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The First (Hellish) Thanksgiving

I've lived through another Thanksgiving. This one was good, or at least relatively calm, although I must admit I drank a lot of wine so I've almost blocked out the slight disagreement on etiquette we had on the way to dinner.

Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. The pressure to enjoy being with a dysfunctional family, the nightmare of travel, the overeating—there’s so much that sets up the inevitable disappointment. Other holidays can be nightmares in their own ways, but Thanksgiving will always be number one in my hardened heart.

I wised up years ago: we now check into a hotel or go to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner (her own crazy family is amusing in a way mine can’t be). I refuse to travel by plane or drive more than 100 miles, which precludes seeing immediate family. Overeating remains an issue, but I can’t completely blame the holiday for that.

Despite the coping mechanisms, years of hellish Thanksgivings continue to haunt me, and I know I’m not alone. We all have our history of high-anxiety gatherings with battered, battling or blended families. We all have the dread of seeing those people, and the guilt over the dread.

My first hellish Thanksgiving was when I was 15, the year my parents got divorced. My mother had the misguided idea to invite Dad to dinner. “He probably doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” “Yeah, you’ve seen to that, Mom.” Let the festivities begin!

My friends’ parents fought all the time but stayed married. My parents never fought in front of us—until that Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the knowledge that they didn’t have to be together any more that made them so open in their hatred of each other. Maybe they wanted to stave off those “will you two get back together?” questions from the younger ones. Maybe it really was about the money. All I know is the experience was so traumatic for me and my siblings that all six of us didn’t share a meal again until my wedding 15 years later. And even then, we sat at different tables.

The difference today: these bitter family gatherings are being captured on video and shared with the world. Not everyone is willing to expose the craziness of their own flesh and blood, but luckily for the voyeurs among us, there are plenty who are. Personally, I get a warm fuzzy feeling about my own family when I see how bad some other people have it. Sure, we’re nuts, I know that. But it could always be worse.

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