Two weeks before Thanksgiving, in Uppsala, Sweden, a beautiful lop-eared rabbit named Stella died. I didn’t know Stella, or her humans. I follow them on Instagram.
Stella’s death was unexpected, as rabbits’ passings through the veil so often are. It brought back the deaths of my own much-loved bunnies: their lives are so short, and when I adopt and fall in love and make a life with these creatures, I always, always forget that. I’d grown to love Stella, even if virtually, looking forward every day to the posts from Uppsala. I would miss her.
The next morning, I found a message in my voice-mail box, from my cousin, who has taken upon herself the thankless task of keeping the disparate strands of our Southern-diaspora family at least nominally tied together. She’d called while she was driving, as she usually does.
From Huntsville, Alabama, to Memphis, and my uncle’s funeral. He’d died two days earlier, and no one had thought to tell me (or my estranged brother).
That, plus the fact that I don’t know whether the death was expected or not, tells you all you need to know about why I like hotels and foreign countries at Thanksgiving. Making puns on the whole concept by going, with someone I cannot name, and who is usually the reason for my being in a hotel in the first place, especially a European one, for #turkeyday dinner to a Turkish restaurant. Making artsy photos and posting them on Instagram, along with some smart-ass comments about the holidays.
By so doing and so sharing, I deny to myself (and to everyone except the three or four people who’ll read this) that, when my mother was alive, I was absolutely, 100%, totally and completely on board with everything Christmas. Trees, stockings, cookies, presents—I no longer buy them; snowflake cutouts to make snow decorations on the front windows with spray-snow; cooking, cider, pine boughs, you name it, we did it, together. I’ll never again do any of it, ever.
My mother died when I was 25, in early August. I missed her funeral, being in Sicily. That night I got very drunk and had sex with a guy on a boat from Sicily to Naples—we used the linen closet (think about that the next time you opt for a cruise. Or don’t).
I loved my mother to distraction.
The Christmas after my mother died, my distraught father and I were going to escape it all by going on a cruise that got rained out by torrential downpours in Memphis that shut the airport down and made it impossible for us to get to Miami. We’d driven to my uncle’s house the day before, arriving late enough for them to be done with presents but early enough so as not to miss lunch, and that’s where we spent the night. The next morning we had breakfast and then drove home to the silent, empty house. Don’t ask me where my brother was, I have no idea.
The fact that my uncle is now gone feels unreal to me, like it belongs to someone else. Or like he did. Yesterday was the day we all used to gather at his house. Only yesterday, obviously, we didn’t. We haven’t for a very, very long time, and now we never will again. And I am not sure what, if anything, I feel about that.
It’s not that I did not love my uncle, because I did. And my aunt, and their children—highlights of the holiday seasons of my childhood were trips to their house for the huge meal (Thanksgiving, always, and sometimes, barely a month later, Christmas, too). The game of touch football outside afterward, while the adults digested. The roller-coaster excitement in my stomach of finally, at ten, being allowed to play, one of only two girls, the other being my cousin of the long, incomprehensible messages. It was rarely ever cold enough, in Memphis, to need more than a light sweater. If we were very, very lucky, my father would declare himself too tired to drive the 90-or-so minutes home and we’d stay overnight, and have warmed over sweet rolls, my grandmother’s, homemade, for breakfast.
When did the thread break? Are all family ties, at their heart, so very tenuous? Ours were already very, very frayed by the time my father died in 2008. The last occasion I saw most of them, in fact, my brother included, was at his funeral.
I haven’t cried for my uncle yet. I’m not sure if I will. But someone posted a painting of Stella on Instagram today, a gift for her humans, and that sent me running for the tissues.
Made me take a break from packing up my belongings in the hotel room where I spent Thanksgiving, exchanging not a single communication of any form with anyone of any familial relationship to myself whatsoever (I’m adopted: is this why my attitude toward family is so effed?). And it’s not just my family: when, as I usually am, I’m in Ithaca over this holiday weekend, I habitually lie to friends who invite me to join them and their families. Can’t, I’m busy. Can’t, thanks so much, I’ll be away.
This year I was away, in a hotel, halfway around the world. I liked it—perhaps a new tradition.
I like hotel rooms very much. You could even say that I love them. I experience a particular delight on the last morning, with my unnamable person already started along the return path toward where he lives, as I zip the last items into my suitcase, look around the room one final time, and close the door behind me.
No one would know I’d ever been there.