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It's Thursday, the 23rd of November. Thanksgiving 2017.
I make the mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the macaroni and cheese, all while keeping my ears keen on the conversation in the next room over, where my parents and brothers sit chatting about mundane things. Good, I think, no bickering yet.
I set the table, forks and spoons and knives carefully laid upon my grandparents' old patterned place mats. My mother laughs at something my dad says, and I smile.
The boys and I start arranging dishes of steaming food onto the table, squishing serving utensils into them and joking about stupid things. Then we all file in, grabbing plates and drinks and chairs, saying our thank yous and pardon mes, as functional as we've ever been.
I leave the dining room for my camera, coming back a second later with it in my hands. But I stop, and I stare. And for just a second, I pretend this is how it's always been, how it will always be.
I pretend the smiles on my parents' faces are real. I pretend they don't hate each other, that they never did, that they didn't have the most horrible separation eleven years ago, and that they're not only getting along for the benefit of my grandparents.
I pretend my mother never tried to kill herself, and that she never met the monstrous woman who went on to abuse her throughout my childhood. I pretend she's a good mom, that she never agreed with the school bullies or purposefully bought me clothes too small for my little body that wasn't as little as she thought it should have been. I pretend she never chose that monstrous woman over her own children time and time again. I pretend that she cares about us. I pretend that she loves me like a mother is meant to.
I pretend that my dad isn't depressed, that he's never come to me crying, saying how much he wanted to put a gun to his head. I pretend my mother never broke his heart. I pretend he's not scared of falling in love again. I pretend he's happy.
I pretend my brothers are, too, and that the oldest doesn't have deep-rooted anger issues because of our mom. I pretend he never once hurt the other, never hit him when we were younger or even threatened to. I also pretend the other was never made to feel like a mistake because of our mother.
I pretend my grandparents were never disappointed with Mom, that they never shunned her or shamed her for her life choices.
And lastly, I pretend that I'm okay, that I was never damaged or broken or even bent. I pretend to have a good, healthy brain. I pretend I love myself, and that my childhood was peaceful, filled with family dinners exactly like this.
Just for one more second, I pretend this is how it's always been, how it will always be. And then I take the picture, but it comes out black.