While putting myself through college and finding my place in the world, I fought the demons of my childhood. As if young adulthood wasn’t terrifying enough, my childhood was much worse.
This experience that I will share with you today is the day I found my voice.
My dad, owner and manager of his own restaurants, was a domineering and hurtful man. And I deserved it.
On this horrible day, Thanksgiving day, late 1980’s, I drove the three hours from New Haven to Malta, NY in an early snow to his home and restaurant. As always when visiting my family, I got physically ill leading up to the day I had to go and got so anxious I struggled to get myself dressed, packed and in the truck. I was running late. I was always running late, like one of those dreams where you keep running in place but never get anywhere, like “swimming in molasses” my Aunt Jenny used to say. I blamed myself for my mental breakdowns, never admitting what they were as I tried on every option in my closet in frustration, throwing my few belongings everywhere. I was always the flakey one, always the unorganized hot mess, so that I would literally hate myself.
My father on the other hand ( with his new girlfriend’s extended family of about 20 people ) was in his glory at this great Thanksgiving event!
Folks were milling around my dad’s beautiful restaurant, impressed to the point of excitement at the spread of gourmet Italian foods pouring out of his kitchen. The smell was to die for as I entered the foyer ten minutes after the main eating event was scheduled and my dad was already at the head of the table giving a speech. As I passed the display cabinet that I filled with my glass art ( that he sold and I never saw a dime for ) he was telling of his accomplishments and the joy this day gave him as he welcomed his new extended family into his home/business. His guests, and especially the woman, but the guys too, would swoon at his every word, every gesture. He was a very handsome and charismatic man.
That always confused me and made me question reality.
He glanced at me with disdain and did not acknowledge while welcoming everyone else to his table, my just reward for being late, not dressed feminine, and obviously flustered. His guests didn’t appreciate the interruption either and were momentarily brought out of their trance of admiration, but they were only following his social cues.
First impression: loser.
Upon entering the room of strangers, I sat at an open seat in the corner of the 30 foot table, as polite and perfect as possible, trying to redeem myself for how I entered this picture.
You know, I never thought to be somewhere else on this day. All my friends were home with their’s and what kind of loser has ‘no where to go’ on Thanksgiving? If I behaved from that moment forward, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad.
Thanksgiving thus began! I was pretty strapped financially and eating well had become so hard while going to school and working. I was body shamed my whole life, on a diet but always tried to be in top athletic condition when I saw my dad, so the food alone should have been worth the drive. At least that’s what I told myself.
My father never once acknowledged me or my presence. He didn’t introduce me or hug me or even look at me.
Admonished, I tried to be pleasant and strike up conversation. Now this has become a normal part of my life socially, but it hurt very badly back then: none of the adults were having it. Not one adult would chat, I guess I really upset my dad for all his new peoples’ seeming distaste. I was hating myself. Luckily there was a little girl of about eight years that was to my right, and not picking up on the group mentality, she was happy to chat with me. We made each other laugh and it was a little better!
Then that sweet little girl asked me quite innocently, “So.. how do you know John?” Shocked, I replied “I’m his daughter!”
I was so broken with hurt at that moment I hardly had a voice. When I saw her looking back at me incredulously I pointed to the cabinet full of glass and proclaimed