When my fiancé’s niece told me “You’re not even trying,” she lit my temper as easily as a matchstick at the dinner table where the leg of lamb, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted brussels sprouts and carrots, and my future mother-in-law’s famous baked German pierogi sat before us, but I couldn’t focus on the gratitude that must have been living somewhere in my heart for this meal when the only Christmas present I wanted was permission to slap this snotty brat and explain, “Uhhhhmmmm, actually, I’m trying very hard”: I’m a full-time, underpaid office gremlin by day in a counseling office where ironically my mental health has never been worse; by night, I’m finishing a PhD I started over three years ago in an English program that almost exclusively made me feel like shit just for breathing and planning a wedding with the man I love but unfortunately spending money, making decisions, and asking for favors are three of my least favorite activities so wedding planning is my own personal hell when I’m not spending nine hours each day at a job I hate and can’t afford to quit or when I’m in the company of a delusional ten-year-old who is currently repeating the third grade and thinks she can mistreat every adult she comes in contact with, leaving me too exhausted to do anything I enjoy while I wait for another weekend to arrive where I don’t have to see anyone or do anything, but I’m not allowed to complain on Christmas, so instead of threatening to cut out this tiny person’s tongue with my dinner knife and feed it to her (the classic threat my mom would use on me whenever I sassed her on the wrong day), I pass the potatoes wishing at least one of us would vanish from this table and not return until the holidays are over; I don’t want a medal or a handshake for abstaining from throttling the neck of an elementary student the same way Homer Simpson demonstrated violence as his primary love language for his son Bart—what I really need is for more parents to figure out the difference between discipline and trauma so their kids don’t spend their whole lives thinking the two are interchangeable because they never experienced real consequences for acting shitty, and because I’m the one who drank one glass of red wine on an empty stomach and couldn’t just ignore the inane verbal abuse of a ten-year-old at dinner suddenly I’m the Christmas villain?
Gin and tonic or a tall glass of Ovaltine.
Kay Keegan works in a possibly condemned office building by day while finishing her PhD in English by night. Her prose has been published in Hobart, Essay Daily, and New Ohio Review, and her photography has been featured in the New York Times.
Her new favorite cocktail is an original creation called the “Please Drink Responsibly” and it includes equal parts Pedialyte, ginger ale, seltzer, and vodka. Best served over ice and with a sleeve of saltine crackers.
image: MM Kaufman