I've never really liked Thanksgiving. Coming on the heels of Halloween, the day of dark magic, candy and costumes, dance parties and general ghastliness, Thanksgiving Day feels like someone letting the air out of a balloon. The food, even when good, is just okay. Why can't we be thankful with a bowl of homemade pasta and meatballs, or tacos and guacamole, or a big, juicy cheeseburger? It makes no sense that the symbol of gratitude is the blandest bird on earth. It makes even less sense that on the one day a year we are supposed to reflect on our good fortune and give thanks, we're forced to do so with the people who are genetically predisposed to drive us insane.
I've always thought that was the very worst part of Thanksgiving; the forced family time. We'd all get along just fine on a casual summer Saturday night, laying around Grandpa's pool in our damp swimsuits eating fruit salad and ice cream until the sun went down and the mosquitos came out. Fast forward a few months to November and those relaxed conversations shortened like the days themselves, and were replaced with frantic phone calls about where the holidays meal was to be held, what time, who is making what and speaking of which, who all was coming, anyway? Thanksgiving day would arrive and my mother and grandmother, the co-queens of any family event and setters of the general mood, would be stressed and grouchy, having been up since five that morning and having received no help from the likes of us. My father would be absorbed in a football game while Alex and I found new ways to torment each other. Without school to keep us from spending too much time together, each day of Thanksgiving break was another epic battle of World War III.
I'd wake up in the morning already on edge, knowing I'd find the bathroom locked for a good hour until Mom or Dad would finally make him come out. After the bathroom fight we'd move on to who stole whose stuff, whose turn it was to pick the channel, answer the phone, use the computer, help Mom in the kitchen, not help Mom in the kitchen. Who was in a particular room first, who looked more stupid that day, who was smarter, who was faster, who had more friends, who was better at drawing, who could throw a ball farther, who would be more likely to work at Taco Bell when they grew up. The nitpicking and name-calling would eventually lead to a pinch, then a slap, then a punch, then a full out brawl. With our parents too preoccupied with their Thanksgiving tasks to take notice, we'd get into full blown WWE style wrestling matches, complete with whatever blunt objects were within reach. We'd stand up, sweaty and red faced, breathing heavily while gripping a vacuum cleaner attachment and an antique rug beater (god, that thing stung), staring each other down, waiting for the next moment to strike. These fights would only end when our grandparents arrived, as we were too scared to fight in front of our grandfather. After straightening ourselves up and wiping the blood off the floor, we'd make our way to the dinner table, quietly shoving each into walls along the way. Still seething, I'd glare at Alex across the table, watching him shovel the mountain of food he'd piled onto his plate and mixed together into one disgusting, gravy-smothered heap he wouldn't come close to finishing, trying to hold myself back from flinging my forkful of mashed potatoes into his stupid face. But the feelings of ill were no longer reciprocal. Once Alex had food in front of him, the entire world disappeared and no one or anything else mattered, not even World War III. "This is real good, Mom!" he'd exclaim with every first bite of each dish, the food nearly falling out of his mouth when he smiled. Alex was the kind of eater people liked to cook for, as he was actually, genuinely, thankful. Seeing how happy he was, I softened and smiled...
so I'd look less guilty when he was suddenly kicked hard under the table.
Sometimes I ask myself what Alex ever did for me to justify the amount of time and emotional energy being spent on editing this asshole's book. Sure, yeah, I'm doing it because it's the "right" thing to do, but when it comes to siblings, sucking it up and doing the right thing can be harder than it already is the rest of the time. Why is this? Well, I have several theories. One is that we are biologically programed to wish our siblings' demise, like that dickhead baby bald eagle on PBS who beat the shit out of her brother. She made him so afraid in his own home that he became too scared to even ask their mom for pieces of the rabbit carcass and as a result, let his evil older sister slowly starve him to death. Then she ate him, too.
Another theory is that we see our siblings at their very, very worst, which makes it hard for anyone to do right by anyone. During childhood, who do we bother when we feel like being the most annoying? Our siblings. Who do we take it out on when we've had a bad day? Our siblings. Who do we steal from, rat out, pick on, beat up, knock down, and drive to the brink of insanity? Our siblings. And because of this, we hate them. We love them, but if we had to submit a "to kill" list, their names would be number one with a bullet.
My last theory is less cut throat, but no less brutal. Growing up is hard. It's really fucking hard, especially if you're under the care of two emotionally stunted adults who spent most of the after school hours screaming at each other in the living room rather than engaging with their troubled teenagers. I don't know about everyone else, but there came a point in my life when I just couldn't care about my brother like I used to. Each life stage- high school, college, post college- came with brand new struggles that were equally difficult and numerous. This is not to say that I've reached some kind of secure, carefree phase of my life. I have not. But shit got real there, for a while, and no one was going to help me but me. What I'm getting at is, I needed to save myself before I could worry about my brother. I had to acknowledge that I was in no place to fix someone else when there were days I had to search the couch for change just to eat, that is, if I weren't so depressed I could actually leave the couch to lift up the cushions. The hardest part of doing the right thing for your siblings is that, at the end of the day, it's not your job to do so. You don't have the tools. Being so close in age and experience means that you can't save each other with money and words of wisdom. Neither of you have any more of those things than the other.
Sometimes I wonder what the right thing to do would be if Alex were still alive. I couldn't figure it out when he was. All I know is that usually the right thing is the hardest thing. By that logic, it fees like I'm getting close.
About a month ago, my friend’s grandfather died. He was in his eighties and had been ill, so his end was not a surprise, but she was sti...