Will Boast in The New York Times:
LAST Thanksgiving my girlfriend and I flew to Milwaukee to spend the long weekend with her parents and sister. Caitlin and I had been dating for over a year and a half, and I felt comfortable enough around her family. But things always got tough for me around the holidays, and it didn’t help that Caitlin’s family was so close, so affectionate, always hugging and teasing. Caitlin and I had just moved in together, and her mom — mildly religious and deeply sarcastic — had started referring to me as her “sin-in-law.” I’d told myself this trip was no big deal, but as soon as we set foot in the house, I started acting aloof and grouchy. At the table for the big meal, I could mumble only a brusque, impersonal thanks for “good food and hospitality.” “Lame,” Caitlin’s mom said, calling me out. “Boy, that was truly lame.” Later, doing the dishes, I dropped a glass Caitlin handed me and started shouting at her. When everyone went out to a movie, I stayed home. I went upstairs to Caitlin’s childhood room, pulled the covers over my head and sobbed.
…My family, too, was scuppered mid-journey. The summer before I went away to college, my mother was given a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. When I came home for Thanksgiving, she was so far gone she didn’t even remember my name. At the table, I watched in gutsick horror as she drooled chewed-up turkey and cranberry sauce down her chin. After she died, my father and my younger brother went to war with one another, Dad threatening Rory with military academy and expulsion from the house if he didn’t shape up and quit drinking, smoking weed and staying out all night with friends. The next two Thanksgivings the three of us came together for the few hours it took to pick over a meal, but the only words I remember Dad actually addressing to Rory were “pass the bread sauce.” That winter, my brother was killed in a car accident, out with his buddies on their way to a party, and my father, shattered by grief, set to the business of drinking himself to death. Our last Thanksgiving together, just the two of us, he was too wasted to eat the meal he’d spent all day preparing. I spent the next seven holidays in seven different places, most often with friends and their families, as an extra guest at their tables, the English guy with the Midwestern accent, the guy without a family of his own.