Readers Report Back From… Family/Holidays

By

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It is 2010 and I just finished Thanksgiving at Luby’s; my sister is insane.
I am too you will get to that later.
I was trying to be with her because I knew what it was like to not
have anyone when I needed.
I was away for such a long time because my home was crazy too. Growing
up I had to deal with a step-mom whose jokes weren’t good natured.
My dad was decent but was stuck in between everything:  work, children
of other men, and my step siblings were creating all kinds of trouble
too. My sister was struggling to be heard for no reason. She ended up
in hospitals at a young age. She got out with a misguided perception
of self and others. I wish I could have heard her.
I wasn’t heard and I ran. I ran from everyone’s lies and I wish that I
could not have to hear anyone’s anymore.  I lived in Austin and in
Houston the people had a local mind but sometimes I wonder if ending
up in another city state would have done anything different. Just in
going to those cities I met many people from different places. It was
almost as though I had met them ‘in another life’. They told me their
stories and with as confused as everyone gets with their symbols.  I
end up talking to people at art houses who had friends with problems
that they may end up in again because they never knew how to get out.
I don’t know how to get out still. I am going in for Christmas. Too
bad I am back in Beaumont, where I came after I was born to a street
that has my exact same birth date, 23, but in naming the sign they
didn’t get to the month or year just the that it is south and because
of opposable and its nature I may never get to the twenty fourth hour.
Family is the holidays, and so is everyone who is not in it.

— Lacy Buckley

***

There was the smell of jam and sadness.

In our family run the tightly woven threads of melancholy and dark humor. Of wanting to see to the bone of things, of not averting our gaze. I am only tempered by the joviality of my father’s side, where conversation is a defense against loneliness. Jove, Saturn.

In the kitchen, I am 27. My mother is 55. We are looking at a half-made quilt of autographs, put together by my grandmother over the course of ten years. She died when my mother was 28, I was 1. A loss that never lessened over time for my mother, a loss that terrifies me, because it runs in my veins, and I will inherit it when I lose my mother someday. I’ve watched my mother carry that loss for 27 years, strapped to her back like a fifty pound rock, with nowhere to put it down. My grandmother’s death runs through our family like a scar, it’s a look I can recognize in everyone’s eyes, the look of being cheated, of something sudden and abrupt; irrevocable. It makes our blue eyes turn to flint, brighten and deflect. The quilt: A meticulousness I did not inherit, the ability to see things through. A scrap of torn yellowed paper falls to the floor from other scraps of paper. On it, typewritten:

Dear Somebboddy,

Do you now what it is like to be a nobbody?

Love,

Nobbody.

p.s. I found your address in the phone book.

Something comes over my mother’s face, some previously unwitnessed mixture of pain and surprise. I wrote that, she says. I must have been about 12. I stuck it in our mailbox and your grandmother must have saved it. I think I just secretly wanted someone to figure out it was from me. I can’t believe she did. I hug her. I think of my mother at 12, all freckles and flaming hair and sad intensity. I think of how, after years of civil war, we are so incredibly alike. That we are a family of somebodies who think that we are nobodies.  My mother is retired, after years of rising to the top of a field run mainly by men with ivy league diplomas hanging in their corner offices. She has no college degree. She is brilliant, beloved, feared. Two years ago I turned over the bottom of a dog biscuit jar she had made in a ceramics class. Painted on the bottom in her looping scrawl were the words, “you are good enough.”

Mostly I am terrified of time, of what it can do, and can’t undo.

— Melissa Graeber

***

To me, family is the common denominator of every holiday. Once the buzzing commercial prostitution dies down, whether by blood or by choice, it’s about joining your nearest and dearest to share love. What with all the merry spirits and big smiles, it’s easy to overlook this simple fact: when we intimately interact with people, we start to figure out that we’re all selfish hypocrites, and we can really piss each other off.

My holidays are typically spent with my brother, mom, and dad. I’ve never had the family that could push all the dark sewage between us into an underground bunker for the duration of a meal. At some point in the consuming of yumminess and the small talk, something real slips out, something big and contentious that flaps its leathery wings around the table, demanding recognition. “Dad, could you pass the mashed potatoes, please?” “Sure son, here you go.” “Wow, dad, it looks like your hand is shaking, you got the D.T’s?” Normally at this point he would be able to turn on the TV, go for a walk, make a joke or some other diversion tactic, but here, in the crucible of the Nice Family Dinner, with those insistently beating wings drowning out the clattering of cutlery, he has no means of escape (well, he still has the jokes.*)

Which brings me to my favorite part of the Nice Family Dinner: The healing. The simple fact that we all love each other enough to gather around a table to enjoy each other’s presence creates an atmosphere that can withstand even the harshest pollution. In the same way that “Long, Long, Long” follows “Helter Skelter,” the cry of “Ben, you are ruining your life and need to go to college” is always followed by “and nice work on the vegetarian stuffing.” We need times like these. Those leathery wings can flap eternally, deep inside ourselves. If Pandora hadn’t opened that box, she would have been devoured from the inside out. Quoth Tool, “Give away the stone. Let the oceans take and transmutate this cold and fated anchor. Give away the stone. Let the waters kiss and transmutate these leaden grudges into gold. Let go.”

[*but not the booze, he quit drinking years ago.]

— Ben Martens

***

Abby’s father died on Christmas Eve. When she called me to tell me, I had been Christmas shopping with a boy I liked and didn’t want to leave. “It was an aneurism,” she said, “can you come home?”

We’d grown up in the same neighborhood. Our houses were the exact same model. Her room was my room, and sometimes when I woke up in hers, I thought I was in my own home. In some ways, I was.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but when I got there, no one was crying. Abby’s mother opened the door; Abby’s sister greeted me from the living room. Their hellos were full-bodied. In them were all the things we knew about each other.

They were eating pizza from boxes on the floor. There was a Christmas movie on TV with Jim Carrey, or maybe it was Will Farrell. I sat next to Abby and hugged her, thinking, that’s what I’m supposed to do. But she didn’t care what I did. She just wanted me there. No one talked, they only ate, and I thought about food, and emotion, and how they always go together. And how hunger is about more than wanting to be satiated; it’s about wanting to be filled up. Abby’s mother got up to get blankets as the next movie started. No one, I realized, would be moving for a long time. Nor did any of this feel different from how they normally spent their evenings. Maybe that was the part that made it grief.

The Christmas tree was behind us and the stockings were up on the mantle. Years ago, Abby made me one. It wasn’t up now, but I remembered noticing it for the first time.

“I have a stocking?” I had asked. “Well, yeah,” she said. And I had looked at that stocking for a long time, with its haphazard green glitter that spelled out my name, and I thought, there are so many people who aren’t lucky enough to have even one family.

— Lisa Gordon

***

In 1981, when I was ten, my parents sat me down in the living room and told me the real reason they’d separated six months ago: they were both gay.

I could hardly grasp what that word had to do with my parents, nor did I understand the slick warmth that rushed through me when I paged through my father’s copy of International Male: a glossy catalogue featuring mesh tank tops, a bewildering array of athletic supporters, and casual wear suitable for places like Puerto Vallarta .

I’d grown up in the company of TV and library books. Like most kids I liked stories, but in a few short months my family had broken free from every narrative I’d ever known. I was a nervous kid, short on bravery, the kind of kid who had to borrow courage from others, from the stories of others – I wanted to know where we were headed, what was coming our way. We’d wandered off the path into a long dark stretch of woods, and there was no trail of crumbs in this story. Nothing to do but follow my parents as they pushed deeper into the woods.

Despite my efforts to butch things up, Mom and Dad had long seen through me, though they were kind enough to keep this to themselves for a few years. Once, on a road trip to Kansas to visit her father, Mom lowered the volume on the car radio and asked me if I had any questions about sexuality. I silently fought for breath. “Um,” I finally managed. “No.” My face burned so hot that I pictured myself bursting into flames, my ashes sucked out the window and scattered across the wheat fields.

“Are you sure?” she asked. I watched a Stuckey’s billboard appear over the next rise. “You don’t want to talk about it?”

“No,” I said. “I’m fine.” As if she were a waitress taking my order

I didn’t want to be like my parents. I wanted a life with less confusion, and fewer secrets. A family you could describe in a single sentence.

It took a few years, and I had to leave home, but eventually I came out, too, and made my peace. And now I wouldn’t trade our story. As for my one little brother, he’s now married with two kids. We call him the black sheep, but he turned out okay.

— Mike McAllister

***

The time is nigh to inject a little actual therapy into retail therapy and to restore the budonkadonk–or tail—to retail.

Santa Claus got fired from the Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco for telling a dirty joke. I want to know what the joke was. If it wasn’t funny the firing is cool. If it was funny I might have to boycott, which I don’t want to do because there is an affordable and elegant silver tote at Macy’s that I have my heart set on. One second. Okay, well, I just made the mistake of Googling what the joke was and, I can’t lie, I am crestfallen. Santa! You bastard! Not only are you not real, you are also — not funny!  Still, why shouldn’t the guy be allowed to tell titillating jokes to adults who willingly sit in his lap?

But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.

What I wanted to talk about is Freud, the nice Jewish boy who made good with the talking and the couch and the smoking and the cocaine (let’s use the s-word, snow! — it’s the holidays after all). Is it just me or does your average mall Santa — as opposed to, say, the grittier down-the-chimney-style Santa — does not this jolly personage rather strongly resemble one Sigmund “Snowman” Freud? And isn’t there, between the two mythical figures, a powerful ideological connection as well? A little something called wish-fulfillment, for example. And isn’t it perfectly natural for a Santa who has spent hours listening patiently to the consumerist wishes of Vitamin-Watered young shoppers to want to share a dirty joke or two with the odd adult who sees fit to lap-dance Santa?

The point I’m trying to make is this: Holidays are stressful. They are frayed stockings overstuffed with tension and disappointment. Anything that gets us through the holidays is OKAY.

One thing that gets us through is getting stuff. Getting stuff makes us feel good, at least temporarily, at least if it’s not some bullshit gift like a donation in our name to save a banker or something. For the five to seven minutes after we receive a gift we are satisfied. (Case in point: I will be very pleased to accept receipt of the aforementioned elegant silver tote from Macy’s, the item number for which I text daily to my husband.)

Apparently there are wars on Christmas (and maybe Hanukkah). So what. There are wars on everyone and everything else — 2010 will go down in history as the year of 10 billion mini-wars, the year of the petty, the bah, the humbug, the Grinch and the Scrooge McDuck.

Getting through. Another thing that gets us through is sex. And let’s face it, for adults, Santa is all about sex. The coming-down-the-chimney business, the glowing complexion, dressing in red (the most arousing color there is) and then there is the excessive jollity. For most adults the holidays just exacerbate feelings of loss and anxiety experienced throughout the rest of the godforsaken year, which is why it will help you—  even if you are a hardcore skeptic — to BELIEVE that Santa is a lot like Freud, a bright pent-up package of libido and angst. To sum up: Holidays are about tension. Santa-Therapist is about wish-fulfillment and relief of said tension. If anything, what we need are more Dirty Santas. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Lefty O’Doul’s, the sports bar where Fired Macy’s Santa has found a new calling, administering fuck jokes to lapsed Methodists, apostate Hindus and reform Jews — avowed consumerists all.

— Melissa Price

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The “Readers Report Back From…” Series is edited by Susan Clements.

Rumpus original chalk art by Jason Novak.