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My Emotionally Challenged Christmas
By Cindy Caponera

When 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'.

On 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.

On 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 cute?"

"Mom," 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 here."

When 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?

The 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.

I didn't 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.

Besides 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.

At "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.

Later 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?"

"What earrings?" I asked, concerned but still hopeful.

"The cowgirl hat earrings I wanted to give your sister Gloria so she could wear them two stepping."

Two 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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