Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Christmas (A Fictional Exploration)

I want to celebrate Christmas. It has been too long that I have done so.

It is not for lack of trying. There have been too many long pauses and silent moments between phone calls, E-mails and text messages. Family disconnected from me. There are too many reasons to spell out as to why. There are too many fingers worth pointing.

Nothing is OK at home, either. My so-called partner left. Again, there are too many reasons to parse out. My so-called friends already took sides on social media. I know why – I am the auslander. I was not born here. This is not my home.

Perhaps this Christmas is my getaway. Going way from what? Leaving behind an ex with a list of crimes against my own humanity. Leaving behind a clique who decided to close the wagon circle in front of me. Leaving behind a three-quarter empty apartment that was supposed to be full of life and vibrancy.

What do I really have left? What about my so-called job? It never fulfilled me to the point of wanting to do more with the company, my superiors, my co-workers and anyone else involved in what I do. Maybe I should leave that behind – albeit temporarily. 

On the Friday evening before Christmas, I plotted my course. I need to get away from Ice Station Zero – Minneapolis. My destination – a manicured detached home in Northern Virginia where my family called home way before I was born. It is a place where memories were born – my first fastball, my first solo rumba, my first intimate moment…and my last argument with my parents and siblings.

It did not take long to start packing. A 25-inch upright will do for what I need. I will throw in enough for a mixed climate, as the Weather Channel foretold. My backpack will have my laptop and my camera. I could throw in my drum – a companion on even the quietest night. It will be a two-day drive, I figured. My credit card is in good standing for an overnight halfway there.

My iPhone is charged up, but a connection to the USB in the Dodge Dart would help it along. My Tungsten-colored baby is all turbocharged and ready. No need to plug in the address in the navigation. I know the way there.

After a call into work telling them I was sick and a full pump of premium, I set off eastbound on Interstate 94. It was a quiet Monday morning. The temperature was just zero. I heard of icy conditions further down the line. Knuckle down and hope for the best, I told myself. The turbo was cold, but willing to get through Saint Paul traffic towards the Saint Croix River into Wisconsin.

The cloud provided every song I ever bought from Apple. Songs I used to think were cool all of the sudden popped up through my speakers. Did I really buy that Buju Banton song? Lady Saw? Montell Jordan? What is Adam Levine doing on that song? Tim McGraw?!? They all have my money.

Bypassing Madison, I was reminded by the worst moment I had with someone I was intimate with. There were choice words to describe said person. I wanted to vomit as I drove past the Beltline, but I had many miles to go.

Supposedly, I am good at chucking coins into tollway bins. I figured I knew how much each gate cost without reading the signs. I am in Illinois. Wild times…why does Chicago bring out my evil side? It seems I left my morals behind for a number of Memorial Day weekends. Yet, I would come home safe, sane with a Cheshire grin every time.

The path beyond the South Burbs had never been traversed by car in a very long time. It is as I was arriving in uncharted territory. Still, Indiana appears on my navigation. I am almost eight hours on the road from Minneapolis and my fatigue has set in. Rest? I did a few stops along the way. My adrenaline tells me to keep going down Interstate 65 towards Indianapolis. Where would I make a bed? There? Or, further once I merge on eastbound Interstate 70?

Somewhere between Indy and the Ohio border, I pulled out my iPhone to find a place to sleep. I figured I was three hours from Columbus, since I did not feel that Dayton would be a good place to rest. A motel popped up on my app somewhere near Ohio State. I booked it and drove the Dart right towards it.

Ah, Columbus, it has been too long my friend! The last time I was here, I had plenty of friends I could drink and become very intimate with. While I was a sinner in Chicago, I was almost a saint in Columbus. The motel was a familiar spot. I wished I could instantly recall why. Maybe it is best that I forget about it.

In my mental Rolodex, everyone I knew here had left. Some of them went to San Francisco, some to Raleigh-Durham, a few to Palm Springs – the places where others would leave after they tire of this place. I was again alone. I suppose there is an app for that.

The next morning, I had atoned any behavior I incurred my only night in Columbus. A Tim Hortons breakfast was my penance for my sins. Back into the Dart, I went. My only way was on Interstate 70 and the mountains. I was really looking forward to this drive.

The points of contention in Minnesota fell away in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Turnpike welcomed me onto the first big barrier of creating this nation. I love mountains. I love elevations. I love the freshness they exude. Why can I not have these every day?

The mountains were behind me. I became angry again. Perhaps I think too much in my driving, or that I do miss the mountains. I was on Interstate 81 around nightfall just crossing into West Virginia when this came about. I needed to stop the car. I want to sort it out.

The rest stop was West Virginia’s welcome center. It had become colder, but warmer than I left Minnesota. I needed to get away from people, including the church group that was serving coffee and punch at the rest stop. I saw a deep part of the rest area that I could calm down. I simply walked straight to that area, found a bench and sat down.

There was stillness in my space. My boots felt comfortable. My parka fit just fine. My pants were dry. I was covered in my skully, though I could use the hood from my sweatshirt to further comfort me. It took time to process my anger. Flashes of the past year, compounded by scenes of holidays past with my family. I needed clarity. I needed an answer.

There was so much to think about that I forgot to cry. I felt like it. I needed to grieve. Yet, I am a state away from my destination. Perhaps I should attempt the final leg before it is too late.

The journey onto Interstate 66 was nerve racking. Traffic was running smoothly. I had more than enough fuel in the Dart to make it. Yet, something jarred my mind back on Interstate 81. It felt like an emotional wind shear just hot me as I turned off Interstate 70. There was no time to analyze my emotions – my destination draws near.

Manassas made way for Fairfax County. Interstate 66 made way for the Beltway. I exited near Tyson’s Corners and meandered into McLean. I began looking for that manicured detached home that belong to my parents. It was not far.

The house was in sight. It was lit., but only from the windows. Where were the Christmas lights? Where was the tree? Where was my mom’s Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan?

Yet, the place looked immaculate. I did spot my sister’s Lexus ES in the drive. I parked the Dart behind it and simply walked up to the house. There was a spooky feeling about it, but perhaps that was some lingering memories of the place.

The door opened. It was Carol. She looked like she just saw a ghost. She slowly opened up the storm door and welcomed me in lukewarmly. We never got along, but perhaps something had changed. She examined me to see I was indeed who I was. Then, she gave me a hug.

“You never got our letter,” Carol said, “I am so sorry…”

“What letter?” I asked.

“Mom and Dad were killed a month ago,” began Carol in a calm manner. “They were on vacation in Florida when their car was hit head-on by a drunk driver.”

Emptiness took over my body. My parents and I had many disagreements in the past – politics, lifestyle, and the choices I made for myself. Yet, I came all the way to make amends and…they are gone. Dead.

“I was not sure how to get a hold of you,” Carol try to explain the rationale for not letting me know about the death of our parents. “I had an address, but not sure how current it was…”

“It’s OK,” I tried to calm the fears of my loss in communications to my sister. “I would have not been able to handle it.”

Carol looked at me wearily as we sat at our parent’s dining room table. “I was worried about you,” Carol began. “I knew that the four of us had our disagreements in the past. He knew that how your life was different than ours, but I never knew how to accept that and love you at the same time.”

I looked at her with concern. Was this some sort of attempt at an apology? How sincere was this? Carol certainly chose her words very, very carefully. Yet, I was wondering if this was something sincere, but contrived, as in a soap opera or reality television series?

Carol asked: “Were you planning on staying out here for a while?" I replied that I would be in the area for a few days. She offered the house to stay in. My siblings had their own families to tend to – dotted on the northwest side of the Nation’s Capitol. I was alone, but the house was unoccupied. It still had all of my parent’s furnishings and a bed I could sleep in.

I finally agreed to stay at the house. It was Christmas Eve. I figured I had a better chance to get through the next day inside of this palace than at some nearby hotel.

After Carol left, I brought my bags inside. I did not want remember each piece of furniture and art that remained in tact a month after Mom and Dad perished further south of this place. I just wanted to truck my bags upstairs to my old room and go to sleep. As an extra measure, I took out my drum out of its case and placed it by my bed. It is moments like these where I need my drum by my side.

It was the first good sleep I had in a while. The sun blazed across my room as the doorbell rang. I looked out the window below to see who it was. I could not recognize the BMW parked behind my Dart. I slipped on some sweatpants and a University of Minnesota t-shirt and headed downstairs.

Behind the front door was someone I forgotten about for years. Chad. He was my best friend from elementary school until I left the area for college. The last time I saw him was at his wedding. He married a bright young woman who was destined for greatness in Washington’s legal circles. Chad turned out Ok in the tech business, having survived a few layoffs, contract recompetes and mergers – some at the same time.

He was dressed impeccably – just as I remembered. His first words were simple: “Merry Christmas and welcome home!”

I ushered Chad inside, as he wanted to hug me. I had not showered, but he did not care. He said he missed me. He was so happy to see me. He wanted to know what I was doing in town. He offered his condolences for my parents. He asked me what has been happening with my life.

What was I to tell him? Would my ex be a good story to tell? Would my life be worth discussing with or without self-editing? Should I have offered him anything to eat or drink, not knowing the condition of anything in the fridge or the cupboards?

Chad was fine. He wanted to take me out to breakfast somewhere. Gee, what would be open on Christmas and what should I wear? I excused myself to shower, shave and get dressed. Chad decided to join me upstairs anyway.

After all, we were childhood friends. He was allowed, though I tried to be a polite adult about it.

A nice set of clothes later, and we went to a pancake house that was open near Tyson’s Corners in his BMW E90 3-Series. It was a few years old, but it does the trick for him. It seemed like clockwork that we were seated as soon as we walked in the door. It was efficient, but homely. Perhaps it was supposed to be like this.

We had silence for a bit as we looked at our menus. Chad wanted to probe into my post-last-time-we-saw-each-other life. I still struggled with what to offer as a response. Should I talk about my last relationship? Maybe, but as a bullet point. Should I talk about my job? Maybe, but, again, it would have to be a bullet point. Should I talk my so-called lifestyle? Maybe…

He remarked how good I looked for our age. This remark came from a frat-boy-turned-into-a-man. I was less frat-boyish. I was a native Northern Virginian that became a Minnesotan with a lifestyle that not a lot of folks want to know about.

My bullet points and nervous laughter did not work. Chad went into what was up with in his life. The wife became an ex and he came out of the closet. I never saw any of that coming. Alimony? Of course there would be. His family? They dealt with it better than mine – on both points.

The door was open to spill the beans my life. Yes, my family knows I am gay and they never accepted it. Yes, my ex cheated on me multiple times. Yes, our friends became his friends after the break up. No, I am not dating anyone now. Yes, I still have a job in Minneapolis.

Chad cleared his throat. He was happy to hear about my life. He also had a surprise for me.

“Did I ever tell you that I had a crush on you?”

I almost dropped a pancake on my sweater. Who? Me? I was average…nothing to write home about. I was articulate, intelligent…whatever you called me during high school, college and so forth. I was a quiet guy with a mean fastball that never got me a scholarship somewhere because I never gave the effort to do my best. I was dealing with my identity – the root cause of my failed attempt at baseball greatness.

He wanted to cry right there. He gave a good face, as we stopped our conversation. The food was finished and Chad paid the check. He drove me home and we walked together into my parent’s home. That was when he started to cry.

He took me in my arms and cried. I began to cry, too. I never revealed that I had a crush on him, too. Perhaps this embrace opened up my secret to him.

An hour later, Carol came by with her husband Bill and their daughter Chloe. They looked so beautiful. They wished Chad and I a Merry Christmas and waited until my two brothers showed up. They soon arrived with their families – Mark with his wife and two children, David with his wife. It was the first time the four children were at least civil to each other.

About an hour into our reunion, they ushered their spouses, children and Chad away. My siblings wanted to meet with me. They explained the estate, which was something I was unprepared for. They knew I was out of the picture, but they had a caveat.

You see, Mom and Dad loved me. They quietly accepted my homosexuality and knew it was going to be reversed, as they hoped. My siblings loved me, but hoped that I would return to the fold after being angry with them and our parents. This was our moment – reunion in the wake of news I was unaware of.

The house will not be sold. Neither of them wanted it. What about me, they asked? It is paid for. All I needed to do was pay taxes and keep it up. In Northern Virginia? Would that mean I would have to move out of Minnesota?

Considering what I went through this past year – it does sound attractive. That mean I would have to find work in the DC Area. My oldest brother talked about savings, securities and other monetary divisions of the estate. It is not about the money, as it is keeping up the family home in our name. It is as I felt welcomed back to the family and this was my gift in return.

I accepted the house as terms of the estate. I agreed to meet with our lawyer on this. We comforted ourselves that it was the right thing to do. I was warned about neighbors who were less than friendly to people like me – despite having grown up in this neighborhood.

There was no longer a desire to drive back to Minneapolis.

After our meeting, I went to Chad and asked for a date. He laughed. He thought I would never ask. He accepted.

It is now April. Chad ended up moving into the house with me. I since quit my job, ended my lease at my old place, and moved my stuff halfway across the country. I kept the Dart, but had to sell one of the Mercedes. I figured I’d keep the one they own outright, a W126 300SD Turbodiesel. It was a classic and held many memories for me. Dad brought it new and kept it up for 25 years and 189,000 miles. For Chad and I, it was our car. Chad kept his BMW.

I found a new job in the District. I even rediscovered friends who moved out from the Midwest to the DC Area. These were people who never cared for the ex – and loved me as a brother. Our histories were maintained, even as social media imploded at the epicenter.

They accepted Chad as one of us. My family has, too. Happy endings are always the best.

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