Thanksgiving for Two

The past few days leading up to today I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media and the like about Thanksgiving. Among the most popular has been the Black Families Thanksgiving hash tag on Facebook and Twitter. And while these are meant to be more humorous than anything, they are rooted in being relatable to black families across the board. But it’s things like these that remind me that I don’t much relate to the people’s depictions of the holidays. I never grew up in a house packed with relatives during the holidays. I (thankfully) never had to deal with insensitive aunts or uncles questioning me about my life choices, or my parents embarrassing me the way some of my friends’ parents have.

Up until very recently, Thanksgivings at my house have always been quiet. Thanksgiving was my mother who once worked three jobs in order to provide and averaged maybe four hours of sleep, waking up at six in the morning to cook. It was the smell of her second cup of coffee drifting its way upstairs to my bedroom, its smoky scent coloring the edge of my dreams.

Thanksgiving was my mother and I eating on TV trays in the living room. It was my mother falling asleep on the couch at odd hours of the day while I read or watched recorded reruns of The Jeff Corwin Experience on VHS.

It was putting up our rather scrawny Charlie Brown-looking Christmas tree overloaded with ceramic angels, handmade ornaments I made in elementary school, wooden apples, and tinsel. (Oh god the tinsel. Our tree was practically metallic with tinsel. We would find tinsel around the house in odd places for months afterward.

My Thanksgivings may not have consisted of a full house, but they were full nonetheless. So here’s to the quiet Thanksgivings. The Thanksgivings where the table is set only for two (or maybe there’s no table at all). Here’s to the Thanksgivings of the overworked and underpaid. Here’s to the Thanksgivings in single parent households.



This hair is a gift. This skin is a gift.

I try to remind myself of this, because honestly sometimes it’s hard to remember. I try to remember this now more than ever, especially since now I have a little sister. After twenty-one long years as an only child, my mother had another daughter. She’s three now and wild in a way that’s both admirable and irritating. She leaves no mystery as to what’s on her mind, always makes her objections known, and is the most stubborn and willful person I ever knew.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I don’t care much for children and my sister is no exception. I like quiet, uninterrupted breakfasts. Excluding my daily walks, I don’t really care for the outdoors either. I don’t know how to interact with children, and to be honest, have never had much of an interest. Even as a child I had little interest in other children. (I was that obnoxiously precocious kid that always wanted to sit at the adult’s table.)

I will say that for all her terrible toddlerness, my sister is remarkably patient. Not so much in the way of waiting for an ice cream cone or a trip to the park, but she is incredibly patient with me. She shrugs it off and doesn’t hold it against me when I bristle at her having interrupted my writing. She never stops trying to engage with me, despite my being an occasional sourpuss. Instead of her favorite game of dress-up and pretend, she suggests for us the quieter task of coloring together. Sometimes, she sits at the table with me in quiet, scribbling nonsense in her construction pad while I type away on my computer. She tries, in her own way, to relate to me somehow.

I suppose you’re wondering now what all this has to do with my hair, or my skin for that matter.

One of the first things people noticed about my sister was her color. Upon seeing her for the first time, people would almost always comment on her color. “She’s awful brown,” my aunt said the first time she’d held her. You see, my sister’s color came as a surprise. My mother, her sister, and myself—nearly the entire side of my mother’s family, really—all have lighter skin. We all come in shades of tan but my sister is a deep mahogany. Even my mother remarks on the difference in color. “I thought she’d be lighter,” she’s said more than once.

You forget how early it starts, how young we are when we first begin learning to find beauty in only a few choice shades. How we are told coils are in need of being tamed. How we look for mirrors in the world around us but find no reflections of ourselves, or worse yet, grossly distorted images, sad caricatures bearing no resemblance to us at all.

My sister favors one of her dolls over the other. She doesn’t like the look of the black one. The dolls are the same, save for the difference in skin tone. Same brand, same features, same hair. But the black doll “looks funny” and “isn’t pretty” and is neglected in favor of her lighter companion. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really, the doll test has been recreated numerous times over the years, with similar results.

But my heart sinks low when she tells me she wants to have “straight pretty hair” like Mama and me, that she doesn’t like her hair. I worry about the day she’ll compare her color to ours, if she’ll see deficiency in difference.

I’m growing out my natural hair now, much to the chagrin of my immediate family. I had “such pretty long hair,” so why was I ruining it by letting it be, by wearing it the way it grows out of my head? My natural hair is “a waste” and “unbecoming.” My mother doesn’t think it “suits” me, and if I’m being perfectly honest, sometimes I don’t think it does either. But I have to remind myself that this isn’t the truth, it’s just what we’ve been taught.

So I try to remember, especially on the days I don’t feel confident or pretty that yes, this hair is a gift, this skin is a gift, in hopes that one day, my sister will know it too.


Poetry Stash

There is a jar in my bedroom.

It sits well-sunned beneath a window, rests next to an empty wire birdcage. It is filled to the brim with receipts, pastry bags, sticky notes, old homework assignments, napkins. Each spare piece of paper scribbled on in my clumsy hand, folded up and tucked away like love notes from suitors past.

I’ve been stashing poetry in this jar for a little over a year. Cracking it open I’ve found some gems, some laughable lines, some warm moments, and some painful memories. It’s like opening a time capsule and seeing an older draft of myself preserved there. So much has happened in that time. I moved, started a new job, started a relationship, saw that relationship run its course, and dealt with the unpredictable nature of my illness and all its ups and downs. Reading over the poetry I wrote in that time was a strange, yet cathartic experience I haven’t found the right words to describe.

I suppose it’s an exercise I’ll continue. In some ways it’s the equivalent to keeping a journal or diary (although less frequent), which I’ve never managed to devote the time to. (I do have some uncompleted journals I started as a teenager which are beyond cringe-worthy, so maybe that’s for the best.)

So now I have an empty jar by the window. Who knows what sweet nothings will fill it yet and what another year has in store for me. I look forward to it.


A Note on Chronic Illness

Chronic illness sucks.

I think that goes without saying. Near constant aches and pains. Having to take numerous sick days (which aren’t nearly as fun as the ones you had as a child skipping school. No work and no pay makes Jack a broke boy.) Frequently cancelling plans because of flaring symptoms. The way just cleaning the house feels like a hike up Mount Everest.

One of the things about chronic illness is that it is tiring. (The phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” comes to mind.) But it isn’t just tiring for the person suffering from the illness, it’s tiring for those around the person suffering from chronic illness.

See, it’s one thing if you come down with pneumonia or mono or some rare, exotic kind of bird flu that causes you to squawk uncontrollably for a month or so. People are generally sympathetic and offer their kindness, concern, and understanding when you can’t attend so-and-so’ party, or have to skip out on dinner, and generously overlook your incessant squawking. In these cases, the illness is temporary and once it’s over, life can go on as before and you are free to resume your usual social activities. There’s the expectation from those around you that yes, you are sick for now, but you won’t be later.

But what about the illnesses that don’t go away? The ones that linger over years, often worsening. The kinds of illnesses that are managed not cured. Enter chronic illness.

When you first get sick people are sympathetic, kind, patient, etc., at first. But when your illness doesn’t just up and go away, you find things begin to change. After a while people stop inviting you to things on the count of your frequent cancellations. You find your social circles no longer really seem to include you. And it’s not like it’s out of malice or anything. It’s just that people tend to feel like a third wheel. Your illness is almost its own entity, it’s there front and center when you can barely climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. It’s there when you hardly eat anything at dinner because your nausea decided to make yet another appearance. It’s there when you have to sit out most physical activities. Your illness just hangs there in the center of the room, the elephant no one wants to talk about when you’re there and everyone just feels uncomfortable. Things are easier when you’re not there.

Chronic illness is uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. It’s tiring. Sometimes, it’s lonesome.

But it isn’t all bleak. There are good days for the bad days where your bed is your only safe haven. You learn that some friendships have expiration dates, and that’s okay. Some friendships you’ll find are long-lasting. The ones who don’t shy away from your illness or think it becomes you, who set a place for it at the table, even if it doesn’t eat.

And though I do enjoy being in pleasant company every now and again, I find I take pleasure in my own company these days. My quiet walks, sunning by my window, reading until I don’t know what day it is anymore. I can enjoy being alone without feeling alone. It wasn’t always like that.

If anything, chronic illness has made me more appreciative of the little things in life. Enjoying a good meal, conquering a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat, stay-at-home socks. Rainy days. Making the perfect cup of tea, the first time.

Chronic illness has its shares of ups and downs, (plenty of downs) but the downs make the ups even more enjoyable. And the ups make the downs that much more bearable.

And hell, it leaves you plenty of time to write.