A Terribleminds Christmas
I hold no illusions that anybody will come by to visit here today. Shit, it’s Christmas. You’re like me, you’re already balls deep (or vagina-deep, for the ladies) in a keg of egg nog. Woody bourbon to reaffirm your alcoholism, and refined white sugar to bolster your burgeoning diabetes. Merry Christmas to all, and to all an intervention and a handful of insulin shots.
Let us speak now of Christmas memories.
To keep the mood properly holly and jolly, let’s talk about the crappiest Christmas on record. I mean, for me. I can’t speak for you — and, were you so inclined, you’d pop on down to the comment section below and regale us with a tale of your worst, craziest, or strangest Christmas.
So, crappy Christmas.
My parents are freshly separated. They live apart.
It’s three or four days before Christmas. I fly home. Dad doesn’t pick me up from the airport, but he sends this dude, who we’ll just call “Dodger.” Perhaps for its purposes as a rhyme? Who can say?
That was at a time when people could still meet you at the gate, and there’s Dodger– a tangle of limbs and a handlebar mustache — and he meets me and as we’re heading through the airport to the car, he tells me I fucked things up for him. He’d been at the airport for hours, and he was trying to pick up a stewardess (er, an “airline seatbelt-and-peanuts technician?”) and he almost had one in the bag. He tells me he’d have fucked her in the bathroom, ever the romantic.
We get in his pickup truck and start on the 45 minute drive home.
It is at this point I realize he’s been drinking.
So, now I’m on the Drunk Driver Express. Buckled in. Nowhere to go. Not like I have a cell phone where I can dial 911 secretly. Not like I can pop the door and do some cool action-movie roll-and-tumble (two guns! doves fly! the drunk driver is a bomb! bomb blow up!). I’m on this journey, like it or no. It never gets really scary — but it gets scary. Wheels over the line. Cars honking. All this on I-95. It’s almost Christmas. I’m going to die because Drunk Dodger over here is pissed off because I interrupted him getting some trim from a dim U.S. Air stewardess (er, “flight-accustomed sky sherpa?”).
The good news is, we do not die. I mean, clearly. Unless you thought this blog was like, a Sixth Sense situation. “I see dead bloggers.“
The bad news is, Dad’s home from work to meet us, and Dad’s already into the drinks, and he’s up for more. He invites Dodger to stay for a while. He invites me to drink with them. I’m 18 at that point, and my bowels are tighter than a trefoil knot due to the booze-soaked hell-ride, and I’m not really sold on this course of action. And yet, I sit. My father than regales Dodger with tales of how I got a lot of pussy in high school, and how that’s a point of pride for him (I was not, for the record, some kind of pimp in high school), and now it’s getting really weird, so I get up and I call my cousin.
She’ll come rescue me. We’ll go out. It’ll be fine.
I throw my stuff in my bedroom, I come downstairs to tell him, “Hey, oooh, sorry, got plans, gotta scoot.”
Dad sends Dodger home.
Dad then tells me I shouldn’t go out with my cousin.
He says, he contributes money toward my college education, and that money is due, and he hasn’t yet decided on whether or not to sign and send the check. Hint, hint.
So, no-go on the escape plan. I go upstairs, pissed off. I read a book. I go to bed.
Cut to the next day.
Dad still needs to do Christmas shopping. I’m to go with him. Okay, fine. I get lectures on the way. Lectures about school, about friends, about family, about everything you could possibly imagine. Fine, yes, I’m a teenager, he’s the parent, lectures are a given part of life.
We head, if I remember, to K-Mart.
He wants to get a gift or two for my mother. He’s not sure what, so he asks me. I point out a couple of things, he tells me to go get them. I do. He makes me pay for them. The logic there: “You’re 18 and in college, and your money comes from me, so it’s my money.” I guess it’s not… bad logic? Though it doesn’t exactly thrill me to be spending my last cash on somebody else’s gift-giving, but okay, whatever.
We go home.
Evening rolls around. He says he doesn’t want to wrap those presents, so it’s my job. I have to sit in front of the tree while he watches TV (and watches me). I wrap presents. He’s drinking. He keeps giving me rations of shit while I’m wrapping. More lectures.
When I get done wrapping, he drops another bomb on me.
Not only is he unsure if he should continue contributing toward my college education, but he’s also decided to write me out of his will.
I’m 18 over here. I don’t know shit for wills. I don’t care about wills. Abstractly, it’s an insult, a barb of distrust, something on par with disowning one’s blood — but concretely, I’m just confused. What the fuck did I do to deserve that? What does that even mean? Why would it matter?
He goes to bed.
I’m still confused.
And I’m kind of pissed off.
I can’t go to bed. I can’t think about bed. And the more I pace and the more I ponder, the more I start getting really goddamn angry. This is Christmas. And so far, the gifts given to me have been a drunken roller-coaster ride, the attempted murder of my college career, and a loose sort of dis-ownership of my blood from the clan. Oh, plus shame, embarrassment and uncertainty. Fa-la-la-la-gun-in-mouth-la-la-la-boom.
Something snaps inside me. Like a little glass snowflake under a boot. The whisper hiss-snap of tiny glass parts breaking.
I take the presents I wrapped, the ones that go to my mother. I put them in a bag.
I call my friend Jim, and I tell him to come get me.
I call my mother, even though it’s late, and tell her to expect my arrival.
I pack my shit.
And I write a note. The gist, basically: “Do what you want with college and the will. I’m leaving. I’m taking the presents.”
And I leave. Jim gets me. I head to my mother’s.
I give her the gifts I picked out, because fuck it, I paid for them.
Now, you might be saying, “Hey, nice way to honor your father’s memory by calling him a dick. You’re an asshole.” To that, I’d say, touche. True enough.
That’s not the point of this exercise, though. Yes, he acted like a dick. It wasn’t what I would call a “high point” in our relationship, and certainly represents a major low point — a nadir, if you will. At that point, the relationship felt poisoned, like it had gone septic while I was off for my first semester at college.
But the point of the exercise is what happened Christmas Eve. I was to go to my sister’s that evening for dinner, and originally, he was supposed to show up. Nobody expected him to, because he was incommunicado.
And yet — he did.
He was friendly, if a little… cowed? We spoke not at all of what had happened. He gave me a hard, strong hug and that was that. The night was nice, if a little awkward. He knew I was staying at my mother’s, and told me that he’d like to drive me back to the airport when it was time to fly home. He did. Still nothing was said about what had transpired, but he seemed okay on the trip, and I guess I seemed okay, too.
I don’t want to say our relationship was magically repaired — but, like a fever breaking, that septic infection had fled the body, leaving it rougher for the ride, but still intact.
And that, then, is the point. Sometimes, shit happens. Relationships go south and turn sour. Sometimes you come back from them, sometimes you don’t. You just have to hope for the best and hope that everything ends up the way it should. Life’s just too short. If the infection is curable, it’s too short not to save it. If the disease is too deep, it’s too short not to cut off the limb and move on.
That suck-ass Christmas is also a good example of how things often have a layer you don’t immediately perceive. It’s easy to see Dad as acting the jackass during this time, and certainly he was — but it took me years to see the obvious, which was that this was his first Christmas officially alone. I’d gone. Mom had left. He was sad and angry. It’s a short trip from there to feeling betrayed, and to acting like the world can basically go fuck itself in the ear. So, no, he didn’t react like a perfect father, but he did act like a human being, which is to say, fallible and confused and led by this heady broth of synaptic response and emotional knee-jerkedness. Further, I’m sure I acted like a standard teenaged dickhead, which only greased the wheels on this awful roller-coaster ride of a holiday season.
The other lesson learned there is that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. If I hadn’t written that note and bailed, that septic infection might’ve stayed in the body. Sometimes, you have to push back to clear the disease. Aggressive medication and all that. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but just bowing your head or taking it on the chin might not be the best option. Dad was the type who pushed back with his own father, and if the stories hold true, he did so in a physical way — but I guess the outcome might’ve been the same. Independence and respect? I dunno. The thing is, sometimes a relationship is pull, but other times, it’s push. Hard to know which is which, I guess; your gut might tell you.
That bad Christmas was a turning point. Took a while to properly come out of it, but it was a steady, if slow climb upward from that dark spot.
So, even the shittiest Christmas had a bright side.
Merry Christmas, peeps.
What? Was that too depressing? Oh, Jesus, fine. Fine. You mopey slugabeds.
A real quick story to get you on your nog-hogging journey –
We had a dog, and he was a golden retriever, and his name was Bear. I don’t know why. His father was Buck. For all I know, it was part of a whole lineage of dogs-named-after-other-animals: Grandpappy Moose, Great-Grandpappy Wolverine, and Double-Great-Grandpappy Narwhal the Magnificent.
Bear was on a chain outside for most of his life. I know, not a nice thing, but whaddya want? It was a farm, and he was a farm dog, and that’s just how people did it sometimes. I wouldn’t do it today, but times and people are different, so shut up. Plus, I was a kid. What did you want me to do?
Anyway, one year a real bad ice storm came through at Christmas time. Like, heavy ice, needles of the stuff, just a terrible Icepocalypse.
We decided to let Bear into the house.
He was crazy, yes, but he was a good dog and didn’t destroy anything.
But, as we stood in the doorway to the living room, we did see him do what came most natural, something that unfolded in a kind of slow motion –
He pissed on the Christmas tree.
I mean, fuck, you can’t blame him. Basically, we put the dog’s bathroom right in the middle of the floor. How perfect for him? As he whizzed and whizzed on our tree, he looked to us, slobbery and happy, as if to say, “Hey! I found the bathroom! Merry Christmas, you guys, thanks!”
Blessedly, the Christmas lights were not on or plugged in at the time, so he did not electrocute himself.
So, there you go. One last Christmas memory where the dog pees on the Christmas tree. Perhaps that’s the equivalent to what I just did to your Christmas holiday with this here blog entry.
The sweet susurrus of my urine hitting your holiday joy.
Okay, for real, Merry Christmas. Now shut up and go drink nog and punch elves.