2003: Time Ratio
I still liked my family when my mother first told me, ten days prior, we would be going to Florida for Christmas. I had never spent more than a day or two with my mother’s side of the family before. I couldn’t wait to play catch with my cousin Matt. I couldn’t wait to play checkers poolside with my grandfather. I couldn’t wait to drive around in my Uncle Bob’s convertible mustang in the warm sunny weather. I couldn’t wait. Just ten more days and I’d be in Florida.
Usually, we would go down to the lake house in Connecticut where my mother and her two brothers were raised. We never stayed for more than a weekend. We never felt obligated to; it’s merely a 3 hour car ride. Pleasantries don’t tend to fade in just a couple of days. Florida is different. It is a 24 hour drive to Florida without stopping. You cannot stay for just two days when it requires 2 days of travel. So we would stay for nearly 3 weeks. There are 21 days in 3 weeks. There are 48 hours in 2 days. For every day of travel, we would spend 10 days in Florida. For every hour of travel we would spend 16 hours in Connecticut. Seemed like a ratio I could live with, before we actually went.
2004: Love Sick
My girlfriend at the time had just moved to Florida. I was devastated when she told me. She was my first girlfriend and I am sure I acted overzealous. I thought I loved her. I told her I would wait for her to come back to me. I am laughing at myself now, I was only 14 years old, I had no idea what love is. I told her I would see her, I told her I would save up and visit. Well, my family decided to go to Florida for Christmas for the second year in a row. I was ecstatic.
I called Missi to tell her the good news. She told me how she wouldn’t be in Florida for Christmas. For the exact same span of time I was to be in Florida with my family, Missi would travel back to my hometown, in New Hampshire. What are the chances of such timing? I asked my high school calculus teacher years later because we were tight. We talked a lot of sports so he told me I had a better chance at meeting a Hall of Fame football player. Years later, I would meet Patriots Hall of Fame guard John Hannah. Chances of that?
I carried her picture with me while in Florida without her. Uncle Bob gave it a prolonged look that made everyone uncomfortable. The room went silent and everyone was just waiting for my uncle to say something or hand the photo back to me. My cousin Matt got a hold of it and told me she looked like a tramp. I punched him in the face. I thought I loved her. He pinned me to the ground and told me she would die early in some whorish drug-related fashion. When I got home I found out she cheated on me with one of my ex-best friend. She died a year later in a car accident in Las Vegas while visiting her sister who worked in a strip club. Chances.
My Uncle Stan, with his sizable wealth, bought a 3 million dollar condo in Naples. I didn’t go to Naples, Italy. There is such a thing as Naples, Florida, and I had the privilege of spending a day there. I say privilege because the residents seem to try their hardest to keep this place exclusive. It’s the perfect place for my uncle to live. Every year the man has to show us just how much money he has. Every year, it’s a new expensive car. Every year, my uncle gives his wife, Patty, $300 dollar headphones, a high tech GPS system (back when they were new), or diamond necklaces that look as if they were made purely of diamonds because no sort of metal settings could be seen. Last year, he gave my grandparents the biggest TV he could find. Another year, he bought us all lobster for Christmas dinner. This year, he showed us Naples.
That same year my uncle also bought a yacht; he took us for a ride around the coast line of Naples. Apparently he studied some sort of real estate book beforehand; he told us the price tag on each and every house we saw, slowing down to point each one out. I knew what his real agenda was. He wanted to show all of us just how much better his wealth made him. He was clearly much better than the rest of us.
No one wanted to go to Naples; I know I sure as hell didn’t. The original plan was to go to Universal Studios’ theme park. How the plans changed to “see what you can’t afford”, I do not know. I spent the day on that boat, listening to my Slipknot, KoRn, Black Sabbath, and Slayer. I wanted to be different when I was younger. That kid that wore black and sat in the corner so no one would bother him. I would use this tactic frequently around these people.
2006: The First Girl
Matt brought a girl with him to Florida this year. Her name was Shawna, and everyone embraced her like family. I would’ve welcomed her too, but I don’t make a habit of handing out bad news. She didn’t last long, only a few more months after Christmas, and I am happy for her.
The welcome she received from each family member varied greatly. My Uncle Bob gave her a hug that lasted just a second too long. My uncle was 55 and single. Katie was meeting her brother’s girlfriend for the first time. She pouted and stormed out of the room as if she regressed back into childhood. She claimed it took her too long to meet this girl, but I claim jealousy as the true culprit. Matt and Shawna had only been dating a month out in Iowa, Katie lives in New York. Kate’s jealousy stems from the fact she couldn’t get a guy to stick around for more than a week, an actual personal record of hers. Matt’s father, Stan, couldn’t stop wrapping his arm around his son with pride. “Good job son you nabbed a pretty one,” the expression seemed to say. My mother, the queen of awkward, asked Shawna questions she had no business asking. “Does he still have that scar on his pelvic bone?” Classy, Mom. My sister, Lauren, just pretended that Shawna didn’t exist, as she did with all new people. My aunt Patty wouldn’t stop talking about how old she had gotten when the prospect of children came up, because god forbid she is old enough to be a grandmother. She got a facelift that year. My grandparents made innocently awkward comments you would expect from the elderly couple on a TV sitcom like Marie and Frank Barone from Everybody loves Raymond.
Shawna’s presence made life easier for me, however. Usually I am the brunt of questioning.
“What college are you looking at?”
“Wentworth, Norwich, and Northeastern.”
“What are you going to major in?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Typically, I didn’t inform them about the happenings of my life willingly, so they drilled me. Not this year, though. Shawna stole the show. I got to sit in blissful silence as everyone else dissected Shawna’s life and her relationship with my cousin. I felt bad for her, for a second. Just a second. I am not proud of the human being I became around these people. They aren’t entirely to blame.
2007: The Second Girl
Matt brought a second girl with him for Christmas. My first thought, would there be a new girl every year? It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, I did hear things turned bad with Shawna after meeting the extended family. I guess this family just changes people. My uncle Bob sure seemed to be enjoying it, though, as he did the year before. This one was Kayla, and she was shockingly similar to the first. She had an infectious smile, with typical country girl social etiquette, and was all around beautiful. Why was she there?
I woke up to the smell of vomit. The Florida warmth gave the odor even more pungency. I found myself on the floor, still surprised with my predicament. I was afforded no place to sleep. The exact words I was given was, “I don’t care, sleep wherever.” I took the couch cushions off the pull out bed someone else was using and pushed them together like a makeshift raft. If only I could have used it to escape my fate. I was the first one up, and probably one of the few who wasn’t hung over. I headed to the bathroom; the smell of vomit grew so strong I could taste it. I found my cousin’s new wife, Kayla, asleep, again, on the toilet rim. She didn’t drink the night before; she was just pregnant. Every morning there, I had woken up to find her face first in her morning sickness. I helped her up, cleaned off her half-conscious face, and brought her back to bed.
I heard a scream and hurried to find the source. One of my uncles had woken up, and he tripped over my makeshift raft. Vulgarities followed:
“Who the fuck left this pile a shit here?! What kind of retarded fucking pissant did this?!”
He was screaming so loudly the next door neighbors began to stir and wander outside; trying to determine what was going on. I didn’t bother explaining why I hadn’t had time yet to dismantle my escape raft. He wouldn’t care; I had seen the way he looked at my cousin’s new wife while I sat with him unbeknownst to him. I had seen the look before when he took me to a car show as a child instead of Disney World. It is a long drawn out stare, examining every part and detail. It is a stare that says, “Check out those headlights! Look at that tailpipe! That’s a fine body!”
The tongue lashing had woken up my father, who entered the room and did the only thing he could, shot me the look of understanding we usually shared there. I didn’t hold it against him for not defending his only son against his brother-in-law. Laying down his gauntlet would only exacerbate things. So I just stood there, listened to the incredibly hypocritical, vulgar, ignorant, and insensitive statements my uncle spewed at me and said nothing. Afterwards I joined my father in the kitchen and we had our breakfast together. We looked at each other and I know the same thought crossed our minds: just 10 more days and I’ll be home.
2009: Ludicrous Sorrow and Impending Death
The door had a crowd of ears hovering above its surface, trying not to miss the faintest whimper. Shock wouldn’t be the right word to describe the scene of people crowded around the bathroom door listening to my cousin Katie cry. The incident must surprise in order to shock. Crying in the bathroom garners no surprised looks when I consider her unstable nature. Sympathy wouldn’t be right either. Sympathy requires some sense of understanding. There is nothing to understand here. I can’t speak for the other people there who had their first drink at 10am, but I can speak for myself. I was ashamed. Katie had the attention of everyone present, exactly what she wanted. My extended family crowds the bathroom door, asking her what’s wrong, why she didn’t like her gift. I would’ve asked her why she has to find new roommates for her apartment in New York City every year. I would’ve asked her why she lives in an apartment she can’t afford and forces my rich uncle to pay. I would’ve asked why a 24 year old adult would cry over something as trivial as getting the wrong Patriots jersey for Christmas. Then I realized, I already know the answer to these questions. She was a wildly inconsiderate human being, her father continuously spoiled her, she described the jersey she got as that of an “ugly player.”
Meanwhile, in the corner of the room next to the scantily decorated Christmas tree placed on the backdrop of Florida palm trees outside the window, sat a very old man. He could not get up. His muscles had atrophied so much, he looked as if he had already been reduced to a skeleton and a clay molder adorned him with a new face and skin but forgot to finish. He had a pouch sitting next to him, filled with his own excrement, for he could no longer control himself. He had lost control of nearly every organ but his brain. This man was fully aware that he was dying. He knew exactly what was happening to him. Most of the people here would never see him again after this day, and he knew this too as he sat in the corner alone.
I sat in the same room as my grandfather. I have continued opening my gifts, unperturbed by the ludicrous sorrow of Katie and impending death of my grandfather. I got the book I wanted, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The novel chronicles the events leading up to an apocalypse. I began to read it to escape my current reality. I am no saint.
My grandfather was dead. It was expected, prepared for, and revolutionary. Things would be different without him in this world. My grandmother would live in my father’s house in New Hampshire. The house in Florida was put on the market to be sold. No longer was there a reason to go to hot as Hell Florida on Christmas. Instead, we stayed home and no one bothered to come. My cousin Matt and his wife Kayla stayed in Iowa with their newborn girl, Ava. Uncle Stan and Aunt Patty spent their first Christmas alone in their new 57 room mansion on Cape Cod. Uncle Bob went to a special Christmas car show in Connecticut. No one was quite sure where Katie was that day. I was home, though.
Snow was everywhere in New Hampshire, whiting out the world around me. Still freshly fallen, it inhabited the trees, clinging to the branches like a child too scared to fall off his bike for the first time. The air outside was crisp, cold, and thin. Upon breathing in the winter air, my whole body felt a cooling sensation, refreshing and revitalizing. This was home. Inside, the rooms are warm and vacant. No one was on the floor, trying desperately to sleep uncomfortably. No one was out of place; only where they feel most comfortable. Another Christmas was upon us, but no one had come to join us on this special day. Presents adorned the tree with only 5 names scribbled on the tags instead of a dozen. Here five people could sleep in their own beds. My father came down with a genuine smile on his face. He knew as well as I did, a special day doesn’t have to be different. He knew as well as I did that a special day is even more special when you spend it in a special place, home.