Merry Christmas Husband

Missy wants us to know that she is going to say Merry Christmas. Damn the torpedoes.  She offers this up like an extra dollop of whip cream snuck from the kitchen for our tutti-frutti breakfast meal. When I pick up the check it is sticky from maple syrup and scribbled across the top is Happy Holidays ya’ll!  a smiley face dots the “i”.

“Corporate’ll see that,” She says by way of explanation and grants us an upside down smile. She wipes the sweat off of her brow with the back of her hand to reveal a plump forearm riddled with blue shaded tattoos of roses, snakes and skulls.   I wonder if corporate has seen that.

I look across the table at Paul and he can see by the slight shift in my expression that I am about to challenge her, so he cuts me off.

“Good for you, Merry Christmas!” He says enthusiastically and hands her his credit card.

We leave the restaurant and begin the continuation of our drive through rural Virginia to my mother’s house in North Carolina.  There are billboards screaming “Choose life!” church signs stating that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and crudely constructed crosses perched atop red clay hills. Mixed among the messages is a sign for a gentleman’s club featuring topless ladies and a bright red hand advertising Miss Gina the palm reader.

“I hope Miss Gina’s first name is Va,” I say to Paul.

There is a long pause before he gets it.

“I don’t mind if someone says Merry Christmas, but why do they have to say it like “fuck you, I’m going to say Merry Christmas? What if we were Jewish?” I ask Paul.

“But we’re not,” he says staring straight ahead.

“She didn’t know that. She didn’t know that we were gay either,” I say and hope that Paul does not try to challenge my fuzzy logic.

“Would you like to go back and tell her this?” Paul asks and then continues “I could lay a big sloppy wet kiss on you in front of her.”

I put a check mark in the naughty list column in front of Paul’s name.

We cross the border from Virginia to North Carolina and my lungs constrict.  A list of all of the sanitized terms that will be used to describe the man sitting next to me flicker through my mind like giant black lettered billboards:  Partner, boyfriend or simply Paul, like some man who has showed up for a day in my life.  

Let Missy pour out her sticky sweet Merry Christmas greetings.  The power is not in the reception of the message but in the ability to define and convey your love through a phrase or a word.  Turning to the man sitting next to me I place a hand on his knee and say “Merry Christmas Husband.”


Riding in Cars

I am marking a line in the middle of the car seat, karate chopping it saying “Here. Here. Here,” down the blue naugahyde. This is my side and that is yours. When my younger brother John’s toe illegally crosses the border I karate chop again and alert the National Guard.

 “Mom! John’s on my side!” 

My mother turns her head to regard my father’s profile without removing her sunglasses. She grabs a loose strand of hair twisting in the breeze from the open window and guides it behind her ear. Her shoulders slump. My father flicks the butt of a burnt out cigarette through the open window and performs a karate chop to the blinker.  For the rest of our annual drive to the outer banks of North Carolina, I sit alone facing backwards with the brown paper grocery bags crowding me on both sides in the way back seat of the wood paneled station wagon. I watch the world recede, rows of tobacco plants flickering by.

He WAS on my side.

The week after that vacation my parents marked an imaginary line down the middle of our lives.  “Here. Here. Here.” This is my side and that is yours. My father claimed the pretty young blonde and my haggard mother got four rambunctious boys. 

We all shifted positions.  My older brother Chuck moved to the front seat with a red haired boy’s determination, occasionally firing warning shots in the form of a stuck out tongue or middle finger. The battle would escalate until my mother would glance in the rear view mirror and catch me retaliating by attempting to flip my brother the bird, holding all of the fingers on my right hand down, except the middle one with my other hand. I learned to watch the road pass behind me without ever knowing what was coming up ahead of me.

On the rare occasion when I am in the driver’s seat now I am filled with anxiety about what COULD be down the road.  What if there is no parking?  What if the traffic is bad?  Oh, I hate turning left on the Harvard bridge. 

We are driving down Mile Road, the marsh sparkling on either side of us.  I am in the front passenger seat, Paul as always is in the driver’s seat and a fresh set of troops are in the back.

“Dad, let’s go to the beach closest to the restrooms.  I’m on my period,” a command comes from the back seat.

“Your father is on his exclamation point,” Paul shouts back, referring to my constant issue of warnings.  Watch out for this car! That person isn’t looking! There’s a parking spot!  Everything around us a clear and present danger.

When I issue one more piece of advice Paul turns to look at me without removing his sunglasses.

“What’s your job?”

“To sit here and look pretty,” I say staring ahead.

Isak Dinesen said “God made the world round, so we would never see too far down the road.”  It’s a quote that appeals to me, even if I cannot seem to embrace its full meaning. Paul angles the car into an impossibly narrow parking spot.

“Have I crunched you yet?” He says.

“Not yet,” I say and I know he never will.

But that doesn't stop me from worrying about it.


Word Vomit

After the third (or fourth?) glass of wine I tell Sam that I write because I believe in life after death.  Both of these statements are true.  I write.  I believe in life after death.  But, I can’t connect the two in any logical sense and he can see that I am struggling with the word vomit that I have just chucked up onto our high top bar table.
“Because you’re going to come back and find what you wrote?” he asks me.

“P-Possibly,” I stutter and take another sip as his eyes narrow.

I am waiting for him to say this is the stupidest shit he has ever heard.  But he doesn’t, which surprises me.  He reaches into his drink with his index finger and thumb, plucks out an ice cube and pops it into his mouth. He pushes his eyeglasses up on his nose and shrugs.  I think he has finally decided to find my pointless statements charming. 

“Dameron, check out that dude,” he says while crunching the ice cube and motioning behind me with a nod of his head. 

Correction: He has decided to ignore my pointless statements and cruise the bar. When my head spins around, he admonishes me “Don’t do a Linda Blair!” But, he drops the “R” so that it sounds like Blai-uh. 

My face contorts reflexively into a disgusted look.  He laughs and says “C’mon’, he’s adorable.”

I’m sure his mother thinks so I think, but I do not say this aloud.  He has forgiven my word vomit. I’ll give him this face vomit.

We’ve been friends for six years now and this is our equivalent of the monthly sleep over; brushing each other’s hair, playing records and talking about boys.  We plan significant events together; fiftieth birthday parties, trips to Florida. Our exploits from the past have already taken on the sepia tinged quality of urban legends, referenced in some way each time we get together. 

“OK, let’s do our ‘Where’s Waldo?’,” he says to me and we rotate our heads like Linda Blai-uh minus the projectile split pea soup.  There is is no sighting of “Monkey Boy” or “Y” who we always reference by placing our hand in the middle of our scalp to signify how advanced "Y's" receding hairline has become.

We don our coats and amble on the brick paved sidewalk to Fritz, where the ceiling is painted black, surly bartenders hurl drinks, Donna Summer is moaning on the stereo and men pretend to watch sports on the wall mounted TV’s while they check each other out.

“This place is a fuckin’ dump.  It needs to be gutted,” Sam says.

He is referring to its imminent closure and reopening as a fancy new restaurant.  But still, we find ourselves here once a month.

When it’s time to go we walk to the corner together.

“See ya’ buddy,” Sam says and gives me a hug. My throat catches.

He walks towards the South End and I walk to the Green Line, the new Liberty Mutual building towering over us.  Hard to believe how much has changed in just six years.  I met Sam at the lowest point in my life when I felt like I had no friends.

When I step off of the T, I take a wider arc than is necessary, my spatial judgment impaired. “Damn Sam,” I laugh and think I must remember to write down this scene. In the morning, head throbbing, I find a note that I had taken on my iPhone: I write because there is life after death.


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