Emotionally Challenged Christmas
I was thirty-two, I found myself living back at home with my parents,
without a dime to my name, and Christmas was looming like death
watching a fat person smoke. Why I went to live back home still
mystifies me. Between my non-exisistant self-esteem, and complete
fear of my controlling, judgmental mother, you think I would have
gone anywhere but 4201 South Wallace St. I tried. I tried everything
I could except get a job, of course. I tried to live other places.
I house and dog sat a lot. I even moved in with guys I didn't like.
But I always found my way back to Harold and Jeanettes'.
Christmas Eve that year there was a holiday event with some of my
cousins from my dad's side, and their cousins' from their mom's
sides. The evening was appropriately called, "The Cousins Christmas
Party." Each person was supposed to bring a five-dollar wrapped
gift. You know something simple like a potpourri or a nice candleholder.
I believe some people were even making their gifts. Then, at the
party, following a certain amount of drinking and noshing, we would
play this grab-bag type game where people pick and trade up gifts
without knowing the contents. Needless to say there were some winners
and some losers. One previous gathering I got a great purse. But
this particular year, however, all I got was heartache and a huge
pain in my ass.
the afternoon of "The Cousins Christmas Party," I was
in the living room of my parents' house trying to do an exercise
tape while my mom, who was cleaning out her costume jewelry box,
kept interrupting to ask me if I wanted some of her old jewelry.
Perhaps a large colored stone pin? Or a pair of leprechaun earrings
for St. Patrick's Day? Or, would I like to wear a pair of tiny wrapped
Christmas gift box earrings to the party? "Wouldn't that be
I said, in my tights, looking like one of the heavier girls in a
Jane Fonda video that they try not to show, "I'm exercising
I think of it now, perhaps she was asking me to help her go through
her jewelry in a "two girls having fun" sort of way. But
we didn't have a "two girls having fun" relationship.
We never did. So how was I to know?
other family of cousins, related to my cousins on their mother's
side, was the McGarey family. My best friend at this time, Ann McGarey,
was the third of eleven children. There were quite a few families
in my neighborhood with nine or more children. According to statistics,
with so many kids you think there would have been more gay people
in my neighborhood. But I guess when you're drunk all the time it's
hard to figure out if you're gay. One of Ann's younger sisters,
Margie, I think she was number ten of the litter, happened to be
emotionally challenged or perhaps very mildly retarded. The kind
of person who can hold a job but will probably wind up living with
her parents far into adulthood.
think much about the party until it was time to get ready and realized
I didn't have a gift to bring, or even five dollars to buy a gift
on the way. So I went to the most logical place to get a gift --
my mother's dresser.
all of her own costume jewelry, she had drawers filled with cards
for all occasions, baby outfits for both sexes, and a myriad of
other crap from her frequent trips to the dollar store. Surely I
would find something that I could wrap and bring to the party. And
I did. Here's something, I thought, a cute pair of cowgirl hat earrings.
"The Cousins Christmas Party," who would wind up picking
the cowgirl hat earrings? Margie. She opened them and she loved
them. She loved them so much she put them on. And showed everybody
how much she loved them over and over again. And I felt good that
I was able to make her, the mildly retarded girl, so happy.
that night I was at home opening presents with my family, which,
was just slightly more painful than past Christmas's because of
my no money thing, and all the extra shame that came with that.
After we finished, my sisters and I were cleaning up the wrapping
paper when my mother entered the room with one hand on her hip,
and a far away look on her face. "What the hell did I do with
those earrings that were on my dresser?"
earrings?" I asked, concerned but still hopeful.
cowgirl hat earrings I wanted to give your sister Gloria so she
could wear them two stepping."
stepping? Who the fuck goes two stepping? Apparently, my sister
Gloria. My heart sank quickly. Like
like something that sinks
very quickly. What was I going to do? What would I tell my mother?
That ogre of a woman who made me pay and pay dearly every time I
made a mistake, which seemed like most of the time. I think it was
my existence as a whole, as opposed to my individual mistakes, that
irked her so tremendously.
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