The boiling oil from the deep fried turkey spit like a geyser drenching the concrete slab beneath. Despite her uncle declaring his fluency in this kind of cooking, it was clear to Elizabeth that he had no idea what he was doing. The remainder of the family, who had gathered to watch the turkey being dipped, moved back, away from the grease and flame. Some of the cardboard that her uncle had fashioned into a makeshift grease screen was now on fire. Elizabeth's Aunt Gloria dumped a glass of ice water onto the cardboard before Uncle Bob could stop her, causing small, feathery flames to cascade downward to the lawn.
In the end, only a bit of grass and a couple of egos were scorched. Miraculously, the turkey survived, and to Elizabeth's delight, was perfectly edible. The turkey would be the highlight of her Thanksgiving dinner with the family. The rest would be a hell that she knew all too well, and too often.
Her family was tried and true, God fearing, southern Catholics. She too was raised in the faith, but abandoned the idea around the age of thirteen. She had always had more questions about the world in general than the rest of her family, and when the church could not answer her questions, she began to look elsewhere for the answers. She had decided that organized religion was just a brick wall that kept other knowledge out. She continued to go to church for a couple of years for appearances, but at seventeen, Elizabeth declared to her parents and brother that she would not be attending church on Sundays anymore. She had a different outlook than they did, and she hoped that they could respect that.
They could not.
The months after her declaration were filled with attempts to change her mind. Religious books were left on her bed. Dinner conversation was less focused on the day's tribulations as it was on the glory of the Almighty. Father Duncan, from her former parish, made several house calls under the guise of dinner invitations, though his focus had been perpetually on her. He soon began to come over every day to speak with her, and during the summer he would come at odd times; like when her parents weren't home. On one occasion, the last as it turned out, he put his hand on her thigh. When Elizabeth removed it and crossed her legs away from him, he put his arm around her, pulled her close, and then moved his hand lower on her back than any Godly man should. She swung away from him and slapped him with as much force as she could muster, and then she started laughing. She laughed so hard that tears streamed down her face, and nasty snot bubbles began to burst from her nostrils. Here was this holy man who was supposed to save her and shepherd her back to the fold, and all he really wanted was to get his jollies like any other guy.
“Get the fuck out,” she calmly stated as she opened the door to her room.
Though he continued his service to the local parish, Father Duncan never made any further attempt to convert Elizabeth.
Soon after, she got a horrible job at a dingy dining establishment aptly called The Shack. She hated it there, but she saved every penny she made, and in just two months she was moving out of her parents' house and into the world alone.
A woman free from religious tyranny! That was what she called herself.
It took several years to realize that her hatred for religion was not what she needed either. She eventually understood that neither blind faith, nor complete rejection held much value. She simply had to be herself, and that thought brought a peace with it that she still had to this day.
The struggle came when Elizabeth returned home. She didn't come back often, but she made it a point to come home and see the family on holidays. She still cherished the notion of families, and that romantic thought kept her coming back. She had married a wonderful man, Tony, and with him, she had a beautiful daughter named Emily. They didn't come with her this Thanksgiving. Tony had long since given up on her family. He had never discovered the peace that Elizabeth had found. However, her daughter was a different story. Elizabeth didn't want Emily to be there. Peace or not, she didn't want any of that Christian hate mongering goo to dribble over her poor daughter.
So this Thanksgiving, Elizabeth was alone, surrounded by the people she loved for the sake of loving, and whom she knew might not actually love her back. As she sat at the dinner table, fork in hand and napkin in lap, she glanced around at them. They were like pigs at the trough, stuffing their faces. All except her grandmother who was looking back at Elizabeth, her eyes filled with contempt. Elizabeth believed that she could actually feel the beams of hate shooting into her as their eyes met. Her grandmother looked as though she was about to speak, but Elizabeth's Uncle Mike interrupted their ocular exchange with the same comment that he made every time he saw her. “So Lizzy, we haven't seen you in church in a while.”
“Yeah, it's been a while, hasn't it,” Elizabeth said. This was her standard response, every time, to try to avoid the conversation. She was always avoiding something when it came to her family. She knew Mike would push the matter though, and she was prepared to quietly swallow her anger just as she always had.
“Lizzy you know that we just worry about you. We all do. We simply want to make certain that you're okay, but we never hear from you.”
“I know, Mike. I've just been busy with work is all. And with Emily and the addition to the house, it seems like I just don't have any time at all these days.” She hoped that would be enough to halt the inquisition, but then she noticed her grandmother. Elizabeth got the idea that those eyes had not left her for a moment. That angered Elizabeth. She could feel fiery words boiling up from the pit of her stomach, threatening to escape from deep down where she had banished them. As Mike pushed on the subject again, those words erupted, flowing like lava over everyone at the table.