Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

They say that everyone has some kind of horror story related to Thanksgiving—missed flights, dysfunctional families, burned turkeys, and so many other flavors of chaos that rear their unwelcome head whenever this particular holiday comes around.

My own history with Thanksgiving is not nearly as sensational, but when this day rolls around each year, I always take a moment to pause and reflect.

When I was a kid, I used to get sick on Thanksgiving, every single year. I can’t remember exactly when it started, but I’ll guess and say I had to be about 12 years old. My great-aunt Florence had Thanksgiving at her house in those days, and for almost the entire duration, I would be sequestered in the guest room bed, wageel (metal bowl) beside me, trying to shut out the fragrant aromas wafting from the kitchen as I vomited into the bowl, over and over.

Being the gourmand that I am now, it seems almost cruel that I was shut out of these dinners, and indeed, I have no memory of ever eating anything at Thanksgiving for many years, simply because I could not keep anything down. The repetition of this event was bizarre, and baffled both me and my parents, as there seemed to be no reasonable explanation for the cause of it.

…And then it stopped. The Thanksgiving after I graduated high school, I didn’t get sick. At all. Nor have I gotten sick on Thanksgiving since.

For the longest time, I’ve wondered why or how this could have happened. All those years of getting sick like clockwork, and suddenly it ended, with no warning. Well, realization does not always dawn; sometimes, it thwacks, and that’s how it was when I figured out the reason why.

I think that my social skills problems and the teasing/tormenting that I endured in junior high/high school were so bad that, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around each year, my body responded to it by just completely shutting down. Then I went off to college, and the teasing went away…and the sickness went along with it.

So, with all of that behind me, I was finally able to build a new image of Thanksgiving, which included enjoying the fabulous feast that, well, is pretty much the sole purpose of the holiday. But the shape of Thanksgiving was radically altered yet again, when my grandpa passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2003.

It was my junior year of college. My grandpa had been sick for some time, and my dad and his siblings had put him in an assisted living facility. He was a diabetic, and he was slowly starting to lose his vision, and even as I grieved his loss, I knew that would have been an intolerable state for him to be in.

I remember my great-aunt Lollie (Grandpa’s sister-in-law) walking into the kitchen in her white Florida sweatshirt, her voice breaking into tears, and my Aunt Nancy right behind her, also crying. I’d never seen my aunt cry before, and it took everything in me not to fall apart on the spot when she said that, when she’d seen him, my Grandpa had looked just like he was taking a nap.

The house I was in at the time was my dad’s cousin’s here in New Jersey, and that’s where my parents and I have gone for most every subsequent Thanksgiving. The memory replays itself whenever I find myself sitting at the counter in that kitchen, and as a result, Thanksgiving Day itself will always be tinged with a certain sadness. Eight years later, and I still miss my Grandpa so much.

What does Thanksgiving mean now? I can’t say for sure. It is ever-changing, evolving, as is my place among my family and in the world. I’ve told my parents that I would like to have Thanksgiving at our house one year, because they have always gone to New Jersey, time and again. One tradition that I do love is that, in addition to turkey, we always have Italian and Syrian food with the Thanksgiving spread, and I want to keep that alive.

My passion for cooking especially means that Thanksgiving is more or less my Oscar season, and I want a chance to step up to the plate. I hope that I will be able to do most, if not all of the cooking for it one year, which would be my way of showing the people I love how thankful I am for them. Yes, the days of being a passive, distant observer of Thanksgiving are long over; now, I am an active, eager, and willing participant.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Kim Kardashian's Shamarriage Irks Me to No End

By now, most folks are aware of the big to-do surrounding Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to (and impending divorce from) Kris Humphries. This has raised the ire of a great number of people, many of whom have been quick to point out what a slap in the face this charade is to couples who want to be together but are unable to, for various reasons. At least some of my own anger towards the situation stems from this, as well as the hypocrisy of the anti-gay crowd that claims gays are "ruining the sanctity of marriage."

But not all of it.

I’m a single gal. I make no big secret of this, nor of the fact that I have not really been dating since getting big-time burned some five years ago. I have watched over the last few years as people I went to high school with, college friends, and family members have jumped on board the Nuptial Express, bound for their destination of wedded bliss.

It is not easy to be a part of an increasingly shrinking number of single folks among my peer group. However, as glum as it may make me on occasion feel, I try my best to push that aside and think of how wonderful it is that my friends and peers have found someone to spend the rest of their lives with. That they have made that special connection and are getting to have this special day on which to celebrate it.

So when I see/hear/read news about someone like Kim Kardashian blowing a mind-boggling $10 million on her wedding and then throwing in the towel not even three months later, it kind of makes me want to break things—preferably the most expensive things that were actually at the wedding, just because.

To be able not only to find the person you’re meant to be with, but to then marry them (if that is what you want to do, of course) is one of the rarest and most beautiful things in this world. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have this happen, and for many people--in particular, people on the autism spectrum, of which I am one--the dream of that one special day, with that one special person, will never amount to anything more than a dream.

I have thought about marriage, more so as I've made my way through my 20s. What it means to me, how I feel about it, and whether or not it is something that is within my reach. For most of my life, I've never thought that it was, in part because I have Asperger's, and in part because I'm me. The only thing I do know is that I don't know if I will ever get married, if only because I am not convinced I will ever find someone who would want to marry me.

It would mean more to me than words could describe if I ever did marry, and I would spend a hell of a lot more time on the marriage part--the part that is supposed to last forever--instead of the wedding, which only lasts until there are crumbs on the guests’ plates and the final notes of the last song are reduced to inaudible reverberations miles away.

I would also respect that there are so many others, including friends of mine, who deserve the happiness I have found but have not yet found it, or who are being deprived of their chance for other reasons. I know that in a marriage, the commitment is supposed to be between the two married people, but I would also be committed to everyone else that I love--committed to honoring all that they have done to help me get to that point, because their friendship and love has shaped me and helped make me who I am.

The icing on the not-quite-so-proverbial wedding cake is being able to afford said wedding. Being able to to truly spare no expense to make it the wedding of your dreams, without having to worry about the cost of this and that and lying awake at night with visions of gardenia bouquets and cummerbunds haunting your thoughts, sweating out of every pore in your body, terrified of exceeding your allotted budget. Peace of mind like that is something you cannot put a price on.

...Unless, of course, you’re Kim Kardashian.

The idea of wasting that money, or of using such an event solely as a ratings ploy, is disgusting beyond all comprehension. It makes what is supposed to be a cherished and significant life experience into something trivial and disposable. The irony lies in the fact that those pretty pennies, so lavishly spent, were spent on an event that has now been rendered worthless.

Deep down, I still believe that marriage is and can be more than what it seems to be now, if only we remember what it’s supposed to be about: Love. Two people in love, sharing that with each other and the world. Making it official. Tying the knot. Taking the plunge. It’s not something you do alone. It’s something you do together—not only on that day, but every day after.

Some news outlets are reporting that Kim and Kris are attempting to “work it out”—while others are painting their headlines with details of prenups and divorce proceedings. As much as whatever has happened between Ms. Kardashian and Mr. Humphries is between the two of them, it involves the rest of us (to an extent) as well, and our willingness to stand by and let this be something that we find entertaining, instead of something we find repulsive.

Maybe that’s all marriage is these days—something you just grab on-the-go, have fun with for a while, and then trash when it stops being fun—the life event equivalent of a drive-thru combo meal. Who knows? Maybe Kim and Kris thought they were signing a rental car agreement instead of a marriage license, and that’s why it only lasted 72 days. Either way, I just hope that their example will most certainly not be one that others will follow.