Friday, November 29, 2013

Expat during Thanksgiving

This is the 7th Thanksgiving I've spent out of the U.S. Would have been 8 if I hadn't gone to visit my dad in one year. My mom had kicked him out of the house, decided she didn't want it any more and left it trashed. I went back to help him pick up the pieces. No one should be left to do that alone. Not after 30 years of marriage.

I thought it would be really hard to go back and see my childhood home in that state. The light patch of wallpaper in the stairwell where the clock my grandfather made hung. My parent's closet that had always been off limits, wide open, old shoes spilling out. The unmarked boxes in the attic full of toys, clothes and books, some tied to a particular memory or two. Others completely forgotten. They'd been opened recently and rummaged through. She took what mattered to her. The rest we sent over to the Salvation Army.

That was before I knew that the Salvation Army promoted the killing of gay people. Although my dad would still probably have sent the stuff over there. Just small town folks helping small town folks in need, he'd say. Yeah, unless they're gay, I'd shoot back. No one cares about your sexual orientation when you walk into a second hand store, he'd reason. It's about the power structure! I'd argue and go on a rant about where the money goes and Uganda and so on. But this was before Uganda. Before I got myself involved with helping gay and transgender asylum seekers in Sweden. Back when I'd been out of the closet less than two years and my biggest worry was whether or not my dad would remember to use my new name.

It wasn't hard to be back in that small town. In that old house. It was a relief. The opportunity to revisit an old place as a new person. To sit quietly in old rooms and reminisce. To stroll calmly through the dragon's old lair and check out the bones left behind.

Today, I'm thankful that my mother told me to never contact her again. That as a result we need not face any hate today. No anxiety. No lies. No anger. No screaming. No violence. That my baby girl is in the other room sleeping quietly in the safety and comfort of her Polish Babcia's arms.

I'm thankful for my parents' divorce. Thankful that my dad and sister are having a peaceful Turkey Day with my brother's family. That my dad has a girlfriend who treats him right. That I can call him and chat as long as we want without him having to hide the phone call. Or pretend that he's okay.

I'm thankful for the beautiful Swedish winter. The way the pale sun shines through the soft grey cloud cover, just above the horizon. All the windows in the neighborhood are lit up with Lucia candles and balconies twinkle with strands of white LEDs.  The smell of saffron, gingerbread and mulled wine warms up the crisp cold air. The promise of Babcia's beet root barszcz soup and savory mushroom uszki pastry bites makes my mouth water. And one day soon, our little Piggelin will see her first snowflake.


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