“You’re sure you’re not nervous about introducing me to your family?” Ken sighed as he tried calming his anxiety. He looked out the car window trying to distract his mind. He never knew the fear of coming out to his family—though when younger his father had suspicions due to his effeminate mannerisms—but when Ken’s mother died those thirteen years ago, his father left, and to this day has excommunicated—he could be dead, alive, in Wyoming, Paris, hiding in a bunker, or living in a mansion with a new wife and family as if Ken never existed.
“Sure, I’m sure, how many times do I have to tell you?” Akira said with a wide grin. He gave a short glance at Ken, but quickly put his eyes back on the road.
“I’m just worried, that’s all.” The trees still had leaves and color, even after last week’s premature snowfall. The trees had no family, not even the family tree. Thanksgiving always felt empty, everyone else always had something, a familial feeling. Yet Ken only held a bizarre voyeuristic glance, always being with someone else’s family. His father’s side of the family hated him for he was gay—a short lived reunion.
“Of course, it will be a surprise to them. Since you know, they don’t know I’m bi-sexual yet, and I brought a girl home for Thanksgiving last year. But, gotta come out eventually. What better place to do it than Thanksgiving? Everyone is in the same room, quick and easy, and then I won’t have to see any of them for a whole year until next Thanksgiving.” A red light beckoned, bringing a momentary halt to the journey. Akira glanced toward his anxious boyfriend and gave a light, reassuring (but anxious just as much) smile. “It will be okay. Trust me.”
“After over a year with you I still can’t tell if you’re an idiot or not.” Ken smiled, Akira gave a playful glare in return.
How complicated could it be? Sexuality. Male, female, non-binary, neither, nothing. Gender and sexuality, today’s understanding people seem so confused, but it’s nothing new. Shakespeare blurred the line, The Twelfth Night, imagine explaining that in today’s terms. Especially considering the original performances—Viola, a female character being played by a man acting like a woman pretending to be her brother, who is being pursued romantically by Olivia, a man acting as a woman who is in love with men. Gay, straight, bi? Anything? Acting? All a performance? Real? Fake? Right? Wrong? And who could blame the generations of families for not understanding. Times were different then, but shouldn’t people adapt to changing times? Thanksgiving too, a performance of a holiday that never existed in history as told by our fathers and passed down to our ears in a new history. A holiday bringing families together, who could tell them it was wrong? No one likes the overly liberal nephew who just took one class on native American literature shouting out “Genocide!” as the turkey is being cut.
“My parents are pretty open about this kinda stuff anyway, so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. My grandpa is probably the only one who would have a real issue with it, but he won’t be there so that’s whatever.” The light turned green, motion again.
“Oh, why isn’t he coming?”
“He wasn’t invited. He’s never at Thanksgiving. Have I ever talked about my grandparents with you?”
“No, now that I think of it, you haven’t.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forget about them to be honest.”
“You don’t talk about your extended family too often.”
“I just, I just feel bad. Talking about family. I don’t mean any harm by it, really.” Akira frowned and gave a short look at Ken to gauge his response. He tried his best to not unintentionally hurt his partner. Though the problem with unintentionally hurting people is that there is no way of knowing.
“You don’t have to feel guilty.” Both remained quiet for a short period of time. The sun soon became engulfed by clouds. “Anyway, what’s the deal with your grandparents?”
“Well it’s mostly my grandpa Simon on my dad’s side. My grandma Betsy, well, she’s okay. One Thanksgiving, I would say maybe 4-5 years ago, my father and his dad got in a huge argument. It was a pot that had been waiting to boil over for years, hell, even before I was born. You see, for over thirty years my dad has been struggling with alcohol. On and off sober, in and out of rehab all the time.” Akira paused. A darkness overtook him, one filled with memories hesitant to escape the mind. He sighed, thinking of no other way to fill the gap of speaking without worrying Ken.
“Long story short,” Akira continued, “my grandpa is a severe alcoholic, by some grace he’s still alive. His drinking has gotten less over the years, but less doesn’t mean sober. Any family event he would bring alcohol, lots of it, wine, whiskey, liquor, vodka, you name it. He would mix drinks for everyone and would always be offended if you opted out of drinking wine at dinner. Trouble was that he would always try to get my dad to drink at any moment he could. Which is a reason my dad had such a hard time staying sober—his own father would convince him to drink, or pressure him to.”
“It’s hard to believe that he’s not invited to Thanksgiving though anymore. I-I mean, I guess I don’t really understand since I have no familial connections, I’d imagine though for those that do… that a holiday dedicated to family…”
“Well my grandfather ‘disowned’ my dad, if you can even do that to your kid when they’re like 55. He himself made the decision to stop attending any family events. For a few years my grandma joined him, but she eventually felt he was being ridiculous.”
“So, what happened? Why did they have argument? What was it about? And how did it lead to such drastic measures?”
“I wasn’t there to be perfectly honest. So, I can’t say exactly what happened. But my Uncle Tedd told me everything like last year. He’s great with telling stories, he always remembers exact details. He’s always been good at remembering what people say.”
“I’d like to hear it.” Ken said.
“Nah, it’s too long.” Akira replied with a grin.
“Well, we have to more hours left before we get there.”
“Okay, but I gotta try and remember how my Uncle tells the story. He’s a good storyteller, I don’t want to fuck up such a juicy family story.”
Ken snickered. “Oh, dear god!”
“It was any ordinary Thanksgiving—as most stories seem to go—nothing was unusual or out of place.
Then grandpa started talking about how he lost a shit ton of money from betting on horse races. (For the record I don’t have any good Segway for this).
‘Why the hell were you betting on those silly things?’ my mom asked
‘I needed more money, I wasn’t using anything from my account, so it was fine.’
‘What account were you using?’
‘I don’t remember it’s not important.’ My gramps says.
‘you weren’t usin’ grandma’s account, were you?’
‘No, I wasn’t. I was using savings of some sort, anyway it doesn’t matter. Let’s pour some wine and eat this goddamn food already. I travelled far to be here so let’s hurry this up, I’m starved.’
‘How much money did you gamble?’ My dad asked.
‘I don’t know, I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Now get your wine glasses ready everyone—Donny, Donny where’s your goddamn cup?’
‘How many times have I told you, I’ve given up drinking.’ Apparently, my dad was really pissed when he said this.
So, then my gramps says, ‘Hell, you can’t have one sip of wine? You can’t have one glass on Thanksgiving, on a holiday? Do you know how far your mom and I drove up here to see you, you ungrateful bastard? Drink up. Get a glass.’ My dad did not appreciate that, so he says,
‘Damnit, I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m not drinking any. I don’t trust myself with one glass because it’s never been and never will be one glass for me. Look—you’re not answering the first question, how much money did you gamble on betting and where did you get it?’
My gramps fires back, ‘We ain’t talkin’ about that anymore. We’re talking about why you won’t have a goddamn glass of wine at the table for Thanksgiving.’
So then my mom says, ‘Stop this the both of you, this is a holiday and a special dinner. The two men of the family arguring like this, what kinda example do you think you’re setting for Akira when he grows up and has his own family, that it’s okay to argue and swear for the whole family, children and babies included, to hear?’
(Wait how old were you when this happened, I know you said you weren’t there, but wouldn’t you have been 17 or 18?)
(Yeah, but my mom still thought of me as a lil kid back then. Parents are weird about that stuff you know?)
Anyway, my grandpa then screams out at my mom (he’s a senile racist, by the way) “Shut your oriental mouth up. I still don’t know why you didn’t give your son a proper anglicized name.’
My dad stands up and shouts, ‘Father don’t you dare speak to my wife in such a way!’
‘I didn’t fight the japs in world war II for you to marry one and breed their children!’
‘You didn’t fight in the war. You delusional bastard. You didn’t even make it past army training.’
‘Listen here, you shut your mouth up and get a glass!’
(Wait, your grandpa fought in a war? Or tried out for the army?)
(No, but his dad did. I told you he was senile. My gramps tries retelling the memory of his dad, but he got to the point where he mixed stories and memories for his own.)
(That’s kinda messed up.)
My dad gets all upset now and says, ‘You’re fucking drunk, aren’t you? Drunk at thanksgiving again. Drunk at Allison’s funeral, drunk at Tommy’s wedding, hell probably drunk at your own wedding. We’ll probably bury you with the bottle.’
‘I’m not drunk! I’ve only had some drinks before dinner. I’m a man who can hold his liquor unlike you, you weak fool going off to some sort of rehab at who knows where—damnit damnit all let’s eat this fucking food!’
“And that’s all my Uncle told me, because he said that he got up and left. He basically ended the story like ‘and that’s why grandpa doesn’t come to Thanksgiving anymore.’ But that’s kinda a boring ending. Maybe one day I’ll make a good ending up. My parents never told me about this though, they still don’t think I know about it.”
Ken looked out the window, watching the colors of the trees’ leaves become a blur. Whether fact or distorted truth, the story was still a familial history recorded and to be preserved by family member to family member. As Akira spoke, Ken realized the family’s history came into existence through each word and would be changed through each retelling.
“So,” Ken began, “where did he get the money that he lost from betting?”
“Well, no one really knows for sure. At least that’s what my Uncle told me. There are two prominent theories though, but a lot of rumors were stirred up in the family over it. The most likely is that my grandpa embezzled over ten-thousand dollars from the family business. For a while he would use money from my grandma’s bank account. My dad and his sister had to force my grandparents to get separate bank accounts because my grandpa kept spending money on alcohol, as well as gambling a good amount away. My dad doesn’t trust my Uncle too much, however. So, my Uncle doesn’t really know the full story or the details, and my Dad has never actually told me. Personally, I don’t see how my grandpa could have stolen that much money from the family store without my dad realizing it.”
“He could have known, but maybe he didn’t want to believe it. It’s amazing sometimes, the way people can lie to themselves.”
“You have a point. I don’t know why I didn’t think of denial. It took him years to admit he was an alcoholic and needed help. It took him longer to fully realize the impact his addiction had on my mom and me.” Darkness peered out from the crypt, Akira could no longer contain it, and it began to seep through the cracks of his memory.
“You never really have told me much about what he did during those years.”
“I never thought it too important, at least what happened to me.” A silence hung in the air. “I mean one dramatic story about my family is enough for one Thanksgiving, don’t you think?” Akira tried to laugh off the memories. Of course, he could tell Ken would not let him get away without speaking, he always had a way of getting the words out.
“I told you once and I’ll tell you over and over: you don’t have to feel like you can’t share your childhood traumas because you know all of mine. You don’t have to act like you had the perfect—or even good—family life. It would be selfish of me to expect that of you.”
“I know. I don’t want to upset you I really don’t. I just want to seem strong for you. You’ve dealt with so much, I don’ want to make you deal with my baggage.” Could Atlas afford to shrug?
“You know you can be vulnerable with me. You’ve had to deal with my baggage. It’s okay to let me pick up some of yours.”
“I know. I-I just.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Driving to your family’s for dinner isn’t exactly the best time.”
“There’s never a good time though, you know?”
“I’m sorry for trying to pry.”
“No don’t be, I think I brought up all the family stuff in the first place. It’s nothing too special. My dad used to be abusive to both me and my mother. I’m not the only kid who’s ever had an alcoholic father. Still, I don’t think any eight-year-old is ever prepared to call the cops on their dad. One night it got so bad, I’ll never forget my mom screaming at me to call 911. And that damn asshole, he was so drunk he wasn’t even processing anything that he was doing. He was so far gone that he didn’t even hear us screaming and crying. Jesus, I’m sorry for getting so dark. Truth is I still haven’t forgiven my dad. Even though he apologized, even though he’s sober, even though he tries. I’m scared that he will fall again.”
“Akira…I wish I knew what I could say right now. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that. I didn’t even know. We’ve been together for over a year and I didn’t even know you’ve been through something so traumatic.”
“It’s not your fault. There are some walls that take a long time to come down.”
“I think I can relate to you in a sense though. If I ever met my father again, I don’t know if I could ever forgive him.”
“Part of me feels I shouldn’t be so hard on my dad. I mean, he is actively trying to better himself. No matter what he’s done in the past, he’s trying to make good. Hell, I can’t even imagine what it’s like being a father, knowing who his example was. Now that I think about it, it really is admirable of him to have resisted my grandpa’s constant demands for him to drink. A father should be supportive. A family should be supportive.”
“I’ve never known that support. But I am thankful that I have you to support me, so I can finally learn that support. Ha, sorry for being so campy. It is the holiday to show thanks after all.
“Ken, don’t let me drink at dinner okay?”
“Okay. Honestly, after the story I didn’t think anybody would bring alcohol anyway.”
“There’s always one family member every year who claims to forget, or that just doesn’t give a shit. Now that I think about it, Thanksgiving must be really hard for my old man. Every year he has to constantly confront his devils because of the people that should be shielding him from those devils.”
Ken placed his hand on Akira’s knee and gave a tight squeeze.
“Huh? For what?”
“Let’s change the topic, don’t wanna be all sad when we see everyone.”