So, with that in mind, what follows is a good indication of how this process will work. The entry was written last night which is a tradition I will hopefully be able to maintain—so the January 1st entry will be done on December 31st, January 2nd on the 1st and so on. So as not to steal any possible songs from the project, I utilized my Christmas song from last night’s #Xmasmusicalcountdown selection (as seen on my Twitter feed @UnGajje ). You’ll also note a picture below. Since, in general, there will be lots of text on this site, I will try to pair a picture will each entry. No guarantees on that, but that’s my intent.
And, on that note, I give you my December sample of what to expect from the January Project!
Song: Christmas at Ground Zero by “Weird” Al Yankovich
It’s been years, but I still remember what my brother and I have come to refer to as “The Last McAllister Christmas.”
I was 16. My brother was 14. While I am not sure who was struck by inspiration first—probably me, given that I was the older one and, as a girl, vastly more mature—we both decided that it was to be the Christmas of Reconciliation; a Return to Family Christmas, if you will. We were going to save Christmas by saving our parents’ marriage. In retrospect, perhaps not the best of times to launch such an ambitious plans, but what can you do. We were young, we were optimistic, and we were feeling more than a little guilty.
You see, the thing parents never seem to get is that when their marriages are rocky, their kids are not blaming themselves. No child, on his or her own, wonders, “Did Daddy start hugging his secretary like that because I only got a ‘Satisfactory’ in Math?” But parents seem to think they do so they always rush to reassure, “I know things are tough right now, but I promise it is not your fault” or “Yes, your mom and I have been fighting a lot lately, but we want you to know that that is between us and not your fault at all.” Someone tells you something isn’t your fault enough when you never thought it was and, well, it is like telling someone not to think of the color blue. It plants idea. What was meant as reassurance curdles into self doubt and worry. Instead of, “Phew, I thought I was the root of all my parents’ marital discontent,” you got kids saying, “Mom is telling me it is not I should not blame myself an awful lot…I wonder what I did wrong.”
And so it was in our household. As my parents began to like each other less and less in a more and more public way, they began to really step up Mission: Tell the Kids They Are Not Responsible. In turn, my brother and I became more and more convinced that we were the cause of their woes. Who was to say that my inability to make Homecoming Court in the fall or my brother’s preference for costume design over football was not exactly what was bringing ruin to the Mom and Dad’s blessed union? We also secretly thought Marcie, the oldest, might have been responsible, what with spending her junior year abroad in Russia and all, but at 20 she still frightened us quite a bit so we let that theory drop.
In any case, whether it be love or guilt that spurred us into action, my brother and I went about lobbying our parents for a big, BIG Christmas with family only. Double emphasis. No dad’s buddy from work or my boyfriend or my brother’s Jewish friend Jeff from down the street who really liked Christmas. Just the family like it had been when we still believed in Santa and, as far as we knew, my parents were the happiest couple in the world.
It was a fatally flawed plan. I know that now.
So, with my brother working on my mom, me convincing dad and Marcie opting to come home after Christmas to “save the family some money during these hard times”—she later admitted to me that there was a really cute guy in her program that was also staying behind a few days and she thought she might actually talk to him if she followed suit; instead she got the flu and he made out with the oldest daughter of her host family—we got our wish. Blueberry pancakes and presents opened while we were still in our pajamas, showers, stockings emptied and pawed through, cooperative dinner preparation, dinner, cooperative dish washing, a showing of A Christmas Story, dessert, and carol singing before we headed off to bed, no doubt to crack the spine on one of the books we had gotten for gifts. We were going all out. It was, in our minds, the greatest Christmas since the birth of the Christ child. And for six to six and a half hours, it looked like we had achieved a Christmas miracle.
Then, the phone rang for Dad; a call from work. Like that, the Christmas to Heal All Wounds was derailed and things, to use the modern parlance, were about to get real.
“Sorry, guys,” he shrugged, returning to the table. “I asked Eric to swing by and start that big job and he forgot the alarm code.”
“Oh,” came my mom’s response. Or, at least, that is how it sounded to my brother and I. To my father, it must have sounded very different indeed because he straightened up as though his chair had suddenly become electrified.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he spat back.
“Nothing,” my Mom coolly replied.
“Nothing?” Dad asked, looking around the table at my brother and I, as if to say, “Can you believe her?”
Suddenly, my brother and I became very interested in our respective piles of peas.
“Yes, Randy. Nothing. I just said, ‘oh.’”
“I know what you said, Cheryl!”
“Then it is settled.”
While the room’s temperature had dropped a good 15 degrees during the exchange, I held out hope that this moment of negativity had passed. Or at the least, there would be no shouting match. For 30 seconds, my hopes were realized. But Dad never could let things go.
“I’m not the one who slept with someone else,” he stage whispered hoarsely, his gaze fixed on a point just to the left of Mom’s head.
“You…” Mom stuttered, “I cannot believe you would bring that up today. In front of the children!”
“And I can’t believe you would cheat on me with Larry,” my father said, crossing his arms smugly. Larry was a member of our church, a short man with dark circles under his eyes who favored v-neck sweaters. I am ashamed to admit my first thought upon hearing this revelation was, “Oh, Mom, you can do so much better than that.”
With that, all bets are off. The room became a fog of recriminations and snarled, spiteful observations. I caught a “Maybe if you didn’t drink so much,” or a “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” here or there, but mostly it was just a wall of ugly, chaotic noise, a yawning chasm of destructive criticism. Before I knew it, my parents had stalked off to neutral corners, my father on the porch, announcing, “I don’t have to listen to this,” while mom jumped behind the wheel of her car, mumbling something about needing some air before rolling down the street and out of sight.
My brother and I finished our food and cleared the table. We were careful to cover Dad and Mom’s remaining food in plastic wrap, gingerly unrolling the tube, sealing it tight and placing it in the fridge, front and center so they could find it right away.
Afterwards, my brother looked at me and said, exhausted, “Dad then?”
“I guess,” I responded and we headed towards the porch.
Our trio sat in silence, Dad hugging us both to him and mussing our hair.
I don’t know if we asked something or Dad just decided to talk, but he began, “It’s true. Your Mom did hav—did sleep with Larry. It was a year or so ago and only twice, but it did happen.”
“And you?” My brother asked.
“I do drink some…” Dad paused a beat, then corrected himself, “…more than I should. Or I did anyway. It was bad for awhile. Your Mom was right about that.”
“Okay,” my brother whispered in response, stood up, and walked away. I wordlessly followed a moment later.
We both went into the basement where it was always a little chilly, a little musty, and a little scary. It was also were my brother had his video game machine set up on an eleven inch television. I hated to play video games and my brother hated to play with me, but it just felt like the thing to do then. We nestled ourselves into a burnt orange couch Mom had secured at our neighbor, Mr. Fester’s yard sale and fired it up. The couch, even two years later, still smelt of Mr. Fester’s cigars, a burnt, almost chocolately odor that I could never seem to get used to. The game was some kind of football game, but with skeletons and monsters as players. Occasionally, one of them would explode for some reason. I’m not sure if it was a good game or if I played it well. I just know it felt like a hot shower after shoveling: it enveloped me, made my mind feel fuzzy, and let me just…fade from the house.
Above us, the cellar door creaked open and Mom descended the stairs. She wore an awkward grin. It was too perfect somehow, and I knew right off she had been crying.
“So kids,” she started and then just seemed to run out of steam. After a few moments, she simply nodded and sat down between us.
“What now?” I queried. I had no expectations of what her response might be. I don’t know that I could have even ventured a guess.
“Hmm…”she hummed and fell silent again for a moment. “That’s the thing, isn’t it?” she continued, before stopping once again.
Marcie called a little while later and we passed the phone around, sharing what we got and gave, what we had to eat, and finding out how miserable her flu was making it. We did not speak of bitter arguments or sobbing on the porch or orange couches that smelled of cigars. It was Christmas again, not the Christmas my brother and I had hoped for, of course, but Christmas still. Then, we all said good bye. Marcie went back to shivering and sweaty in a stranger’s house in Russia while her crush loudly, sloppily made out with the host family’s daughter. We picked up the wrapping paper, washed the dishes, watered the tree, and went to bed early.
It was the last Christmas that my parents were married. A year later, my brother, Marcie, and I spent Christmas Eve with Mom at the house and Christmas Day across town with my Dad, his new girlfriend, and her four year old child in a small brick condo. It was different, it was awkward, but it was better, too. We never had a “McAllister Christmas” again and that was okay. In fact, in time, it was kind of great.
So, what do you think? Enjoy it? If so, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@UnGajje) for various bon mots and links directing you to the newest updates on this site as well as my other various writing gigs ( Marvel, Complaint of the Week at the Living Room Times, and New Paris Press, set to debut in January although information may be available before then here).
Feedback or questions? Offer them up here or drop me a note at the aforementioned Twitter account, tim[dot]g[dot]stevens[at]gmail[dot]com or Facebook.