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2003-11-28 | 11:19 p.m.

I was looking forward to Thanksgiving this year because it was going to be so easy. Just the five of us and my Mom, with Bambi and the boys stopping by after for a quick visit. I wasn't going to prepare anything difficult. I wasn't going to kill myself cleaning house the day before. It was all going to be so nice.

I should have been more nervous. I should have worried more. If I had been a little less relaxed about the whole thing, maybe Bambi wouldn't have felt comfortable enough to stay as long as she did, allowing Rojo to become so overtired, and then she would have left before Rojo went berserk, or even before he called Diane and invited her over for pumpkin pie. But certainly before Felony and Rojo got to fighting in front of the TV, and way before Rojo fell down and got hurt and laughed at by Felony, leading to a tussle and a loud crash, and long before Duff pulled Rojo out and thundered at him in the kitchen--as the boy's fists and feet were churning, punching and kicking: "You--Don't--Hit--My--Daughter!!" (something he has said to Rojo, in similar circumstances, maybe four or five times before, to my intense discomfort and dislike) while twisting his arm, causing Diane to make for Felony, intending to give her what-for, only to be roughly turned away--or VIOLENTLY SHOVED, as Diane insists--by Duff, who was already questioning Felony and who SAYS he suspected that Diane intended to do bodily injury to Felony, because she was so angry, even though no one can recall her having done so at a family gathering in the whole history of Felony. At that point Diane exploded at Duff with obscenities and threats, to which Duff said nothing but advanced toward Diane in a menacing way. I would give just about anything to take that part back. In ringing tones, she assured him he would live to regret this, grabbed little Anthony up like a rag doll and snarled at Bambi, "Let's get out of here!"

For the next forty-five minutes, Duff and I scream at each other until I go hoarse. Once I have had all I can stomach of his oratorical brilliance, I offer to drive home my poor mother, who has been sitting at the table all this time with her head bowed. She managed to live here for six months without getting in the middle of one of our shouting matches, and now her Thanksgiving is ruined utterly along with everyone else's.

I can't stop crying all the way to my Mom's and back thinking about how much I hate Duff, and how now Bambi won't want me to come to the twins' birthday party the next day, and how I'll have to endure Christmas with Duff's brittle family while my own relatives boycott me, and how Duff doesn't understand Diane (and vice versa), and how stuck I am in my life and how I hope Damien doesn't suddenly show up for some testosterone-fueled showdown over his mother's honor, and how now he definitely won't want to put in that new cleanout as a side job, which means it will cost three or four times as much. Though that's not really my problem I guess because I wasn't going to pay for it anyway but still, it's too bad. And mostly, most of all, it's just REALLY unfair when everybody's mad at me and I haven't even done anything.

But then today comes. I stay in bed until noon and finally, reluctantly, call my mother, who tells me that Bambi isn't mad at me and still expects us to come to Chuck E. Cheese's and then to my Mom's afterward for cake. Duff and I hash out the evening again, which propels us forward in some way, though I still feel very upset and unsettled. Traffic is terrible. The weather is cold and dark. I grit my teeth and spend the obligatory $43 on pizza and tokens at Chuck E. Cheese's. I coax Bambi into talking about what happened with Duff, which is not terribly satisfying (Duff keeps gazing around at the arcade games, making random comments about the kids, trying to get the subject changed) but better than pretending it didn't happen. I tell Bambi that Duff has offered to apologize to Diane, but she says it probably wouldn't make any difference. I don't have time to shop for presents between Chuck E. Cheese's and my Mom's, so I hastily wrap the one gift I've gotten ahead of time in wrinkled Batman paper. I feel as if I am spending the whole day getting over the night before. Diane was supposed to come for cake, was supposed to make a cake in fact, but of course she doesn't show. I take pictures of the twins with their one shared cake. Two little boys are turning three years old, and there is cake, which means everything to them. The two older boys, though, started out the day playing a game called "Uncle Duff and Ba-Maw." After chocolate-on-chocolate cake and ice cream, the kids are all tired and frazzled again. There is much whining and negotiating and demanding and pouting and crying. My mother is relieved to see us go at last.

At home, Duff plays cards with the kids for a while but becomes progressively more tired and grouchy. By eight o'clock he sends the kids out of our room so he can sleep. I put on movies for the kids, feed the animals, and search for my still missing lesson planner. Jinx goes down last, watching Quest for Camelot. Then I come up here and write everything down, trying to get it all out of my system. The bad aftertaste of Thanksgiving.

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