I hate the holidays. I hate coming home. Do you?
I don’t love it, but my reasons are pretty dumb. This year, I got sick the week of Thanksgiving and spent the holiday alone—and I felt kinda happy about it. Going back to work after months of unemployment meant that I’d acclimated to never seeing people, so I get overstimulated pretty easily now.
The week of Thanksgiving, I was high-fiving myself and buying wine, adding stuff to my watchlists in preparation for a very adult sick day. I announced it proudly on social media and told a distant cousin about how glad I was to be here for Turkey Day, even if I was sick. At least it wasn’t my hometown of 14,000—a town so depressed that it couldn’t keep a Kroger in business. Ill or not, I was stuck in my own home for the holidays, but this was a good thing. I am the master of my fate, captain of my soul and whatnot, and I’d be in control.
We tell ourselves really dumb things when we’re delirious with fever and dehydrated from sickness. I re-watched all of “The Good Place” while writhing on my couch in pain and starving, because I didn’t know how my stomach would react to anything. I am not sure if it was the flu or salmonella, but this illness turned me into a overheated demon that leaked misery from its sweat glands and even worse things from its diseased orifices. I was living Cannibal Corpse album art (more Butchered at Birth than Tomb of the Mutilated, without a doubt).
This, of course, ruled out any holiday communion for me, even though I’d already RSVPed to a local Friendsgiving and bought everything to make a cornbread dressing—my mother’s recipe. Instead, I started watching documentaries about the inevitable death of our sun. I found plain-English explanations of black holes and got annoyed when those documentaries only talked about star death in respect to its effect on our planet. (Get over yourself, Earth.) My apartment was too hot, too quiet, and being alone with my nowhere-near-neurotypical brain gave me plenty of time to hone my particular version of stir-crazy.
I decided to make my cornbread dressing exactly the way my mama would, with cream of chicken soup, savory cornbread, sautéed vegetables, and no spices so the natural sweetness of the carrots and onions could shine. I drank half a bottle of wine and thought of my favorite parts of my Thanksgiving plate, where the dressing touches everything else. A forkful of perfectly browned dressing glazed with macaroni and cheese. A chunk of ham topped with dressing and gravy.
On Instagram, my cousin was carefully re-creating my sister’s mac and cheese—a recipe so killer that it currently holds the status of Family Favorite. Somewhere in Texas, my other cousin was taking a stab at Mama’s hot water cornbread, and another cousin posted at least 30 photos of her grandchild, whom I have yet to meet.
I closed my eyes and saw myself asleep on a pile of coats in my grandmother’s spare bedroom. Marveling at the antique cabinet in my mom’s kitchen that held nothing but pickles, jams and jellies that she’d made herself. “Taking a walk” with my cousins. When I’m bored at home, I usually take a drive across the levee—a small-town kid activity for sure—but our lake actually stretches to the horizon in some places, and on a clear night I see the Milky Way, stark and white across the water like a backbone. I really wished I was at home, bored and full.
That evening, my sister dropped off a plate from Friendsgiving, and it was a plate for the gods. Her homemade mac and cheese leaned right against a pile of sourdough stuffing and turducken, and everything was covered in gravy and fresh cranberry sauce. There were four slices of pie. My stomach raged, but I didn’t care. I ate half of it that night, then finished that wine, listened to Bobby Rush and swag surfed alone in my living room. I wasn’t at home, but I was feeling something like it, and it didn’t feel boring at all. It felt good.