Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a good time. We dress up all nice and spend time with our loved ones and we shove our faces until we can’t breathe and promise to begin our diets tomorrow. It’s a chance to reflect on all the good things we have and how far we’ve come and we begin to prepare for the end-of-year festivities. For an evening, we do our best to tuck away the things that hurt and plague us for the sake of gratitude.

I miss the Thanksgivings during which 100 of us crammed into my grandmother’s apartment on Fales Street and ate and danced and laughed and watched the football games on mute while salsa blared through the speakers. Our Thanksgiving dinner was never traditional: pernil burnt nearly to a crisp, arroz con coco, empanadas, buñuelos and natilla, lasagna (god bless my aunt Olga), you name it. My mother always brought a salad or chips ‘cause she wasn’t trying to cook. There were older cousins, the teenaged cousins, and the punky brewster little cousins. Us little cousins would sneak alcohol and we would…I actually can’t remember anything else we did, we just loved our grandfather’s Carlo Rossi wine and uncle’s Budweiser. Our aunts and uncles wore their finest clothes, but there wasn’t a single soul better dressed than our grandfather. I swear I remember people hanging out the windows like in the movies, but I definitely made that up. In my mind, those days were larger-than-life. Christmas was even better.

I miss my grandmother the most. Anyone who didn’t have a place to spend their Thanksgiving could spend it there (Don Ramon comes to mind, may he rest in peace). She’d sit in her favorite seat and laugh or eat, rose-colored cheeks, taking total control of the remote when she wanted. Or sometimes she’d just sit and watch, silent in her understated elegance. She’d quietly cry when certain songs came on (“Nadie Es Eterno” comes to mind). Her bedroom was sacred and only meant to store the coats. If we were in there, we had to be on our best behavior. I loved sneaking my nose into her powder and inhaling deep. So deeply, in fact, I can still smell it. No matter who brought what, the best dish was always the Kit-Kat/Kool-Aid combo.

While I am melancholy, not all is lost. I’ll certainly enjoy tomorrow with my cousins, believe me. It’ll just be three cousins instead of fifty. We grow and people pass on and times change and holidays are celebrated differently, and I have to accept that. It’s not a void in my heart; it’s love for the things that were.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, reader. Eat and be merry. Pick up a bottle of Carlo Rossi. Don’t be too shy to hug and love those around you. Truly give thanks for all you have and all you’ve accomplished. And I hope the memories you make are just as brilliant and unforgettable as mine.

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Thankful.

In my selfishness, I have never thought to ask: Ma, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My mother was pulled out of elementary school early, and she remembers sighing in lamentation as girls walked by her house in their school uniforms, notebooks tucked neatly under their arms. She devoted herself to los quehaceres at the age of eight and hasn’t quit since.

But did she want to be a doctor? An actress? An engineer? A baker? A schoolteacher? Did she actually want to be a mother? Is she proud of her daughters and did they turn out the way she expected? Does she have any regrets? If she could start anew, what would she do differently? Or would she do everything the same? I’m ashamed to say I don’t know the answers to these questions. It’s probably time I ask.

What I do know? I know her first love broke her heart – almost beyond repair – but that her pride is unmatchable so she never looked back. Being proud doesn’t mean we don’t hurt inside, however, and I can sense it at times, when we talk about love, a certain tango comes on, or the protagonist in a novela locks eyes for the first time with who will prove to be the love of her life. My mother’s shrine of pictures and her quiet, melancholy demeanor on anniversaries tells me she dearly misses her parents and siblings that have passed. I know that she is proud of her lineage, by the way she says MARGARITA CANO when they ask for her name at the voting polls. I know that her devilishly handsome grandsons take up 95% of her heart, and that they come close to fulfilling the desire she always had for a son of her own. I know that she is incredibly bright. Her vocabulary is so extensive she uses a new word just about every day. She taught herself to read and understand English and one of my favorite images is her sitting at the kitchen table, glasses on, reading the Pawtucket Times. She is super quick with the arithmetic and could easily swindle me out of $100, leaving me with my head spinning. My mother is a great mother and an even greater person. Everyone that walks into our home doesn’t just feel welcome, they are welcome. My friends love my mother, and I am convinced they’d rather hang out with her than me.

We are so used to having our parents to ourselves that we cannot imagine their lives being their own.  It’s all about our goals and our problems and our trajectories in life and rarely do we stop to think: are they happy? Did they reach their full potential? Is there more they’d like to accomplish? It’s easy to forget that they, too, are humans, minds whirling with thoughts and ideas and hearts buzzing with decades of sentimiento. Mischief, laughter, sex, music & dance, bad decisions, heartbreak, debauchery, molecules. All of those things are part of them, just like they are part of us.

I am a lot to deal with, I know this. My mother literally picked me up at I time when I was so down it would have been impossible to be more down. She has taught me goodness, generosity, and selfless love. She has held our home together during times that it should have imploded at the seams. Her being her created me, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Purpose.

I use BB cream on my face and I vacuum my car (RIP Snowbunny!) and I go to birthday dinners with friends and I buy books at Savers and I struggle on the ab machine while staring at my future husband (I promise to summon the courage to ask his name!) and I pay the water bill on time and I buy crystals for spiritual healing and I take my mother to Christmas Tree Shop and I write out detailed progress notes at work and I try to be nice to strangers and I schedule doctor’s appointments all while thinking: what the fuck for?

Ever since I was a child I’ve had moments where I sit back and feel like I’d rather be somewhere else, doing something else. Like I’d rather be someone else. My life should look different but I don’t know what or where or how to get there. I get this thing in my chest and I want to claw it out. It even wakes me up at night. And I know that I am not the only one that feels it. During a soul-searching conversation on WhatsApp, someone who I thought had it all figured out and that I have always aspired to be like raised the question, “Yeah, I feel the same. I think, what’s the purpose?”

Their questioning, their inner turmoil and angst, hit so close to home I nearly cried. Purpose. That’s it. I’d been wondering but hadn’t been able to place what was wrong. I don’t have a purpose. I used to think my purpose was to love. I used to think my purpose was to write. I used to think my purpose was to help people. But doing those things have not gone as planned. They’ve backfired or they haven’t fulfilled me as I expected they would have. They’ve left me emptier than when I began. I’ve been left on the floor, kicking into the air like an inconsolable child who’s trying to explain what’s wrong but doesn’t have the adequate vocabulary.

This could be much ado about nothing and I just have an inflated ego and have come to the conclusion that I’ve failed at life. Perhaps I have a skewed sense of self and my actual abilities. It’s possible that my insecurity has altered my perception of what the fuck is going on. It could be that the universe doesn’t hold anything magnificent in store for me, for any of us. You could even call me an ingrate.  But this restlessness in my chest never lets me forget that something – whatever it is, however small or large, real or fictional – isn’t quite right. A big part of what makes me ME is missing, undeveloped, squandered. Do I stop looking or continue the search with fury? I don’t know.

“Tell me somethin, girl / Are you happy in this modern world? / Or do you need more? / Is there somethin else you’re searching for?” – Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Doll.

I’m the doll you love until you realize your neighbor Sally has the Deluxe version with blinking eyes, a glowing heart, and baby-sweet voice so in resentment you smash your doll’s face into the ground, snip her hair, and take a pen to her arms and legs like a samurai.

Sally’s doll? She’s perfection. She has bountiful curls with almond-shaped green eyes and legs for days. She’s popular and hip and her laugh fills the room with confident glee and she can hold a conversation on basketball and politics. She’s super photogenic and everyone considers themselves lucky to know her.

I hold none of those characteristics and am left, legs distorted and hair in tangles, at the bottom of the toy chest, only to be taken out when a guest you dislike comes over and you’re bad at sharing the good stuff.

I once read: “We were all born so beautiful / The greatest tragedy is being convinced we are not.” That’s fucking sweet and all but there isn’t a single person alive who can convince me that I’m anything but the oddly-shaped, bootleg Barbie that a half-buzzed, no-show dad picks up on clearance on December 26th at Family Dollar.

Milk.

Her daughter’s curly blonde hair in hand, mid-brush, Elena looked up at her bedroom door. Even after all these years, his matching green eyes and uniform still managed to send her stomach aflutter. He set a plump duffel bag by his boots.

All packed, I see. She continued to brush Natalia’s unruly hair in hopes of finally taming it. Like she’d tried for years with her husband.

Yes.

I’m still not sure why you have to go to California again, Joaquín. You went less than two months ago.

We aren’t discussing this. You know I have business to take care of.

And the girls? They start school next week. It’d be nice if their father took them for once.

They’ll be fine. I already told them I expect academic excellence.

That’s right. You did. That’ll get them through. Natalia wiggled beneath her.

Listen, I know you don’t believe me. I’m not fucking around. I have Army matters and I have my brothers there. I can’t be in two places at once. A pause. Need anything before I go?

She watched him, unflinchingly. No. We’re fine.

I should be back in a few weeks.

Do as you wish. Her pride was unbreakable.

He watched her for a moment, his thumb flicking his wedding band. He took a step towards her chair, and his mouth formed a small o. Something in her face must have made him reconsider, because in one swift motion he grabbed his bag and disappeared into the living room, out the front door, and boomboomboom down the stairs.

Go play with your sister. She lightly tapped Natalia’s bottom and the little girl bounced out of her lap and into the playroom. Now alone, Elena allowed her eyes to swell with tears. She clenched her jaw to keep the tears from falling loose.

Her slippers quietly scraped across the linoleum floor as she made her way to the refrigerator. She didn’t need clear vision to see what she did not have. A half jug of milk, a few crinkled water bottles, and an aging loaf of bread were lonely, cold companions in the fridge.

Elena held onto the refrigerator handle, for if she didn’t, the anger might consume and dissolve her. Sadness? No, that was long gone. In a moment of absolute clarity and resolution she decided that, though she would love him until her final breaths, she would take her girls and never look back.

And look back she didn’t. Not once.

Ñ.

A few days ago, while thinking in the shower (where else?), I realized that the ñ in my last name isn’t there. Like, it does not exist anywhere. I confronted my mother.

Why didn’t you include la ñ in my last name on my birth certificate?!

Yo si lo escribi.

Obviously, you did not write it. Cause it’s not there!

Yes, I did! It was the state that didn’t include it. Ya, dejeme oir. She went back to the tv.

I was left flabbergasted. How. Dare. They?! Someone decided to ignore a crucial part of my last name and left me…with the last name Canola. Canola! Like the oil! I used to despise my last name growing up. Why couldn’t I just be a Cano like my cousins? I was teased – mercilessly – over it by my peers. I even smacked this shit out of a kid in middle school for making fun of it (and I’d do it again!). Something about it just didn’t sit right, man. Why?

CAUSE MY NAME IS MY NAME. And it’s not Canola. It’s Cañola! I hear my dad’s friends call him that and it sounds so cool to me. To say it, you reallyyyy gotta wanna say it, and with your tongue. Moreover, it’s part of our blood. It represents a lineage of hard working, ill-tempered, and hilarious people with dark hair and freckles scattered throughout their bodies. It ain’t no punk-ass’ last name, I’ll tell you that. My father doesn’t take shit from a single person, and I know it’s because to do so would be to dishonor his last name.

Is it dramatic to say that thirty-year-old Jax feels robbed of her identity? Forced to assimilate even her last name? Mufuckas wouldn’t even let me have my last name. I didn’t even know how to fucking write out the ñ on a keyboard until a few weeks ago when I messaged my cousin Nancy in an uproar at the revelation that I have been spelling my name incorrectly this entire time. Maaaaan.

Cañola. Jacqueline Cañola. That’s Jacqueline Motherfucking Cañola to you.

A.

I stole a rose from a wedding yesterday and as I held it in my hand, I remembered the time I got into your car and, in my drunken stupor, grabbed a withering red rose from your dashboard.

Who gave you this? I jealously slammed it back into its spot.

It was from my cousin’s funeral, you explained. Always so goddamn calm, even in that moment.

Oh.

I don’t remember if I apologized. But even now, years later, I think about that moment and cringe in embarrassment. Years later, holding a rose reminds me of you. Lots of things remind me of you, all the time. Today – Father’s Day – reminds me of you.

The moment I learned you were a father always manages to pop into my head, uninvited. I had hopped onto your bed and boom: The way you did that reminded me of my daughter.

Huh? What? Who?

I was baffled and upset – how do we have a six-year friendship and you have a four-year-old daughter and I’m learning about this now? You asked why I was upset that you had a daughter. I tried to explain myself but I found myself unable to do so, because the truth would make me sound like a stage-five lunatic.

I am certain you will never read this, so I will confess. I am not upset that you have a daughter. I could never, ever be upset at the existence of a beautiful and innocent little soul. I could not be upset that you had a life outside of me, seeing as we weren’t together. I am hurt and sad that she is not mine. It hurt that I was not privy to the love and beauty that it took to create her. It made me sad, because in that moment, I realized I would never be the mother of your children, your wife, or yours.

In the middle of busy and loud Kartabar, when we had known each other for a short while, you looked into my eyes and wondered who your wife would be, what your future would hold, what your children would look like. Half of me shrunk into itself with hesitation: this conversation is far too intense for a first date. The other half knew, unequivocally, who she’d be: me. I had braced myself for the inevitable but that moment, as I sat cross-legged and wild-haired on you king-sized bed, shattered it all, for our relationship was never the same again.

Every rose, every wedding, every blue-eyed and rambunctious little girl remind me of you. Lots of things do, all the time. Mostly, the things I do not have.

Happy Father’s Day. And I am sorry about the rose.