The party had been Jamie's idea. There were only a handful of us who hadn’t gone home for the holiday, and she had immediately assumed the role of social director and event planner, as she usually did. Some of us, like Sammie, had no "home" to go back to, while others, like Sascha, couldn't afford the trip. And then there was me, with a house full of extended family probably fully expecting me to walk through that front door at any time, about an hour’s drive away. I wondered to myself how long they would actually sit there, playing board games and making pointless small talk, as dinner cooled in the kitchen, until they finally realized the full weight of all that consumerist waste that I was choosing to boycott.
I had decided to screw the social conventions despite my mother's insistence that uncles and aunts I rarely saw and third cousins I'd never even met would miss my presence for Thanksgiving this year, through a week’s worth of phone calls full of hurt feelings and accusations. A small part of me did feel guilty, while the rest of me rationalized skipping out on my family as an act of independence, almost of rebellion, and I was almost successful in completely convincing myself that bucking the annual tradition was an act of liberation that marked my full transition to capital A adulthood.
And yet, for all of my efforts to avoid the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving, here I was, sitting around a laden table covered with a borrowed linen table cloth, decked out in formal, if slightly mismatched, place settings. Someone had even managed to track down a battered soup tureen that had seen better days, which held Katie's noble attempt at some kind of soufflé. It may have been sweet potato. Or squash. Even Katie wasn't sure, because she would be the first to admit that although she could explain theoretical physics with an ease that bordered on the mystical, the mystery of food preparation was something she’d never been able to resolve. I baked rolls, Sascha made the traditional, if wholly unappetizing, green bean casserole, Jamie provided a small turkey purchased at the last minute, and Sammie, Laura, and Janelle rounded out our meal with store bought fixings.
Jamie insisted on a blessing before we could eat, but no one could agree on what should be said. When we finally settled on something quick and appropriately generic, we discovered that someone had managed to burn the stuffing to the bottom of the pan. Jamie was annoyed at both the ruined side dish and the destroyed pan, which had been a gift from her brother when she moved into the dorm. But since no one would admit to having made the stuffing, she couldn’t insist on someone replacing her pan. Katie’s soufflé literally tasted like dirt. She may have accidently made it out of turnips. As we were about to carve the turkey, Sammie’s cell phone chirped, and she spent the next twenty minutes angrily texting her boyfriend, who had chosen to spend the holiday with his family, without her. Based on the scowl on her face and the rapid-fire pace of her fingers on the phone’s keyboard, I didn’t expect their relationship to survive the evening.
By the time the bird was portioned up and served, due to Jamie’s inexperience with an electric carving knife, borrowed from someone down the hall, the meat was cold and sitting absolutely decimated on a chipped platter. It was also overcooked, and bone dry. Sascha and Jamie decided that we could use the rolls and cranberry sauce to make mini turkey sandwiches, but by then there was quite a bit of disappointment and no small amount of festering hostility among all of us still assembled at the table. Which wasn’t saying much, since at some point Sammie had disappeared into the hall, and Laura and Janelle were chain smoking on the balcony. But it wasn’t until there was a knock at the door to the suite that I felt that things took a disastrous turn.
No one had invited the three guys from the lower floor who now stood in the hallway with bags of fast food and several bottles of very cheap wine, offering to share their bounty. Jamie stood with arms folded in disapproval, determined not to let them crash the meal she had worked so hard to plan. But she was outvoted by the others, and it didn’t take long before Janelle disappeared into Laura’s room with someone whose name may have been Brent. Or maybe it was Bryce. Since I was trying to not lose a game of Scrabble to Katie, I hadn’t been paying attention during the introductions. Sammie had apparently gone back to her room for the night. Laura and Sascha sat eating greasy burgers off of the mismatched china, multiple glasses of wine into drunkenness, when someone overstepped Jamie’s limits of patience and made a grab for some turkey. I didn’t register the sound of the slap, at first. No one moved for a moment, but then there was a flurry of activity and noise as what was left of the party disassembled.
I realized with a sense of relief that there was only one thing to do. Walking out to the hall, shutting the door on the sound of raised voices behind me, I descended the stairs and stepped out into the shocking cold that enveloped me outside the building. The light rain that had been falling all afternoon had given way to sleet as the sun had set, leaving everything slick with ice. Fishing out my keys as I carefully shuffled to my car, taking out my phone, I placed a call that I realized I should’ve made hours ago. I heard laughter and music in the background as I found myself saying "Mom, it's Beth. If I leave right now, I should make it home in time for dessert...".