Just a short one.
Thanksgiving is a time for families to get together, but it can also be a time of arguments and tension. Trapped in a sham marriage, Jake had decided that he had nothing to be thankful about, and it was time for him to leave.
I finally laid down my fork and gave a heartfelt sigh of satisfaction. That dessert had been a darned good variation on a basic pecan pie, sweet enough to be satisfying, but not so sickly-sweet as to be too much, which is why I’d gladly accepted a second serving.
I turned to my mother-in-law with a huge but regretful smile on my face.
She was a darned good cook. It was a crying shame her daughter had never bothered to learn from her. Jeez, if I was being totally honest, I was way better than my wife in the kitchen. Whenever we were over their place and I was watching Sandra at the stove, I was learning, very different from Amber’s habit of droning on about what she’d been watching on daytime TV or read in her celebrity magazines, then whining that the meal wasn’t ready to eat just yet.
“Sandra, thank you, that was another amazing Thanksgiving dinner, truly awesome. It’s without doubt the best meal I’ve eaten since Christmas, though Easter came pretty close. That recipe of your grandmother’s for the caramelized apple glaze on the baked ham? It’s incredible.”
My wife stared meaningfully at me; that glare meant that although it was okay for me to praise her mother’s cooking so extravagantly, I’d be in line for a few barbed comments later on about why I hadn’t complimented her as well. After all, she’d sat on her fat ass all morning in the kitchen with a glass or four of wine ‘supervising’ her mother and me (and getting in the way of the two of us who were actually doing the work), so in her not-so-humble opinion, she should be sharing the credit.
I knew the routine. As soon as we got home, she’d be on my case, saying that I should be appreciating her more, before she told me yet again that I could sleep on the couch with my attitude, rather than in her bed.
Tough. What she didn’t know quite yet was that this time there wouldn’t be a ‘later’ for her to nag me and cut me off. I’d had all the snark I was ever going to be getting from her. Things were about to change, and not in her favor. I continued addressing my current mother-in-law.
“Sandra, I’ll always be grateful for your help and support. You’ve tried to do your best for everyone. I’m really going to miss you, but I guess I won’t be welcome round here in future.”
There was a stunned silence, then she asked me what I meant by that. Amber started up as well, and I cut them both off short by pushing my chair back and standing up from the table.
“Well, as I won’t be married to Amber much longer, and as J.C. isn’t actually my son, there’s no reason for you to invite me to your family home again, is there?”
It got kinda noisy then. My father-in-law and brother-in-law had both been drinking since shortly after breakfast; as soon as they’d sat their lard-asses down on the couch in front of the television they’d started on the first thirty-pack of beer. Jeez, it had been lucky that it was cold enough in the garage to keep their beer at the temperature they liked, otherwise there wouldn’t have been room in the fridge for any of the Thanksgiving food.
I was actually a little surprised that they’d understood what I was saying; I’d thought they’d begun drifting into an over-stuffed stupor as they mechanically lifted their glasses to their mouths or crammed in another piece of Sandra’s home-made candied cracked nuts. The fact that they were almost too drunk to string a sentence together didn’t stop them from trying.
I ignored their shouted questions, went over to the door and picked the envelope out of my bag. I automatically checked that our son was okay, still sleeping peacefully in his travel crib, his little belly so full of the good food I’d spooned into him that the noise couldn’t waken him. I’d miss him a lot, but I had no legal connection to him, I just happened at the moment to be married to his mother. I turned back to her and tossed the envelope on the table in front of her.
“Amber, here are the annulment papers. You’ll see that I’m suing you for the costs of bringing up J.C. and maintaining you for the last two years; I’ll get my attorney to transfer that suit to his real father just as soon as you tell me his name, or give me the list of names of those who might be his father. Let my lawyer know, his card is in the envelope.”
She dropped back into her chair, her face white and shocked, her body suddenly seemingly boneless. Her mom rushed round the table to comfort her daughter. I easily sidestepped her outraged father and drug-addled-but-angry brother, left the house without another word, and drove my old beater back to the small dingy apartment that had been our home, all that we could afford with just me working. It was rented, and we didn’t have a huge amount of belongings, so there wasn’t a whole lot for me to sort out. I took a couple of minutes to remove the child seat from the car; I wasn’t going to need it and I could use the space. Yeah, I’d sure miss the poor little bastard, but I couldn’t look after him on my own, and I had no real legal right to him, even if my name was on his birth certificate.
The land line was ringing when I got in, but I ignored it and it soon stopped. If Amber had really wanted to chase me and try to persuade me to stay with her, she could have gotten her Mom to drive her straight over. I noticed that she hadn’t. It would be better all round if she stayed back there until I’d gone. Maybe she was sure that I was bluffing, convinced that I was never going to snap out of the situation I’d found myself in. Sorry, honey, very poor assessment. (Okay, so suing her was a bluff; I knew I’d never see a penny of everything I’d earned and spent on her for the last two years, but my lawyer had said that the threat would reinforce my annulment request.)
That Thanksgiving day at her folks, ‘celebrating’ a holiday that I’d always enjoyed before my own parents had died, had confirmed my conviction that I was doing exactly the right thing in moving away. Thanksgiving? What did I have to be thankful about right now? Married to a selfish couch-potato shrew, paying for a child that I loved but hadn’t fathered? Stuck in a routine factory job when I’d been offered promotion and advanced training if I moved away to another of the company’s plants? Thankful that my wife wouldn’t hear of moving from her home town, even to make a better life for all of us? Thankful for years more of the same shit home life if I stayed?
I wondered if Amber had read the letter yet? I had spent so long over drafting it, gone over it so many times, that I had concluded that I would probably be able to recite it word for word as my party piece at concerts in the old folks home when I was 102 years old, dribbling, doubly incontinent and unable to remember my own name. Heck, I’d only bothered making a paper copy for my lawyer, I hadn’t kept one for myself.
We dated in high school, and when you told me that you were pregnant and I was the father, I stepped up to the plate and offered to marry you, even though we hadn’t gotten to the stage of going steady or exclusive, and I had always suspected you were still seeing other guys. I took that step because at the time I believed that we could make a life together, despite knowing that by getting married so young, I would never get my chance to go to college and realize my full potential; I was lucky that my summer job at the factory put me in line to be taken on full time so I could support us and our expected child. I worked my butt off to earn your parents’ grudging respect, to secure our future, and to gather together the deposit money to rent a place of our own and prepare for the arrival of our child, six months after our wedding day. You probably don’t remember how I made time to attend all your ante-natal classes with you, massaged your back whenever you were uncomfortable, worked a 50-hour week on the lines, taking any overtime I could get and still cooking you an evening meal every day. Heck, when you craved something that we didn’t have, despite being tired out after the day, I used to get out of bed and go to the all-night store just to keep you happy. But you’ve long forgotten all that loving and cherishing I gave you, haven’t you? Did you ever appreciate it at the time? I think not. Somehow, I guess that you felt you deserved it as your due. You took it all for granted. Like you took me for a fool. Maybe I was, but the blinkers are off now.
That first winter, in my ‘leisure’ time after work, I chopped firewood, cleared snow, ran errands, and did anything and everything I could to earn more money so that we’d be able to live a little. You never did understand, or care, why I was so upset when you raided the savings tin and spent that hard-gained money on expensive but wasted Christmas gifts for your high school girl friends. I knew that you needed to prove to yourself that you hadn’t thrown away your life when you got knocked up, which was why I didn’t make that big an issue of it, nor respond to your complaints that my gifts to you were boring and useful. I knew you were hoping for something costly and luxurious with a designer name attached; it didn’t even occur to you that you had already spent all the money I’d scrimped and saved for you on your old friends, the ones who didn’t call round any more, because they were out partying with guys who didn’t have to work to keep a roof over their family’s heads. There was no money left for me to buy you the gifts you hankered for. I became old almost overnight; my college years should have been carefree and enjoyable. Instead, I’ve been a wage slave for the last two years, waiting on you hand and foot when I was at home. I’m twenty one years old and I haven’t yet ever been to a bar – unlike you. Only one of us has enjoyed relaxed nights out with their friends in the last two years, and it sure hasn’t been me.
When J.C. arrived, I was holding your hand in the labor ward all night, and I cut the cord for your son, delighted at his safe arrival, and proud of you for enduring such pain. Then I went on to the factory because we couldn’t afford me to lose the day’s pay. I sold my most valued possessions, my Dad’s rocking chair and my great-grandmother’s quilted bed cover, so that we could buy the fancy crib and the new stroller that you said J.C. must have. You refused to dress him in pre-owned clothes; everything had to be new – and expensive. I accepted all this because I thought I loved you, and I certainly loved the baby who I thought was ours.