I should have expected it. Especially from my cousin. Not only does she, my cousin, Charmaine, have a big heart, she also had no sense whatsoever of other peoples affairs. She’s not insensitive, quite the opposite, and she’s not empathetic or oblivious, it’s something else entirely. It’s like she exists on another plane, like she doesn’t understand the threads that bind people together or how those threads fray and snap. She, my cousin, Charmaine, always gives people another chance and doesn’t even recognize that she’s doing it. There’s always another chance with Charmaine because there are never not chances cause what are chances so chances are innumerable.
So I should have expected it, from Charmaine of all people. But I didn’t and that’s on me.
See the thing is, we were all sitting around the table, having just been called to Thanksgiving dinner by my aunt Ruth, and we’d all found a spot and there was still one spot left, for Charmaine, who hadn’t arrived yet, but my aunt Ruth had begun bringing the food in anyway, placing the green beans here and the biscuits there, the mashed potatoes catty corner from me and the gravy next to them. All this incredible food was coming out, and I’m salivating cause I didn’t eat breakfast expecting this huge traditional spread, and I’m so hungry and all I can think is “when are we gonna start passing the food around,” and in she strolls with the most perfectly browned turkey I’ve ever seen. So I was a bit distracted when Charmaine arrived. Even so, I’m still surprised it took me so long to notice.
Charmaine had brought a guest, because of course Charmaine would bring a guest to Thanksgiving dinner with absolutely no forewarning. It was classic big hearted Charmaine. No one was surprised by that. Or if they were they didn’t know my cousin. But we were all surprised. I guarantee you that. I guarantee that not a one of us was drooling over turkey one minute and then desperate to carve the next. Nope, we were all a bit stunned when we realized who she’d brought.
Because of course she, my cousin, Charmaine, brought my dad. The one person none of us ever thought we’d see again. Not after the last time.
See, several years ago now, I can’t think for sure, I want to say it was eight years ago but I feel like that was the year uncle Jeb threw out his back tossing the football around, so it musta been the year before or there wouldn’t have been such forced gaiety. So, nine years ago, the last time my dad came to Thanksgiving dinner, there was this moment where his sister, aunt Ruth, realized he wasn’t really there. I mean to say that his body was there, obviously, we could all see him, but his mind was gone. And not like the way we say “where’d my mind go,” when we realize we’ve misplaced our keys or been caught daydreaming out a window cause the larch trees are budding and the green is so exquisite. No, his mind was gone, and it turned out to be drugs.
Anyway, there were a few Thanksgivings after where his name would be mentioned in the pre-dinner prayer and I’d find out he was in this rehab or that psychiatric hospital or his name would simply be mentioned as one to watch over and I’d know he was out on the streets somewhere if he was even alive at all. I got used to the idea that my dad was gone, I mean, I guess I got used to it, what choice did I have, it’s not like I was gonna go search the streets for him all day every day til I found him. Cause then what? What did I know from drug recovery.
So there we all are, sitting at the table, except aunt Ruth who has placed the turkey on the table but is still holding the platter and my cousin, Charmaine, and my dad. And Charmaine has a contented smile on her face and simply says, “look who I ran into! Uncle Charlie’s joining us for dinner. I knew you wouldn’t mind, mama,” and then she’s guiding my dad to the empty seat, her seat, and she’s carefully sliding settings left and right and creating a space for herself to sit and no one is helping. Not a one of us is helping her. And it’s not cause we’re rude, not intentionally, we’re all just shocked.
I should have jumped up and started moving settings over or grabbing another setting out of the cabinet aunt Ruth keeps her linins in or gone to the kitchen for a plate and cutlery, but I just sat there. Luckily, I realized I had my mouth wide open and I shut it, although to be fair I might not have noticed my mouth open except that when I finally got to looking around I noticed everyone else had their mouth open which of course led me to discover mine was to.