Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tis the Season

Ah there is nothing like the ringing of Salvation Army bells and people yelling at me in a language I cannot understand to make me start thinking of the holidays. What a wonderfully wretched time of the year, when the family has the joys of forced relative association, drunken brawls and of course, the annual trip to the state pen to visit the locked away relatives.
It, actually, makes me think of my last Christmas with my family, the one that pretty much turned me off the season altogether…not that it was a long trip. The last time I went home to see my family for Christmas was the winter of '97. The whole trip started with a 15 hour train ride from the Midwest to the East, where I waited for twenty minutes in a nice big snow drift to be picked up by my parents. Lucky for me, my parents did not pick me up; instead I was treated to an extra special ride home in a pickup truck with my mother's lover (my fathers best friend, of course, and to add to the drama, about a month before I left home I had the pleasure of walking in on the action, which is how I knew).

So after the uncomfortable 30 minute drive to my small little ass-crack of the universe in West "By-God" Virginia, I arrived to an empty house, a strange odor, and an uncomfortable sinking feeling that this was only going to get worse.

I was conned into this particular trip home by my mother who called to inform me that all of the family needed to be together to support one another in a moment of crisis. My brother, in his infinite wisdom had somehow managed to acquire a gun, and had stuck up the village hotel. Now, being that the size of the town I grew up in is 500 souls, you can imagine that the suddenly bereft owners knew the assailant. Not that they police would have had much difficulty fingering him, as he left with a bag of money and started walking down the freeway. As he was walking, he realized that the police would be looking for someone matching his description, so he removed his clothes to obfuscate his identity. Surprisingly, the police immediately apprehended him when he walked naked past the police station, and it was yet another job well done. I was informed of all this about three weeks after it happened, which did not increase my level of concern in the least, but somehow I let myself get suckered into one last trip home.

Upon arrival I began drinking vodka with a coffee chaser. I did not sleep. I stayed up all night watching movies. I drank. I drank a little more because I wasn't sure the first drinks were doing anything. Then I had some more to drink for good measure.
The parents and sisters and my remaining brother eventually arrived to great me, but for the most part, I was a bit past my peak, so I don't really recall it all that well.

The next morning was Christmas (having gotten in on Christmas Eve), and everyone converged on the living room where I had spent the night whiling away the time with alcohol. There was present opening for my brother and sisters who were still young enough to enjoy Christmas. Eventually my mother came down the stairs, and managed to turn all the smiling faces into uncomfortably silent stones with the fight she immediately initiated with my father.

My sisters and brother began to sulk. I continued to drink. My mother started to cook. We were forced around the large table to eat breakfast. I had started practicing the habit of vegetarianism at College; my mother refused to accept this and eventually forced me to eat a few pieces of raw and bloody venison. I would regret that later. After the breakfast we piled into the van for the four-hour drive to the detention center my brother was in. On the way, I was sick. It was cold. I was uncomfortable. My parents argued in the car.

We spent about five minutes total with my brother, whose only words where to my younger sister. Those words are as follows: "I want you to have the chapstick next to my bed." Surely enigmatic, but it turned out the chapstick tube contained my brothers stash and he wanted my sister to have it.

I spent a total of about 4 days with the family. I always tried to make these trips as short as possible, but this one seemed horribly long. I did not sleep for the entire trip. I spent the night drinking vodka, and generally wanting to escape from the madness. I'd never had a great deal of fun on a fifteen-hour train ride but the train that took me away from my family was the most pleasant ever.

Why is it that the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, slam-dunk makes us do such stupid and unforgivable things? Is there a cloud of instantaneous guilt that hangs over the holidays making us more culpable to long trips that we know will only be excruciating? What is the universal force that pulls us towards the family functions that just keep going and going and going? Frankly, I have to admit, that if it were not for my email service and the cold, I might have forgotten Christmas altogether this year. And, hell, I may yet.

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