Clara Barnhurst

My ex and her mum always took care to cook a thanksgiving dinner. Abbreviated: it was a school night, after all, and it’s a lot of money to spend when everyone has to work the next day. There were only a few of us anyway; the gesture was thoughtful. I found it awkward.

My family kept away from our extended family much of the time so holidays like this were always small. Mashed potatoes dominate my memories of the day growing up: it was the one time we had a guarantee of having them. After a while we had a deal with my mum: if we peeled them, she would mash them. However many there were. Sometimes that would be a large sack, and we would eat it all.

I never had any illusions about the genocide the day marks. The holiday’s initial sentiment is pretty twisted, but I think we can transcend that. Taking a moment to look at the things we have is a nice thing to do. We can be mindful of the past while making a better meaning in the now.

What made my my married family’s efforts awkward for me was I never asked for it. They would ask me what we did and I’d tell them. I outlined the dinners, the various experiments, the pies. They had a go doing it. I guess I was an excuse to try something out and they were trying to be nice.I should be grateful, but I disliked being singled out. I remember expressing gratitude to my mum on the day, noting all the trouble they would go to. It was nice of them.

I struggle to trust anything they gave me now I understand how unhealthy the relationship was. Perhaps they were trying to make me feel comfortable in their insular world. Maybe they weren’t trying to trap me, per se. Maybe, they were just so isolated they went ahead and brought me into that existence. I wonder, does that unconscious imprisonment change things about the impact on my mental health?


Perhaps this reinforces the idea that abuse begins with, and is sustained by, love. They were loving me. That’s what makes it so frightening. Everything becomes distorted through the lens of domestic abuse. I don’t know what memories I can trust: I understand that much of my treatment was well meaning, but also damaging. Given my relationship with my ex and her family (or lack thereof), I’m unlikely to ever know.

All the same, my memories of thanksgiving with my abusers are warm. A little awkward at being made the arbiter of the holiday, but still warm. In a funny way, it was similar to how my family did it: understated. Small. No specific ritual apart from cooking and eating. No torrent of relatives. My in laws managed to have a bigger turnout than my American family.

This year, Thanksgiving happens to be my fiancée’s birthday, but it’s a work day so she came round the pub for a few drinks with some friends while I work. A celebration despite the holiday, but the awareness that my relatives and friends abroad were on their way to gatherings or cutting into the things they’ve been preparing for days. Togetherness happened alongside the anarchic reminders of the holiday’s ugly beginnings; both things have a place for the day.

In a way, it’s exactly the holiday I wanted: no holiday. It’s just nice to know that some folks, somewhere, are having a good time. I’m having my ordinary, quiet day. A day to take care of some bits, deal with some problems, and do a bit of work. Call my mum (and moan about work). No roast dinner, but there is leftover curry. I’m content.

Photo by George Gvasalia

I’m quite lucky that I can do all the things this holiday was meant for without actually doing the holiday. Best kind of holiday, really: the kind that just happens without any work at all. I hope that everyone can be so lucky. If not today, then some time soon.

We’re not all united with our loved ones on an occasion. Sometimes our closest loved ones aren’t blood family. It hurts to not have family; my in laws, for all their faults, were painful to lose. Abuse from a place of love makes for a confusing loss.


My greatest hope for everyone is to find some measure of peace in the chaos. Whether they are coping with being alone or too much company — or anything in between. For me, Thanksgiving is breathing space. Time to think. The way it’s set up doesn’t always give us time to think. We don’t need to be together to reflect and we don’t need a huge ceremony. There is an irony to the proceedings: we’re all told it’s time to slow down and be thankful but the traditions aren’t very accommodating.

Perhaps I had to leave America to ‘get’ Thanksgiving. Away from the demands, the people, the frenzy. Looking on forces me to consider what matters to me and how a day to stop and think is helpful. Being outside means I have time to think, even if it is an ordinary work day. Mundane, yet not as my feed gets a surge of well wishes. Exceptionally trivial.

So to my American friends, I hope they could find their moments of peace. The silences, the lulls. The moments between one thing and the next. Maybe we’re allergic to between spaces, but they are the moments where we come to understand what we are — and what we really have.


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