Thanksgiving: A Minefield of Emotion and Stress
Let’s face it—despite its designation as the “Day of Sharing and Joy,” Thanksgiving can be a a minefield of emotion and stress. Perhaps that's why I like writing about it--all that drama and revelation in a relatively small window of time.
To honor the day, below is an excerpt from my last novel, In His Eyes. In this scene, four old friends gather for thanksgiving. A fifth is added to the mix, upending traditions and leading to secrets being revealed. Hope you enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!
Micah and Calvin had recently moved to a large stone house in a suburb, unremarkable except for its preponderance of sweeping emerald lawns, Maseratis, and trophy wives.
Skye, who was staying the weekend, had arrived the night before and so was already there when Reid arrived with Odessa. She was dressed in an enormous pink wool swing coat with dolman sleeves trimmed with pink fringe, and a shawl collar also trimmed in pink fringe.
She was all smooth planes and discreet curves, high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. Her streaky blonde hair was cut short in a bob; every time she moved it fell forward. She spent the evening unconsciously tucking her hair back behind her ears, each of which sported an enormous diamond earring. Reid, paler than usual, looked like he’d lost weight.
Introductions were made and everyone sized each other up. Reid, after a brief handshake, kept his distance from Skye. Micah ushered them into the living room, where Calvin was mixing drinks, as if he hoped having a drink in their hands would give them all something to do, something to talk about.
Odessa stopped to run her hand over the Bechstein piano in the corner.
“This is a beautiful piano.”
“Thanks,” Micah said. “Do you play?”
“No, but I know my pianos—and this one’s a beauty.”
“Isn’t it? Calvin gave it to me as a birthday present a few years ago when we still lived in town. When we were looking for a house, I insisted it had to have a spot for the piano because no way was I parting with it.”
“Calvin,” Odessa called out, “this one’s smart! And you have great taste!”
Calvin glanced from her to the piano. “I gave it to him to make up for the first one I bought him.”
“The first one was just fine,” Micah said.
Calvin started handing everyone drinks. “You’re sweet, but it was not. It was an old upright Baldwin I bought at a piano store that was going out of business.”
“The black one in the kitchen of the house on Ludlow Street in University City?” Reid asked.
“You had a piano in the kitchen?” Odessa asked.
“Yes,” Micah answered. “It was supposed to go in the den on the second floor, but once they delivered it, we realized we’d never get it up the stairs. The kitchen was the only place it fit.”
“Oh, my god, I remember that Thanksgiving,” Skye said excitedly. “We had mambo martinis—you got the recipe from the I Love Lucy cookbook—and we got drunk and you played Gershwin—”
“Later you played Christmas carols. And we all sang along,” Reid added, remembering.
“While the turkey burned, and the gravy boiled over,” Micah added, laughing.
“Oh my,” Odessa interjected. “Y’all have quite a history!”
The four men looked at her, and Odessa couldn’t help feeling that they had quite forgotten she was there.
Skye took his drink and stood staring out the French doors at the snow-covered field beside the house.
Odessa walked over to him. “Hello, Skye,” she said in her warm, conciliatory tones, “I’m so glad to finally meet you. Reid talks about you, often.” She laughed a brief laugh.
“Yes. So much, I feel I know you—at least a little.” She glanced over her shoulder, and lowered her voice. “He told me all about you and how much he meant to you.”
“Ah, then you have me at a disadvantage; he’s told me nothing about you.”
She looked as if Skye had slapped her. Spying the exchange, Reid walked over as casually as he could.
“If you’ll excuse me, I should go and see if Micah needs any help in the kitchen,” Skye said and walked off before Reid reached them.
Dinner was full of grace, exhibiting a chef’s finesse, subtly seasoned. Calvin raised his glass. “Here’s to our chefs—Micah and Skye—you’ve done it again. Every year, just as we think you couldn’t top last year’s meal, you do it again.”
“Cheers.” They clinked glasses all around, except Skye, who’d consumed so much wine he was a bit unsteady.
“You have a lovely home,” Odessa said, looking around the dining room. “It’s so neat and clean.”
Micah shrugged, “It’s my OCD—”
“You do not have OCD,” Skye snapped. “What you are is obsessive, controlling, and annoying in your quest for perfection. Also, you have too much time on your hands.”
Micah winced. Everyone else just stared at Skye, open-mouthed.
“I know because I have OCD, and you know what? It’s depressing. It’s debilitating. As a kid, I had a ritual which required me to touch my headboard, hands crossed thirty-two times before I could go to sleep. If I messed up, touched the wrong side with the wrong hand, or got distracted by the train rumbling past our window or my father coming to tuck us in and lost count, I had to start over.
“Later, I couldn’t even walk down the street without avoiding every crack in the pavement because someone had once told me ‘step on a crack and break your mother’s back.’ I became obsessed with the idea that if I stepped on a crack, my mother’s back would break—she was always accusing me of trying to kill her as it was. I remember my second-grade teacher keeping me from lunch so I could practice walking with one foot on a step. I had to put both feet on every step or I would die—I was convinced of it.
“But you know what the worst is? The worst is the awful, unstoppable, obsessive thoughts that crowd my mind every second of every day. Thoughts of murder and suicide, and death and disease and torture and grotesque accidents. If I was walking and I had a bad thought, say seeing my father on a ladder, I’d imagine him falling and lying irreparably broken in a pool of blood, his dead eyes accusing me; I’d have to stop and walk backward to undo the thought and prevent it from coming true.”
Skye stopped speaking abruptly as if he’d run out of words.
“They have medications now—have you tried them?”
“Yes. They don’t really have any medications to treat OCD. There are drugs to treat the underlying anxiety and make the obsessive thoughts a little less intense, but there is no cure. Most people, like me, learn coping mechanisms—like walking backwards to undo a bad thought and keep it from coming true. It’s better now. Since Elie died, I don’t feel the intense worry—the bad thoughts come and go, but the worst has already happened, you know?”
Without saying another word, Skye got up and, laying his napkin on the table, walked out of the dining room. A few seconds later, they heard the front door open and close.
Micah got up and stepped into the hall.
“Can you see him?” Calvin asked.
“Yes, he’s just standing on the porch.”
Micah came back in, and began to clear the table.
“Wow, that Skye is just a big old bag of crazy, isn’t he?” Odessa said under her breath to Reid.
“I’ll get dessert ready,” Micah said.
Reid glared at Odessa and, standing, said to Micah, “I’ll help you clear the table.”
“No,” Calvin said, “I’ll help Micah. You go—”
“Why don’t I just help?” Odessa said, standing and gathering plates. As she and Micah headed into the kitchen, Calvin asked, “Did you ever tell her about your relationship with Skye?”
“Of course I did!”
Calvin stared at him, trying to read him. “Did you tell her how intense your relationship was?”
Reid said nothing, only stared at the floor.
“Did you admit to her you were in love with him?”
Now, Reid met his gaze. “I didn’t admit a lot of things to myself,” he said quietly.
“Jesus Christ, Reid! Don’t turn this into a pity party for you!”
“What do you want from me, Calvin?”
“I want you to go talk to Skye. He needs someone. And sadly, that someone is you. Reid, you’re the only one of us who can reach him.”
Reid stepped out onto the porch. He could see snow gathering in the distance. A cold wind was blowing.
Skye glanced at him then turned back to stare at the storm in the distance. But in the few seconds he’d looked at him, Reid had seen the tears in his eyes, flashing like quicksilver in the porch light.
“Here, I brought you this.” Reid wrapped a coat around Skye’s shoulders. “I remember you hate the cold, that you’re always cold.”
Skye leaned into the coat’s warmth, and Reid started to wrap his arms around his shoulders but thought he’d better not. Odessa was inside, after all. Instead, he crossed his arms, and wished he’d brought a coat for himself.
Skye glanced at him. “You’re cold.”
“Here,” Skye said, lifting the coat off one shoulder. “Come here. We can share.”
Reid stepped beside him, and they spread the coat awkwardly so it covered them both.
Beneath the scent of the cologne Reid was wearing, Skye caught his smell: wildflowers and rain.
“When did you start wearing cologne?” he asked.
“Odessa insists,” Reid said.
Skye nodded and went back to staring out over the lawn.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me you had OCD?”
“And give you another reason not to love me?”
Reid was startled by the bitterness in his voice.
“I’m sorry. It was embarrassing, OK? I’m still embarrassed by it.”
“You know you could have told me. I’m your friend.”
“You used to be more.”
Reid sighed. Stepping away, he wrapped the coat around Skye’s shoulders, pulling it tight around his neck.
“Do me a favor. Don’t stay out here too long.”
Skye heard the soft click of the front door closing as Reid went back inside. He stayed where he was, staring at nothing for a long time.
Calvin was at the bar in the den making a drink when Reid returned.
“I could use one of those,” he said.
Calvin reached for a tumbler and added ice then splashed Scotch over it. Glancing at Reid, he added a good bit more then handed him the drink.
“How’d it go?”
Reid took a gulp of his drink, winced at the burning sensation in his throat. “He’s being an ass.”
“Cut him a break, Reid. He just lost the only man he has ever loved besides you. And the man he loves more than anyone in this world is here with his wife.”
“You invited me. It’s Thanksgiving. She’s my wife. What was I supposed to do—leave her at home?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have married her—”
“Oh, let’s not start that shit again.”
“Why not—it’s high time—”
“Calvin! I’m not in the mood. Can you just leave me alone?”
“You got it,” Calvin said and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Reid took another sip of his drink then hurled the glass against the wall. He took a spiteful child’s delight in watching the expensive crystal shatter and the amber liquid trail down the pale silk wallpaper.
The front door opened and closed. A few seconds later, the screen door crashed against its frame.
“Goodbye, Skye,” Reid said, hurrying down the steps without looking at him.
A few minutes later, the door opened and closed again. This time, the screen door was carefully pushed closed. The slight click of the lock slipping into place made Skye jump. Skye continued staring at Reid’s car, which, running, had fogged-over windows and a plume of smoke curling up from behind it.
Odessa touched his arm, and he jumped again.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to say it was nice meeting you finally, Skye.”
“Was it? I’m sure you’re just being polite. We avoided meeting all these years and suddenly we’re thrown into the same house together. I’m sure that was uncomfortable for you. I know it was for me.” Skye turned back to look at Reid’s car. He could just make out his silhouette sitting behind the wheel.
Odessa withdrew her hand from his arm. “I can imagine it wasn’t easy to lose Reid,” she said, turning to look at Reid where he sat in their car. Turning back to Skye, she looked at him and added, “But let me assure you, I will look after him. And he’s happy—”
Skye turned to her, his eyes flashing in the dark. “Is he?”
Odessa looked like she was going to cry. Skye turned back to stare at Reid’s car as if he could force himself to see Reid inside in the dark. Odessa pulled her ridiculous coat, pinker in the dark, tighter around her and, hurrying down the steps, got into the car. Skye was oddly gratified to see that Reid hadn’t gotten out to open the door for her.”
Odessa and Skye met for the first time today. They each seemed startled by their encounter as if they had been the victim of a purse snatching or a stabbing, and had come expectantly upon their assailant in a lineup or court of law; they were each surprised, wounded by the encounter. They regarded each other with polite curiosity but you could see neither was impressed with the other. Odd, since they are startlingly alike. Especially in temperament. Skye’s grace is both quieter and more natural, though. They both have the same tendency to utter Reid’s name, perhaps too frequently. They both touch him constantly, to make a point, to ask a question, to measure how he’s feeling.
And they are both helplessly and undeniably in love with him. I wish I knew what it is about Reid, with his thinning hair and plumber’s body, that inspired such devotion.
Reid seemed trapped by the pull they both exerted on him. I almost felt sorry for him.
Calvin went to bed, and Micah and Skye retreated to the sitting room off the guest room. A fire blazed in the antique ceramic fireplace which was set between two steel-mullioned floor-to-ceiling windows. The cashmere drapes, the color of moonlight on a foggy evening, were drawn back to reveal a view of the sweeping back lawn, covered in snow, and the icy stream beyond it. Micah handed Skye a snifter of twenty-year-old single malt Scotch, and sat down opposite him. Skye took a sip and was rewarded with a mouthful of peat and smoke and moss.
“I’m sorry I ruined Thanksgiving.”
Micah watched him over the rim of his glass. “Don’t be silly. You didn’t ruin anything.”
“I’m afraid I was a prick.”
“No, you were fine. What did you think of Odessa?”
Skye shrugged “I wanted to hate her—I expected to hate her—but I don’t.”
Micah snorted. “I can’t hate her either, though her taste in coats is questionable.”
Skye giggled. “That coat was ridiculous!”
Micah laughed then, sobering, said, “I hate that she came between you and Reid.”
“I do, too,” Skye said, “But to be fair, Reid placed her between us.” Skye took another sip of his drink and leaned back in his chair.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me you were OCD?”
“Too embarrassed, I guess. Or maybe I thought you’d figured it out.”
“Oh, my god,” Micah exclaimed. “In college, you were always walking backwards— I wondered how you ever got anywhere. I thought it was just a game you played with yourself, or you were doing it to mess with me.”
“Nope. For twenty years, I had no words to describe what I was feeling, what was wrong with me, I didn’t know that it was a thing. Then I took that course—Psych 101—sophomore year, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s what this is!’ Knowing what was wrong with me, that it had a name, that it was a thing, helped.
“It got much worse when Elie was dying, when all I had were bad thoughts—I mean, we knew how that was going to end. Every time I imagined him dying, I thought I’d robbed him of another day, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts and I couldn’t walk them back fast enough…”
“Oh, honey,” Micah said, kneeling in front of Skye, and embracing him. “You didn’t rob him of any time, and you made the time he had remaining the best he could have hoped for. Truly, you did.”
Skye looked around the room. “Everything here is so perfect, so clean. Your cleaning woman must hate you.”
Micah laughed and got up to refill their glasses. “We don’t have a cleaning woman. We did, twice a week, but Calvin kept complaining that things were more organized and neater when I was doing it myself, so I fired her.” Micah sat back down and sipped his drink. “Besides, it gives me something to do.”
Skye started to say something, thought better of it and raised his glass to his lips.
They sat like that, sipping their drinks and staring at the dancing fire and the falling snow beyond it for the better part of an hour, two old friends comfortable with each other and each other’s silence. Skye noticed that if he closed one eye, it looked as if the fire was dancing on the ice of the creek.
“Well,” Micah said finally, rising and setting his glass on the coffee table. “I’m going to bed, and you should, too.”
“Try to get some rest.”
“I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby.”
“You bloody well better. You’re sleeping on a ten-thousand-dollar mattress,” Micah said and closed the door behind him.