I’ve heard the saying that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” but what I witnessed one Thanksgiving evening when my parents were still living together was something a little different.
That was the year my half-Japanese, half-Guatemalan mother, Hurakan, deviated from what was the traditional non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at our house of tonkatsu (a pork shoulder dish), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), plantains, flan, and miso soup to oblige my father’s “request” for an Italian-American meal. Just the day before he’d stumbled into the kitchen, dropped twenty-five pounds of wild fowl onto the table, looked at my mother and said “es hora de probar algo nuevo!” (it’s time to try something new!)
My mother is a fantastic cook, but she struggled while making this particular Thanksgiving dinner; at the heart of her frustration was the very Sicilian turkey she had to make for my father. A woman of faith, Mother prayed both before and after she finished placing this unusual creature in the oven, but judging by the way she looked, uncomfortable in the kitchen she loved so much, I too, began to pray that the weird chicken–or whatever that thing was–could be ingested by the end of the night. But Thanksgiving is one of His busiest days after all, and so it seems that The Good Lord was unable to check His messages before the time came for us to eat, because when my dipsomaniac father—a man with a severe temper and a merciless right hook—stumbled in to the kitchen that afternoon to check on his beloved bird, he pulled the rack on which the turkey was baking so far out of the oven that the turkey, along with the juices that had been baking with it, both now raging with heat, came spilling out of the aluminum container scorching his feet underneath it. I’d heard my father violently clash with objects around the house before, but never with shrills of anguish. Everyone ran to the kitchen and my mother, with her busted lips, yelled out in horror. I ran to my room and hid inside a closet with my hands covering my ears.
My sisters kept my mother away in the living room, comforting her through all the courses of pain, while my brothers tamed the chaos in the next room. In the beginning The Father couldn’t rescue this meal and in the end, paramedics couldn’t save my father’s feet. He was covered in second and third degree burns to the depths of his soles. In the time it took for help to arrive to the house, his skin and socks melted in to a hot and sticky conglomerate of flesh and fabric, forcing the EMTs to deal with the situation in the most excruciating manner: carving off as many pieces of flesh that were vulnerable to infection as a result. Later on they would wrap up whatever meat was leftover and gave him something for the pain. My father was tranquil for once. Have you ever seen a sleeping chimpanzee?
The only thing growling right now was our stomachs. So we all helped clean up the horrible mess in the kitchen, and sat down with our mother to finally have our Thanksgiving meal. Some of it was cold, the turkey was both under and overcooked, and there was no dessert. Everyone cried just a few minutes in to dinner. But not because of how the food tasted, but because of what we found out would happen the very next day. Mom sat at the table, reached out her hands to us and said, “When you are finished eating, I’d like each one of you to pack a suitcase. You are going to need your things.” “What’s happening?” we asked. “”Es tiempo de tratar algo nuevo,” she responded. “And let us be thankful for tomorrow, it will be a better day.”
My Tio Freddy came early in the morning to pick us up, and we stayed with him for the next few weeks. Mother went down to family court, and by the time Christmas came around, we were in our new apartment, eating in peace and without fear. My father was sentenced to life at the Thanksgiving table alone. So while revenge may be a cold dish, justice seems to be served at a temperature of 450º.