” every time I wash your underwear and cook your dinner. You think I do that because I hate you? Don’t be a bone head.’ I can remember her waving her spoon at me. ‘You don’t need smooshy words, you need actions.’
“I know I loved Ruthie, my third wife. She was a nice girl in a lot of ways even if she turned into a nagging bitch but I never told her either. That might be part of why she fucked all those guys behind my back, just to hear someone say, ‘I love you’.
“I was at my girlfriend, Jan’s parent’s place for a Thanksgiving dinner about a year ago. I never smelled anything like it before. The aroma of roast turkey, mashed potatoes and yams greeted Jan and me as we walked into the warm house. Like I’ve told you, Thanksgiving has never been my favorite time of the year but this was kind of special. Holidays in general have always been filled with some level of consternation almost all of my life except for when I was little and didn’t pay much attention to the fighting. I just can’t fathom the mythical harmony that apparently revolved around some dining room tables and post-dinner antics. Telling stories, laughing over spilled milk, playing charades until you had a side-splitting stitch was not part of my family experience. At the very most, my family would watch a football or hockey game with a case of beer, or three. The men would get drunk and argue until they fell asleep. The women would take one car and drive us kids home. The men would show up in the middle of the night, chauffeured by the least drunk of them all.
“Even though I was not all that eager to go, Jan, wanted me to finally meet the rest of her family. Jan and I had been seeing each other steady for five, almost six months and I had managed to avoid spending what she would call, family time, with her parents, brother and sister. We arrived early and no one else had shown up yet. Jan is so nice. She put her arm around me and gently dragged me into the kitchen to meet her mom. After an awkwardly stiff hug, a short but polite exchange, it was suggested that I hang out in the family room for a while. ‘I’m going to be with mom, helping in the kitchen.’
“Well that’s about the end of the story really. I mulled around the posh but friendly family room. I sat and bounced up and down testing out a large cushioned armchair. I had never sat in such a nice chair before. The house was pretty nice. I just kind of perused all of the original paintings. Some of them were pretty nice. It wasn’t till I was looking at all of the books that filled an expansive built-in wall cabinet that surrounded a large bay window that I knew Jan and I were not going to be together very much longer. She came from highbrow stock and I came from common people. It’s like she grew up drinking champagne and I grew up drinking cheap beer or wine out of a box.
“I stopped and studied the photographs that paraded the fireplace mantel. It was crazy, I was flooded with memories, though very different from the history beaming from the smiling faces that stared back at me through the silver and black lacquered frames. I realized right then that I had no pictures of my daughters even taped to my fridge. Smiling faces of my estranged daughters only make me depressed. The few family pictures that my family might have are concealed deep in dusty disorder at the bottom of a cupboard somewhere in my aunt’s, not so family, family room.”
Mark sat quiet for a moment and then repeated his words. “…not so family, family room.” Silence. “It is kind of strange to have a family room that is not all that friendly. I never really thought of it before but my family memories were more aptly linked to unscrewing the top from the third bottle of cheap wine, glugged by my father into mother’s chipped, coffee-stained mug. I started to think that maybe Jan and I wouldn’t even last another date. Unlike her group-hug-holiday-snapshots, memories in front of a glistening bronze turkey poised for carving, mine were of my father passing me a smoldering joint and telling me to take it into the other room to mommy.”
Mark contemplated his past for a moment, “My Thanksgiving memories were not of family bliss, jokes told around the dining room table, ‘pass the gravy’ and ‘more pumpkin pie anyone?’ My Thanksgiving memories were of shattered plates slipped from trembling, inebriated fingers, stacks of unwashed dishes and squabbles over who was going out for fish and chips and another box of wine from Joe’s wine shop beside the tattoo parlor. My memories were not framed in silver, tastefully placed on a mahogany mantel. Mine were framed in shame, guilt and fear, tucked away in the dark recesses of avoidance, glazed in anger.
“It’s strange Dr. Waleed but the longer I stayed at Jan’s parents’ place the weirder I felt. I pondered the photos, one after another and picked one up to bring it closer. By then I was just sad. It was of a kindly, wrinkled old lady, smiling through the dappled shadows of a white sunhat. She had gentle wide eyes, an arm full of tulips pressed to her chest. For me it was unfathomable that this was a real person and not an image clipped from a magazine.
“Just as I was looking at this nice photograph, Jan walked in the room and said, ‘That’s my Nanna. She’s the one that died about 10 weeks ago. I am sad that you didn’t get to meet her. She was such a darling. I miss her so much. I used to stay overnight at her house when I was a little girl.’ Jan took the photograph from me, smiled and placed it back precisely where it had come from.
“It made me sad to think that I had no photographs of the only grandmother that I knew. There may be some in a family photo album somewhere. I have no memories of what she looks like. I called my grandmother, ‘G’. G for grandma. She was kind but distant. She was firm, rather than friendly. She was my only grandmother.”
Mark stopped for a moment, shuffled in his chair as if uncomfortable, “I got ticked off at Jan when she offered me a glass of wine. I said, ‘Why would you offer me a glass of wine when you know that I don’t drink anymore?’, even though it wasn’t totally true but she didn’t know that I was still sneaking a drink time and again? And then she offered me a soda and for me to go in the kitchen with her if I wanted to peel potatoes or I could just turn on the TV and see if there was a game on. She reminded me that her dad would not get home from golf with Denis and Deb for an hour. I guess I was just feeling weird or something because I made some comment about me watching a stupid game and I didn’t play golf or something stupid like that.
“I just reached for the remote control, grabbed a cushion and stretched out on the long sofa bewildered by the mysteries of family bliss. I laid there for a while without the TV on wondering how different my life would have been if I had grown up in such a family with a sofa, uncluttered, untattered and the peace of mind to relax uninterrupted. What would my life be like if I was the one coming home from golf with a dad who cared? What would my life be like if I was the one to have a smiling, doting grandmother and a mother cooking a turkey?
Mark’s mind wondered into oblivion for a moment, “I stayed there alone thinking. I knew that in the long run, one can only blame your past so much for the pain of the present. I guess I was not willing to look at the past, the present or the future with Jan. I kind of screwed up and let her go.”