Conceptually, Thanksgiving is depressing enough to begin with. It celebrates unseemly American pastimes—genocide, violent sports, overeating—and even though it presents an annual occasion for family gatherings and once-a-year dishes, there's always potential for disaster.
This year's more of a powder keg than usual: Like many others, I'll be sitting down to dinner with a Trump voter, which is making me seriously consider breaching my mother's "don't talk politics with Grandpa" damage-control rule for the first time in my life. The only other remotely stomach-churning Thanksgiving I've ever experienced was when a hospitable fellow West Coast transplant invited me over for dinner in Bronxville and I spent the evening listening to beanie-clad Sarah Lawrence bros talk about how MF Doom was "the truth" while they chain-rolled spliffs with Camels and shake.
Clearly, I have no experience with true holiday strife, so I reached out to people along with VICE contributor Caroline Thompson to hear their saddest Thanksgiving stories. Hopefully you, too, can use them to steel yourself against the potential horrors that await.
Liam, 42, Los Angeles
Since I live in LA, I fly home to Massachusetts to visit family for Christmas, but I would spend Thanksgiving here with friends in warm weather. One year, we had a lovely meal, drank way too much cheap wine, and sat down to watch Catwoman. Then, my friend Michael got completely nude roamed the apartment complex's hallways like he was just waking up and didn't know where he was. He kept rubbing his eyes and asking, "Oh, fuck, what time is it? Seriously, does anyone know what time it is?" I don't remember what happened in the movie.
Jerry, 56, Portland
One year, Grandma forgot the cranberry sauce and Grandpa accidentally farted at the dinner table. It cleared the house it was so bad.
When I was 16, my mom and I went to Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt, who was a mostly functional alcoholic and prescription drug addict. She was hosting a big crowd of family who I hadn't met since I was a baby, and while she was usually able to pretend she had her act together, the stress of this gathering was too much. When we all sat down for dinner, my aunt set out a raw turkey, presenting it as a masterpiece. LITERALLY. UNCOOKED. This turkey had never seen the inside of an oven. No, she wasn't kidding. The table erupted. My aunt grabbed the turkey and shoved it in the microwave, and it promptly exploded. She then ran into her room, locked the door, and tried to throw herself out the window.
Watch: Matty Matheson Will Teach You How to Make a Thanksgiving Feast
Mike, 20, Portland
A couple years back, we had a bunch of extended family over for Thanksgiving. We usually did it at my grandma's house, and this was the first time my mom had to do it on her own. My older brother arrived a couple hours before we ate; he was already pretty drunk and he kept at it, drinking wine, beer, and whatever he could find. He started saying some inappropriate stuff to my cousin's boyfriend, and when my mom overheard him, she flipped. They had a screaming match for ten minutes outside the house while we all tried to ignore it, and she kicked him out. I stared down at my plate while eating and went right to bed.
Harold, 50, Los Angeles
Last year, burglars broke in my home and stole all of our food the day before Thanksgiving—and we didn't have any money to buy more.
My older sister struggled with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager. For about two years before she went into treatment, she was very thin and looked on the verge of death, because she literally was. Thankfully, she got into a good program, gained back a healthy amount of weight , and was on the road to recovery. That year, my dad's sister invited us to Thanksgiving at their place. My dad and his sister hadn't been close since she got married, because he didn't like or trust her husband, who I'll call Joe. He'd tried to warn her before the wedding that Joe was a generally shitty person, but my aunt married him anyway.
We show up on Thanksgiving Day, and my aunt has been cooking and cleaning her butt off while "uncle" Joe downed beer after beer on the couch. He was really drunk by the time dinner rolled around, and generally being the douchebag my dad warned us he would be. But the real kicker came at dessert. When it came time to cut the pumpkin pie my aunt had made from scratch, he insisted on doing it himself. He stood up and dumped half the beautiful pie onto a plate, looked at my sister and said, "This piece big enough for ya, chubby?"
My poor sister, who was just starting to feel OK about eating in front of other people, burst into tears and ran out of the room. My dad erupted, grabbed the plate of pie and threw it against the wall. It took me, my mom and my aunt to stop him from beating Joe, who thought the whole thing was hilarious and kept drunkenly yelling "WHERE'D YA GO, CHUBBY??" after my sister. Needless to say we left immediately, and my dad told my aunt that if she ever wanted to see us again she would need to get a divorce. It took a few years, but now she's happily engaged to someone else, my sister works for a nonprofit that helps promote healthy body image in little girls, and old uncle Joe is in jail for repeated drunk driving. Karma is real!
Seth, 45, Missouri
I don't think I ever had a traditional Thanksgiving experience in jail. They try to simulate it, but it's a sad excuse. The food is awful, the turkey usually tastes like wood, and the mashed potatoes are really runny. The apple pie was decent, possibly because it was store-bought; sometimes they'd have holiday events like card games, a movie, or a sports tournament, but that was it. We were still locked up for all of the head counts, and also locked up at the end of the day.
Naturally, people want to be with their families—or they don't have any family because their family cut them off—so it can be a tense time. Some prisoners like to get drunk on the holidays and then lash out at other prisoners because they hate where they are. You just try to be respectable and stay out of the way of the dudes who want drama.
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