I’m lying in the pouring rain, covered in shattered glass, wine and blood; unable to get up because my legs have gone paralyzed. All I can do is laugh; the body shaking, eyes watering up type of laughter. As hard as I try, I cannot get back up. I keep thinking of the old t.v. ad, with the elderly woman in the bathroom; she uses her alert button to announce, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Where the fuck was my damn button?
I do realize that no one knows where I am, or even that I am “missing”, and I wonder when someone will notice my absence and come looking for me. Will they think to look outside? After about ten minutes, of lying on the cold wet concrete, my clothes soaked through, shielding my eyes from the constant deluge of rain that pelts my unmoving body, I find something else to chuckle about. What if my neighbors see me like this. What if one of them happens by; out taking the dog for a quick walk? Or even a glance out the window? Will they see me in the dark? That thought, of what they would think if they are able to see me, sets me off into another fit of hysteria. The gossip lines will be buzzing. Meg, drunk and passed out in the courtyard on Thanksgiving! Gone and gotten shit loaded drunk for the holiday! I am out in the rain, laughing to myself like a mad woman for about a half hour, when finally my kids look out the front door and see me.
Candles are shimmering from all areas of our great room, which encompasses our kitchen, dining room, living room and a small t.v. area. The fire, built to ward off the days’ rain and dampness, is snapping and crackling, filling the room with a warmth that is more than just temperature based. The table has been set and includes a beautiful Jacquard table cloth in autumnal hues, linen napkins tied with organza ribbons, classic bone white china, wine goblets that sparkle in the candle light, and the center of the table is lined with a mixture of candles, fresh fruit and pumpkins, decorated by the kids. I have managed to convince them to change out of their torn jeans and stained t-shirts into “nicer” clothes, which I define as simply something clean. Although for Piper, a request is not necessary, as she has eagerly anticipated the occasion to wear her new maroon and black velvet holiday dress for weeks.
After waking at the crack of dawn and hours in the kitchen preparing way more food than is needed, I manage to hobble upstairs in time to change before our guests arrive. The stress of the past month has not agreed with me, or my appetite and as a result, I have dropped another eight pounds, which I really can’t spare, leaving me thinner that I should or want to be. Opening the closet door, I quickly grab a black and white print wrap-around dress that is one of my standard “go-to” dresses. Usually form fitting; it now hangs loosely from my body, accentuating my unhealthy size. Zipping up my black boots, running a brush through my hair, and applying a quick coat of lip-gloss finalizes my primping and I head back downstairs to greet our guests.
My mother-in-law is one of the first to arrive and once I take her coat, she gives me a kiss on my check, leaving the standard, and nearly permanent coral-pink lipstick stain in it’s trail.
“Megan, you look wonderful,” she immediately exclaims.
Having feared that everyone would notice and obsess on the fact that I wasn’t looking well, I graciously accept this compliment, thinking to myself “huh, she’s trying to make me feel good.” “That’s unusual, but nice.” Little did I know what would happen.
The afternoon is filled with great conversation, wonderful wine and games. We have a giant scrabble board inlaid in the pavers in our front courtyard and since my brother and sister-in-law are avid “Scrabblers,”, and the Seattle rains have decided to take a brief break, a group heads out for a heated game of words and wisdom. Since the kids join in, the mixture of words is amusing to say the least.
The Turkey falls off the bone and everyone assures me that is a good sign. The garlic mashed potatoes, sweet curried carrots, orange cranberry chutney with pecans, braised Brussels sprouts, Caesar salad, and homemade rolls are eagerly consumed by all that are in attendance, with profuse praise being offered to me through out the meal. Once I serve up the pies, not store-bought as I had promised, but at least brought by others, I refill wine glasses for those that want it, and brew a pot of coffee. I then set to work on cleaning the kitchen.
My mother-in-law and daughter are sitting at the island that faces the kitchen. Up until this point, I have had very little interaction with my mother-in-law since her arrival hours ago. But now that she has me there as a captive audience she decides to regale me and Piper on some of her views. She starts by again saying how good I look. I again thank her for the compliment.
She then says, “You are so skinny!”
I immediately rethink my assessment of her compliment earlier at the door, of trying to make me feel good and I reply, “I am too skinny!”
“I am not well and as a result have lost weight that I didn’t need to lose.”
Her response is, “But you look so good, and you are so skinny!”
Again with the fucking skinny! Piper, looking beautiful in her party dress, has been sitting there during this exchange just quietly listening. She is seven and already beginning to express unhappiness with her own body image.
“Momma, I’m fat.” Or occasionally grabbing her stomach saying things like, “Look at all this fat.”
I vividly remember how difficult it is to be growing up and my body getting bigger. I remember feeling that I didn’t like my body and because of that, I work very hard at trying to help Piper with this. I want her to love herself and her body irrelevant of size and shape. Yet here is her grandmother, repeatedly complimenting her own mother on her “skinniness.”
As I turned to the sink to begin loading the now scraped dishes into the dishwasher I hear my mother-in-law address my daughter, “Piper, always remember, a woman can never be too skinny.”
My immediate reaction is to turn to her and scream “shut the fuck up!”
But I don’t. I remember that my daughter is right here, and that we have a house full of people enjoying a lovely holiday. So instead, I quietly ask Piper to go and see if anyone wants any more wine or coffee to get her away from this toxic woman, then I gather up the trash bag and head to the garage, through the door in the kitchen, under the pretense of having to take the trash to the bin out on the street. As I storm out (well really at this point limp or teeter is more like it because my legs are exhausted having barely sat for a moment since waking at five,) I notice that it has begun to rain and think for just a second of turning around to grab my rain jacket hanging on the hook just inside the kitchen door. But I know that the risk of even laying eyes on that woman again, might set me off, and decide against the jacket. As I struggle to lug the overstuffed trash bag out to the street, my mind is reeling. How dare she! How could someone that is a grandmother be so insensitive to the things she is saying and their effect on young ears? But then, there in the rain, I remember exactly who I am talking about, and realize, of course she would! Without ever giving it a thought or even seeing it as inappropriate. After 12 years of marriage, I have learned that this is who she is, and what she does, and that is not going to change. I have worked hard over the years to keep the peace with her and encourage her to be a part of our kid’s lives, but I also will do anything in my power to protect them from her manipulative and often cruel behavior. I lug the bag into the open bin, brush off my hands and stand for a moment, thinking, “I really don’t want to go back in there.”
I slowly begin my way back up the driveway, when something shiny catches my eye in the courtyard. Someone has left a glass of wine on the table after the Scrabble game. Here was a task I could do to stall just a bit longer! So I grab the glass and then make sure everything else out there is cleaned up and put away. Granted, I am getting pretty wet, but it seems to beat the hell out of going back in. As I stumble around the courtyard, looking for other forgotten items, my mind is still in overdrive.
“You don’t need this right now!” “You can’t handle this right now!” “You are sick, and you need to focus on you and getting better and not what your crazy ass mother-in-law might say or do.”
I flash back to all that I have been through in the past few months; the MRI, the spinal tap, the spinal patch, and all the pain and frustration I have felt. Why can’t this woman, for once, just come to a family gathering and not stir up trouble? Why does she do and say the things that she does? Why does it seem that she is most comfortable when making others feel uncomfortable?
As I finish my round of the area, I again grab the half full goblet of wine and turn to head back through the garage and into the house and whatever is waiting for me there. My foot must hit an uneven paver and I trip. The goblet and wine go up as I go down! Hard! Not getting my hands out in time to break the fall. Just after I hit the ground, the goblet and wine follow the rules of gravity and find their way down to me, shattering upon impact, and that is when the laughter begins.