I wrote the following for the second in what I hope will be an on-going event here in Chapel Hill—a night of music provided by local and traveling bands and words provided solely by me at this point, but maybe someone else will read their shit in the future. That’d be cool. The theme was a sort of end of year/holiday thing and the first installment can be found here. Also, you may recognize some passages from previous blog posts, but time was short and I’m an avid recycler.
I’ve never liked the holidays. I’m allergic to pine trees. Flashing red and green lights give me seizures. Carolers embarrass me. I’m not into Jesus either. Christmas in my childhood home was entirely secular. Our one nod to the holiday’s roots was a small manger my father had had since he was a boy, with figures of gnomes in the place of celestial beings. Like the biblical Mary, ours was sexless, with a beard hanging to her knees and a staff in one hand. The one year my family sent out greeting cards was after a nearby amusement park—a place called Ghost Town with a ski lift that you rode in a loop up and down a scrubby hill, and a place to pan for gold, and giant figurines of cowboys and Indians and mythological beings—shut down. Left with no one to care for them, the twenty-foot-tall statues gradually fell over: a cartoonish Cherokee warrior’s face broken in beside a cowboy with one arm resting a few yards from the rest of this body. My father gathered my brother, sister, and I in late November and took photos while we posed in front of Santa fallen on his back, unsmiling, our arms crossed. Instead of updates about our various scholastic and athletic achievements, the mass Christmas card we sent to extended family and friends said only, “Santa is Dead.”
Indeed, Santa was dead. I was nine years old when I found out the sleigh-driver doesn’t exist. I don’t know why my father chose the moment he did to drop the first real disillusionment bomb in his twin daughters’ lives, but he told Betsy and I on a summer day so hot and far removed from Christmas that the words coming out of his mouth hurt not just for the truth but for the shock. There’s no Santa!, our he yelled as we walked in the door after an afternoon at the pool. The tears were immediate and drenching, but our dad softened the blow with the caveat, And there’s no Jesus! which we already knew. A guy born in a barn to a woman so ashamed of her own sexuality that she told her husband she got knocked up by a dude with a heavenly zip code? Right. Her baby daddy was part human and part deity but obviously an above-average lover if he impregnated her from the moon. And Jesus’s step daddy was part fag if he was believed that Mary didn’t have a thing with the papyrus man. Not exactly plausible. But Santa? Now that was a shock. Maybe the death of Santa was the moment that holidays became a time to dread. Twenty years after finding out that Santa is no more real than Jesus, I have become a conscientious objector. When asked what my plans are for Christmas, I say that I don’t participate, which makes people uncomfortable, afraid they’ve offended me by assuming that I care about Jesus’s birthday, but I really just don’t like to shop.
A few years earlier, when Santa was as real as the boogieman or President Reagan or my second grade teacher, my siblings and I made a cinematic reenactment of the traditional Christmas story as a present for our mother. Our dad filmed us with an early ’80s camcorder so heavy that you had to rest it on your shoulder, and we recruited kids in the neighborhood to act as the extras—wisemen and shepherds and a couple of sheep on all fours with towels over their backs. My brother played Joesph, my sister played Mary, and I played the inn keeper whose prophet margin was more important than providing a sterile environment for the virgin birth. None of the neighbors would lend their babies for the starring role, so our six-month-old puppy played Jesus. But because puppies would rather play-tug-of-war then be swaddled in burlap, the video consisted of ten kids running through our house trying to grab the holy ghost and culminated in innocent voices singing Silent Night right before Jesus shit under the kitchen table. My mom was thrilled with the video, both because she encouraged any creativity displayed by her children and she knew it would piss off her Catholic mother-in-law, who told us that we would spend eternity in a Hell where your ice cream melted just before your first taste unless we convinced our parents to have us baptized.
Christmas is the most boring day of the year when you’re grown. If you’re with family, you exchange civilized gifts, everyone taking turns and thanking each other. You say how perfect your new set of knives is, how thoughtful it was for your sister to notice that your knives were dull the last time she was at you house and how nice is was of her to buy you new ones even though your knives are dull because you don’t cook. And you really do appreciate the knives, but not as much as you would have appreciated a bag of weed and a vibrator. If you are alone on Christmas, if you can’t get off work or if you don’t want to get off work or plane tickets to your parents’ house back in Omaha are too expensive and you have no girlfriend or boyfriend and it’s not like your three a.m. fuck buddy is going to take you home to meet the family, Christmas is as fun as using a bathroom after someone has emptied his colostomy bag into the toilet. The only gifts to open are envelopes and the only surprise within them is the amount your grandmother sent, which is never quite quite enough for a bag of weed or a vibrator. Everything is closed. You smoke the last of your pot because even your dealer is out of town, eating ham with the parents who think he works in IT. You order Chinese takeout wonder if this is what Christmas is like for Jews.
And then it’s New Years and you reflect on another year gone. I woke up early this morning and was lying in bed listening to my girlfriend sleep, which is not something I generally do because she is the type of person who wakes up and goes to work in the morning and I am the type of person who dreams that Trader Joe’s sells pound bags of an organic cocaine with really low addictive properties for the price of brown rice and then wake up so happy and then gets so sad a second later when realizing that it was just a dream and there’s no such thing as cheap cocaine. But this morning she was sleeping beside me and her dog was sleeping by our feet and I started going back over 2009 in my head and feeling very proud of myself for this year and for waking up early while my girlfriend and her dog slept and NPR played white noise on the radio. I felt so wholesome. Granted, my thighs might have been a little sticky from sticky gay sex, but it was sober gay sex, and sober gay sex is a healthy thing and not at all painful like other healthy things; for example, getting your pap smeared.
Reflecting on the past twelve months this morning, I think about how exceptionally good I’ve been. See, until recently discovering the human joy in waking up without a brain mushy and wet and trembling with alcohol and shame, I have a history of bad behavior. In recent years, the bad things that I’ve done are heavily dependent on how close my relationship with alcohol is at the time. The better friends booze and I are, the more my conscience and reputation recede. But now look at me, I thought this morning. Look at the girl sleeping beside me, a snoring furnace with dimples and wooly socks and a really great ass. I’m sleeping beside a girl I talk to not just at night when I’m trying to persuade her out of her clothes and into my bed, but also during the day when I eat solid food and go for walks and make plans to do things like fly kites and buy islands and winter in the Maldives. It’s so different from a year ago, when I woke up Christmas morning when my professor’s eight-year-old son walked into her bedroom while we were both passed out naked after celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus with bottom shelf bourbon. The kid wanted his presents but instead learned about a new side of his mother’s life: the gay side. His mom yelled at him to get the fuck out and I felt like I killed Santa. And look at me now. What a year. What a very calm, very easy year.
And I keep glowing in this as I listen to my girlfriend’s breath move in and out. After years of bad decisions and misbehavior and doing things that may or may not have included infidelity, academic dishonestly, petty theft, and once giving my ex girlfriend’s name, address, and social security number as my own after ending up in the ER after a drunken bicycle accident, I am ending one decade and starting a new one with a day-time girlfriend and her puppy. I am so proud of myself for 2009. I have been so good. And then I start cataloging the events of the past year and realize that it hasn’t exactly been 365 days of sunflowers and pony rides and it’s maybe only been in the past few months that I’ve been acting more like an adult and less like someone with a drug problem in place of a conscience.
Example: Inauguration Day. This was a big one for all of us. You probably remember it as the day snow dropped on your hometown and your boss said you might as well take the morning off and watch the inauguration since the busses weren’t running. You cried that morning, sitting on your couch with your kids, who really just wanted to sled. You let them, of course, but you made them watch their new president speak first. And I cried too, not just because it was a beautiful day and a beautiful moment, but because the bars opened at eleven in the morning to broadcast the inauguration and I started drinking then and didn’t stop until later, much later, when the snow had cleared but the sidewalks were still icy and when I walked home, part drunk off collective joy but mostly just drunk, I slipped off the sidewalk and onto my face and then spit my front tooth onto North Greensboro Street. This not only made eating, drinking, and breathing problematic until I could get my tooth replaced, the accompanying scabs made it look like my face had become a winter home for a colony of herpes.
This morning, Inauguration Day seemed so long ago but it wasn’t actually my only night of unfortunate decision-making this year, or, rather, not making decisions at all but letting booze make them for me. I realized this as I looked down at my bed, which was given to me by a friend who moved across the country just after her girlfriend found out that we had slept together. So there was that, the cheating and then the revelation of the cheating, which culminated in a week long hide-out in which I turned off my phone and closed my blinds and waited for everyone to forget the thing that I had done. And toward the end of that self-imposed sabbatical, I woke up in the middle of the night to a loud and insistent banging, first on my door and then on my bedroom window, at which point I stopped breathing and hid under my covers, sure that the window-banger was the girl who deserved to restructure my guilty face. And when the banging stopped and the breathing started I was awake, very awake, and then I was karma-slapped again when my neighbor upstairs started having the kind of sex that isn’t just about speaking springs but is also about sounds, human sounds, the very thing I hate to hear above all the things I hate to hear, more even than grinding teeth or Kenny G. Things are different now, and I know this, but there are a few other memorable events of 2009, chief among them being the second threesome I participated in this year, in which I learned that female ejaculate can be surprisingly forceful and also smells like pee.
But here I am now, watching my girlfriend sleep. This is not the girl who shoved her fingers inside of me with so little grace that my junk swelled up like a baboon’s ass. This is also not the Italian American who was attracted to me because I cured a yeast infection by sticking whole cloves of garlic in my cervix. And it is also not my best friend or my best friend’s girlfriend or the mime just old enough to vote. What do all of those girls have in common? The teacher and the squirter and the friend? We all tangled our lives together in a puddle of booze. They are all people who would be friends or acquaintances or strangers but not one-time lovers without a high blood-alcohol content and a disregard for what is right and what is good.
On New Year’s Eve, Ecuadorians construct effigies of the bad things or people in their lives–the one night stand that left you with a fresh STD, the cousin who invested your savings in old Levis that he planned to sell to Russian teenagers, the husband who left you for a personal trainer named Jimmy. They make their effigies from old clothes stuffed with hay and light their bad luck and the past year in the streets. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Maybe I’ll say goodbye to 2009 and walk home with my girlfriend, our fingers touching, to her treehouse or minem with our toothbrushes and sides-of-the-bed. Will it last forever? Will their be fewer mistakes to burn next year and fewer still after that? Maybe. But sangria in the summer and bourbon in the winter are so good, and so sometimes is a night of complete oblivion, when you achieve an almost Buddhist state, where there is no yesterday and no tomorrow and no consequence as long as the bottle is in your hand and in your head. Greater still, though, is this—watching this girl sleep, lying together in the last hours of the decade, our organs beating not as one, but beside each other in real and asymmetrical time. What is greater is that the year is turning over and, maybe, this time, so am I.
On more thing. I want to thank everyone who has donated to my Keep The Domain fund. People have been very generous, but I still need to raise about sixty dollars by the fifteenth if I’m going to renew this domain for another year. Please donate! Also, to everyone who already has contributed, your postcards are forthcoming….