FRESH YARN presents:
Emotionally Challenged Christmas
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."
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.
After she left the room I whispered to my sister Gloria that I took the earrings and gave them as a gift at the "Cousins Party" earlier that evening. She said I shouldn't worry.
Whatever self-talk skills I had, which at the time were minimal, could not have stopped my fast moving train. Not even a room full of shrinks could have talked me off my self-induced ledge. My head was on autopilot, and there weren't enough foil-wrapped chocolate balls in that whole Santa-shaped jar to put a dent in the pain. I finally managed to get myself in bed, frantically masturbating just to fall asleep.
Unlike me, Margie was almost always happy -- even when she was saying something socially inappropriate like, "Cindy, why are your pants always so tight?" or, "Do black people really douche with Coca-Cola so they won't have babies?" Sure she made you squirm, but she didn't suffer from spinning head and uncontrollable self-loathing disease.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and happy. It's Christmas I thought oh wait. The earrings. Those goddamn cowgirl hat earrings. Shit. There were six or seven other crappy pairs of earrings on my mother's dresser. Why did I have to steal those ones? What was I thinking? What am I going to do about those fucking earrings?
And what am I going to tell my mother? My mother. My mother. The echo was so loud I could barely walk. I had to get those earrings back. I crawled to the phone and dialed the McGarey's number, hoping Margie would answer. What was I going to say? Mrs. McGarey answered the phone. Dorothy McGarey. She went to school with my mother.
"Hi, Mrs. McGarey. Merry Christmas. Is Margie home?"
"She sure is and thank you so much for giving her those earrings. Margie!" she bellowed.
God damn. I am such a loser.
"Hey Margie, its Cindy Caponera. Merry Christmas."
"Thanks for the earrings. I'm wearing them right now."
I bet you are.
"I got two tops that match them perfect."
"Um well I was wondering -- you really like those earrings, huh?"
"Like them?! I'm putting them on the top of my earring tree if I ever take them off." She laughed slash snorted.
"Like I said I was wondering do you think I could get them back?"
"You want them back?" she squealed.
Why is she talking so loudly? I hope all the McGareys aren't sitting in the kitchen listening. "Well, it's just that my mom bought those for my sister and I didn't know it and .Okay, you know what? Why don't you keep them?"
"You can have them if you want them, but you're being a big weirdo."
She said it with so much disdain. Normally, "big weirdo" wouldn't carry that much weight for me -- except when it's said by the person that I would usually refer to as the big weirdo. After all, people generally thought I was very cool.
"No." What have I done? "You know what? You should keep the earrings. I'm so sorry I called. Please keep the earrings and forget I ever called."
As I hung up I heard her voice trailing. "She wanted the earrings back." Click.
Later that morning, as if the earlier conversation wasn't humiliating enough, I ran into Margie on the way home from church, and through her matching crochet scarf and tam, I saw the earrings. She saw that I saw the earrings and smugly touched one with her thumb and forefinger as she continued clicking confidently down the street in her gouchos and vinyl boots. I prayed for an angel from heaven to come down and shoot me in the mouth.
Clearly it was I, not Margie, who was the emotionally challenged, mildly retarded girl. I was so afraid of my mother that at the age of thirty-two I almost stole the joy of another mildly retarded girl by asking her to give me back a five dollar pair of earrings. .
I couldn't say to my mother, "Mom I made a mistake. I stole a pair of earrings and I'm sorry." The reason I couldn't say it was because it never would have been enough. Because what she really wanted to hear from me was, "Mom, I'm sorry I'm thirty-two and I have to live here. I'm sorry I disappoint you so much. I'm sorry I'm an artist and not an airline stewardess. I'm sorry you're a housewife and not an airline stewardess." So many obstacles keeping us from the friendly skies.
got up the nerve to tell my mother what happened. She waved me off with
a disappointing look. It was just one more example of proving her theories
about me to be right. First I ate and ate. Then I cried and cried. Not
because of the earrings, but because being an imperfect child should never,
ever have to be that painful. Especially when it makes another perfectly,
imperfect child so happy at Christmas.
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