Thanksgiving is almost here, and once again I'm bracing myself for the holidays with my family. Historically, my parents fight terribly over the holidays, particularly over Christmas; last Thanksgiving went well, however, but mostly because it was my father's first sober Thanksgiving in decades. My mother still drinks.
I hope she doesn't drink this Thanksgiving - it would be rotten if, in this small house, my mother got drunk and lost her temper the way she has in the past. She's having a rotten time right now at her job, which she hates, and she's pissed that her boss gave her neither the Wednesday before nor the Friday after Thanksgiving off; so of course the temptation to get really drunk and blow off some steam is there for her. I get it, I really do (as much as someone can who never drinks when she's angry) but I am afraid.
I hate being afraid every time a major holiday rolls 'round. It sucks that when people mention Christmas, my first thought is of domestic violence and drunken verbal abuse, but it's true. My parents have just been awful to each other and to some extent to their children for the past decade.
Why? For all the usual reasons. Holidays are stressful. My mother in particular feels it - she hates watching the money go out for what feels to her like manufactured cheeriness, a false happiness where everyone is expected to act delighted regardless of what they feel. And this pressure to look and act happy makes my mother miserable, and drives her to drink. My father's reasons for drinking I understand less well - in part it's a response to my mother's consumption, and the stress he feels being around an angry drunk. In part he had his own demons, I suppose.
But my mother drinks a lot less now than she used to. This family, which I'm so used to thinking of as a failed family, works a lot better now than it did three years ago, or five years ago, and god knows it works better than it did nine years ago, when things were really dark. I talk about a lot of private things on this blog, but some secrets aren't really mine to share, so I'll not say anything further in this vein.
There are a lot of street people in this town on the central coast of California where I now live. It shocks me, who for so many years lived on the east coast, to see on every street corner someone in a dirty jacket, maybe with a bike and a knapsack or saddlebags crammed to the gills with gear, or else with a cardboard sign that reads, "Hungry Please Help".
At first my reaction to being importuned for money or conversation was to ignore people - just to breeze on by and pretend I couldn't hear them. I am a shy and private person in many ways and being accosted on the street makes me nervous. But for a variety of reasons, I've gradually changed from ignoring street people to actively interacting with them. I had a conversation with a lady sitting on the street with a little dog the other night; I asked her if she'd like me to buy her dinner and she said "No, thanks, I've already eaten - it was a good night." So I gave her a little money for her dog, and talked with her a bit, and went home. Liked her more than the guy I met in a bar that night.
I made sandwiches and handed them out five days ago - sandwiches and cokes and apples. I don't like giving money, because I don't have much of that, but nobody in this family starves, thank god, so I feel okay taking food to give to the hungry. I'm getting to know some of the people, who usually frequents which part of town.
You ask why? Because I see myself in each one of them. Sometimes very strongly. Yesterday, driving to the supermarket to do the Thanksgiving shop, I saw a woman with her husband asking for money by the side of the road. I knew this woman. I'd been in the hospital with her. I won't betray the confidences of group therapy more than to say that when I met her she was actively delusional, and I very much doubt she's able to get her medications if she and her husband are homeless, as they appear to be.
I see myself in the homeless in part because - hokey as it sounds - I really truly believe that all men are brothers, all women sisters, in god if in no other sense, and that therefore we all owe it to each other to be kind and to give what we have to those who need it. It's not a terribly organized theory of charity, but it's the loving-kindness aspect of Christianity that I like so much, admire so much in that religion (and really, don't all religions advocate for helping the needy?). And in part I see myself in the homeless because I'm chronically mentally ill, currently unemployable, and if not for my family could very well have ended up in the streets, with all that that means.
So this Thanksgiving, I thank god that I am not homeless.