November is a pretty big time of year for me, and for Alexis.
Like her, I always went to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving to celebrate with my mother’s side of the family. Any turkey less than 18 pounds was “just a big chicken” by my Papu’s ruling, and my sisters and I would peel potatoes with our Nana and set all the tables while my four male cousins cleaned up after. Everyone was involved in Thanksgiving, and it was great. We spent the whole week lounging around, enjoying each other’s company. It was a warm and happy space.
Then, when I got to college, I stopped wanting to go. It was great to see them, but now people were doing things like asking me what I was going to do with a fine arts degree and guilt tripping me into coming because, what with my Nana and Papu’s advancing ages and their brushes with cancer, “we didn’t know how many Thanksgivings we had left.”
The Thanksgiving after Papu and Uncle George had died was the hardest. We were still at the same house, but we were missing two people who were supposed to be there. Then my cousin Jack died just after. He disappeared from the Arizona State University fraternity outing he’d been on and showed up two weeks later dead in Tempe Town Lake. It was December 16th that they found him. My cousin Alex, Jack’s twin, still hates this time of year because of that day. But this year, I cooked all of my family’s Thanksgiving recipes for the first time, and my cousin Nickolas (Alex’s older brother) is having his wedding ceremony. We can’t change that we don’t have big family Thanksgivings in southern California anymore, and we can’t change that we’ve lost a lot of the people that we would have wanted there with them. But we can cook the food that makes us feel close to those people, and bring new people into the family. We’ll have something new and warm to gather the family up for and celebrate this holiday season.
Alexis brings her version of all this trauma up as the reason she doesn’t want to go see her family for Thanksgiving. This whole chapter is about reclamation—turning things with bad associations into something good again. She doesn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving, because it means she’ll have to see her mother—so we take her mother out of the equation and let her spend it with Terry instead. She doesn’t want to wear her father’s old shirt, even though it has warm memories attached, because it still makes her think of her dad—so we take him out of the equation and make it Terry’s shirt instead.
Half of trauma is finding ways to outsmart it. Alexis has a line in Chapter 12 about how unhelpful brains can be when they link things like seeing your mother for Thanksgiving to life threatening situations. This is what triggers are—small things that don’t necessarily connotate danger but make someone feel like they’re in danger anyway. Here’s some more information about triggers, how they form, and how to identify them.
We don’t see Alexis’s anxiety actively triggered in this particular chapter—although we have seen it happen in previous chapters. Instead, she knows that certain things will trigger her. For example, wearing her father’s shirt and going to Thanksgiving with her mother. Being aware of those triggers and being good about her own boundaries, Alexis is able to redefine and reclaim both her father’s shirt and her Thanksgiving.
We also talk a lot about endings in this chapter, both the finale of Serenity Peaks, death as an inevitable ending, and the happy endings of weddings. Endings are a big thematic part of Author X Audience as the entire story so far happened because Alexis herself missed the ending of Terry’s movie. But endings also make room for beginnings: Terry’s characters moving on to have other new adventures, different from the ones of the show; Alexis celebrating Thanksgiving with Terry and getting to spend it working on her script; going on a date to a wedding.
It can be really hard to let go of painful things. And really, we can’t go back to being the way we were before those things happened to us. But we can choose how we continue forward. We can’t control everything, but we can dictate our boundaries and choose how we carry the things that were out of our control. And, so long as we can hang on and take care of ourselves as best we can, things are bound to get good again.
I hope you’ll all look forward to the next chapter of Author X Audience to see how those themes continue to play out! And happy holidays, all.