My dad’s birth father died before he was born. Or at least, he went missing in action in Korea. Maybe he’s still around. Who can be sure? But either way, as far as that side of the family is concerned, my dad only grew up knowing his birth father’s siblings. They live in Pennsylvania and call to say hello most major holidays and maybe for his birthday. Aunt Shirley called Thanksgiving morning while my mom was burning onions for the green bean casserole for the second time. She was holding the phone, pacing around the kitchen island happily, but anxiously kind of like you do when your football team takes the lead in overtime. So to lighten the mood, I flashed her.
The day before, Maddie, Avalon, my mom and I went to Maddie’s appointment to have her chemo pump removed from her portocath. I fed Avalon and then my mom watched her in this deserted, carpeted hallway so I could accompany Maddie inside the lab area. They played that “Let’s see if we can find our car” game my sisters and I used to play at our doctor’s office when we were little kids.
When I opened the door to the medical center, I forgot all the instructions my mom gave me on how to find Maddie and instead looked wide-eyed into every stall I passed at each type of person getting cancer treatment: a elderly man wearing a knit sweater, a lady with pink hair playing cards with her daughter, a bald lady with a mole on her lip and a service dog. It all felt so devastating, even though I just kept staring. Then I thought that they must be thinking the same thing as they saw us: a twenty-five year old wearing a holiday colored flannel and her bewildered sister with tangled hair.
Maddie and I talked about girl stuff while I watched her get a two inch needle stuck in her butt. The shot is supposed to help protect her ovaries from the poison that is chemotherapy. How on earth she does this while talking about the new Aziz Ansari show is something I don’t know how to understand. She’s totally afraid of swimming in the deep ocean, and yet, she barely blinked while she was getting a chemo pump removed in an environment that seemed completely sterile of joy.
While my mom made another attempt at cooking the onions for the casserole Thanksgiving morning, my sisters performed a full on makeover on me. Danielle dried and curled my hair, Maddie did my makeup and gave me some boots and a cascading triangle necklace to wear. They insisted on re-dressing me entirely since my shirt had spit up on it that I had wiped off, but I prevailed since I really wanted to wear jeans. Later, Maddie texted me a picture of a note I left from Thanksgiving 2011 thanking them for helping me feel pretty. This is why I have been going by “Ms. Geist” in my family for years (you know, the hopeless teacher Cher and Dion makeover in Clueless): I always need help doing anything more than brushing my teeth.
We headed to Scott’s parent’s, a few hours north, next. They bought Avalon jammies with a turkey on the bum and had approximately 25 people over for dinner. “So, not that many,” his mom had told me when she did a headcount. They are eternal entertainers and the epitome of the family whose door is always open. The Thanksgiving table was so long it had to curve into an “L” shape just to fit inside the family room. They even invited some guy they’d never met. I know it’s like the theme of the holiday to extend your dining table to outsiders, but it’s got to be almost saintly to make a meal that requires about sixteen dishes that need to be cooked “just right” for nearly everyone you know and their nephew. It was loud and fun and memorable.
Avalon didn’t sleep very well while we were away from home, so therefore, neither did Scott or I. I awoke the second night to her sleeping face down in the Pack ‘N Play. She was breathing fine, of course, and in a deep sleep, but the shock of it left me lying awake for most of the night, hovering over her bed observing her chest rising and falling. I eventually decided to turn her over, which then woke her up. I just kept thinking: this is just the start, the start of her scaring the crap out of me as she tries to live her life her way.
And that was pretty much the story of Thanksgiving this year. That, and we got a flat tire on the way home.
Lately Avalon does this thing when she’s tired where she will start to fuss and then I will play peek-a-boo with her or kiss her tummy and even though she’s on the verge of totally loosing it, she can’t help laughing hysterically. I guess that’s kind of how I felt over the holiday: tired, sometimes on the verge of crying, but still so game for a good laugh and for that I am very thankful.