Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”
Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did… Read More…
If you’re here following a publishing link, I apologize. I was trying to save a draft of the unfinished post and clicked the wrong button.
Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret is now published and available.
On Monday morning, after our fourth night sleeping at the con, my husband was up and had already carried some things out to the car when I woke up. Most other mornings he had gotten up before me, gotten dressed, ran off to do his staff job, and sometimes came back as I was getting moving to see if I wanted to go to breakfast. So Monday was the first morning he was there the entire time I was doing my initial get up and get ready shuffle.
He kept expressing concern, asking if I was all right, a lot during the process. I attributed it to him feeling tired because he never sleeps well away from home, and he had been very busy all weekend. So I thought it was a bit of projection: I didn’t feel quite right, so he assumed I didn’t, either.
But when we were almost done loading the car, he asked again, with a really concerned tone of voice. So I asked him did I look bad? Why was he asked.
“You were complaining a lot while moving around this morning.”
I explained that that was just the usual thing: my joints are always stiff when I first wake up until I’ve been moving around for a while. And I always mutter to myself while doing certain tasks. “I just had that in my hand a minute ago… oh, there you are!” and so on.
“You weren’t just groaning! You were dropped the F-bomb several times”
And I had an epiphany. On weekdays, he leaves for work about three hours before my alarm goes off. Then on weekends, he sleeps in. So he’s almost never around during that time when I’m just getting up and moving. Apparently in the last couple years I’ve gone from just groaning when I reach for something and my shoulder protests. I now mutter bad words along with the groaning.
Now, I probably did it a bit more than usual Monday, because I also don’t sleep very well when I’m not in my own bed, so by the fourth night of sleeping at the hotel, I was also feeling less than fully rested. I was also trying to pack, which meant lifting and moving a lot more things than I’m usually handling during a typical get-up-and-get-ready-for-work routine.
The truth is I am getting older, and parts of my body just don’t work as well as they used to. I own several folding canes and keep them stashed around. This started in the early days of my pre-diabetic treatment. When I started eating a low-carb diet I started having random gout flare-ups where suddenly just trying to walk on whichever foot was having the flare-up was extremely painful. I almost never have random flare-ups any more, thanks to more adjustments to my diet and medications, but some days the ankle that had all the torn tendons a few years ago starts hurting when I put weight on it. Or the knee (in the other leg) that got banged up really bad a couple of different times gets a little unreliable.
Those are more likely to happen in certain kinds of weather, or when there has been a significant weather change. Someone watching might notice me having a slight limp on one side or the other for part of a day, or if it gets bad, I get out one of the canes.
Similarly, because of scar tissue in one inner ear, when there are fast changes in the local barometric pressure, I get to hear all sorts of buzzes and clicks and whistles and pops on one side only. That one can get particularly surreal, since ordinarily that’s the ear I can barely hear anything with.
Of course, I’m not the only person who mutters while doing things. Michael does it, too, and it can get particularly comedic if we’re both hurrying around the house trying to get something done. “What did you say?” “Nothing, just talking to myself.” Over and over and over again.
When we got home and we were both doing it again while unpacking–it was worse because home is much bigger than the hotel room, and so we’re often further apart and in different rooms making it even harder to tell whether the other person is trying to get our attention, or just talking to themself. I had to tease him about it, particularly since today is his birthday. For the next five months, he’s only nine years younger than me, instead of the usual ten.
Catching up with me!
The wheel of time keeps turning, but never enough to make fresh coffee while rushing to get ready for work
When I first saw it, I immediately wanted to do my own version, which would go something like this:
*demon tries to inhabit my body*
Demon: WHAT THE HELL?
Me: Welcome to my world, buddy!
Demon: EVERYTHING HURTS, WHY?? AND WHATS WRONG WITH YOUR SHOULDER???
Me: Which one?
Demon: WHAT? *moves one arm, then the other* WHAT THE HELL? BOTH?
Me: Left shoulder is because of broken collar bone from a beating from my Dad when I was ten.
Demon: BEATING? TEN?
Me: Right shoulder was shattered in a bicycle crash when I was forty-one and should have known better. So that one is on me.
Demon: *grabs a pencil* I NEED TO WRITE THIS DOWN… WHAT THE HELL? HOW DID YOUR WRIST DO THAT? AND WHY ARE SOME OF THE FINGERS NUMB?
Me: That’s kind of a funny one. Horse stepped on my right hand when I was 14 helping repair a stable floor with my grandpa. My younger cousin was supposed to be keeping the horse outside, see…
Demon: *moves fingers again* BONES SHOULDN’T DO THAT!
Me: I learned years later that the doctors should have put a pin in my elbow after stitching the hand back up and putting the braces and cast on, so I couldn’t move the wrist bones while they were trying to heal. They didn’t even tell me not to try to do things with the hand…
Demon: WHY WOULDN’T DOCTORS TELL YOU THAT?
Me: I mean, I was 14 years old, probably in shock, and they gave me stuff for the pain. So maybe I missed some things. Fortunately I’m ambidextrous, though since most of the school desks weren’t built for lefties, I didn’t have much practice writing with my left hand before that, so my writing was even sloppier on that side. And then, of course, there was Mr. Stahlecker, the geography teacher.
Demon: WHAT DID HE DO?
Me: Yelled at me for doing my work with my left hand. Said my right hand wouldn’t heal if I didn’t use it. Maybe if the doctors had told me not to use it I could have told him. But he probably would have scoffed and given me more detention. I mean like he did when I told him it hurt to try to write with the right hand.
Demon: DETENTION FOR BEING IN PAIN?
Me: Well, he said it was for talking back. But, yeah, basically. He was a real piece of work. Kept a swear jar on his desk and made us put money in it if he thought he heard us mutter a dirty word? But he was also the assistant basketball coach, and he called us faggots any time any of us failed to do something during practice.
Demon: WHAT THE FUCK?
Me: I’m kind of disappointed you don’t know all this. I mean, I always figured that the redneck American public school social environment had to be designed in Hell.
Demon: DON’T TRY TO BLAME ME FOR THAT!
Me: I suppose next you’re going to tell me that arthritis and gout aren’t plagues from Hell, either?
Demon: OH, THAT’S JUST BIOLOGY! TECHNICALLY HEAVEN’S FAULT, SINCE THEY SET UP THE PARAMETERS OF CREATION AND… WAIT, SO THE ARTHRITIS IS WHY MOST OF THESE THINGS HURT?
Me: Actually, going by the tests, I barely have any arthritis, yet. But, they say the damaged joints show it first, and it just gets worse everywhere over time.
Demon: AND YOU HAVE GOUT, TOO?
Me: Don’t worry, if you just remember to drink at least one glass of water every hour you’re awake, and take the little white pill each night, it’s almost never a problem.
Demon: *reaches for the pill minder* WHICH PILL… WAIT, WHAT ARE ALL OF THESE FOR?
Me: Oh, this and that… I can go over all of it if you want.
Demon: AND DID YOU SAY A GLASS OF WATER EVERY HOUR? EVERY HOUR?? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WREAK EVIL ON THE WORLD IF I HAVE TO TRACK DOWN A GLASS OF WATER EVERY HOUR?
Me: Don’t forget, you’re going to be needing to find a bathroom just about every hour, too.
Demon: THAT’S INSANE! AND EVERYTIME I TRY TO DO ANYTHING *waves one arm wildly* OUCH! I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS!?
Me: You get used to it.
Me: I have some dark chocolate squirreled away if that would make you feel better.
Demon: I REFUSE!
Me: I was just offering.
Demon: NO, I MEAN, I REFUSE THIS ASSIGNMENT! THIS ISN’T A POSSESSION, THIS IS UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS! THIS BODY IS A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT! I’M GOING TO GO FIND MY SHOP STEWARD AND LODGE A COMPLAINT WITH LOWER MANAGEMENT!
Me: If that’s what you think is best!
Demon: DAMN RIGHT I DO! *starts to withdraw from the body*
Me: Sorry it didn’t work out.
Demon: *pauses* WAIT, YOU SAID DARK CHOCOLATE?
Me: Would you like some for the road?
Demon: IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I HAD ANY WHILE I WAS WEARING HUMAN TASTE BUDS, SO, YEAH… JUST ONE BITE.
Demon: *eats chocolate, sighs appreciatively* I BETTER GO.
Me: Good luck with the complaint!
Demon: UM, YEAH, THANKS. *withdraws and vanishes in a puff of sulphuric smoke*
Me: *coughs* Gee, we never even got to the hay fever…
One of the local stations had a more pessimistic term: Viadoom! They used it in stories leading up to the closure, and during the first two or three business days after the closure the stories were headlined with “Day 1 of Viadoom” and “On Day 2 of Viadoom…”
We are now in week two of the Squeeze and so far, traffic has not been apocalyptically bad. No one wants to be the first reporter or blogger to say those fears were overblown, because the situation could get worse. The current conventional wisdom is the the first week went okay because some people are still on holiday break, many commuters are working from home, others who normally drive have switched to transit and/or biking. But many are convinced that most of those people are either going to get “fed up” with transit or will decide that because traffic has only been a little heavier than normal that there is no problem and they’ll all hop back into their cars.
Maybe they will. But I think the fears were always overwrought. For one, traffic analysis and computer simulations had shown—back when a replacement for the elevated part of the highway was being debated more than ten years ago—that all the traffic could be diverted to surface streets without causing gridlock. The horrible paralyzing gridlock that happens from time to time when there is a serious accident on that highway is because people are caught by surprise and are already on routes feeding to the unexpectedly blocked road when things go bad.
Those simulations also assumed that the number of cars being driven each day would be decreasing (because things were already trending that way). Lots of people were skeptical of that. Some thought the downward trend was temporary or something. Guess what? Single car ridership has declined faster than those simulations assumed. Many more people are already taking transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and so forth than before.
Other folks are focusing on the fact that the replacement tunnel has less capacity that the old viaduct, and that it’s going to be at least a couple more years before we have finished removing the old structure and making street improvements along its old route. There is also a big worry that, because the tunnel will be tolled, too many people will avoid it to avoid the tolls.
Yeah, while construction is disrupting other streets, things will happen. But anyone who has lived or worked in Seattle for any length of time already knows that there are only two seasons here: Rainy Season and Construction Season. We manage to keep getting around during Construction Season.
It’s never pleasant to be stuck in traffic. When traffic becomes persistently bad, people change their behavior. We try to find ways to work around it. We adapt. Well, most of us do. There are those whackos who decide, instead, to file initiatives to try to repeal or financially cripple big transit projects because they are so convinced they have a god-given right to drive an enormous gas-guzzling behemoth all by themselves and dang it, the state should just make the roads wider so they can do things the way they always have. I hate those guys.
I’ve been riding the bus to work for over 30 years. Yes, I have amusing stories to tell of some misadventures and unpleasant people I have encountered on the bus. But those rare times that I have driven instead of taking the bus have also led to stories about misadventures and reckless drivers. Because if you’re in your car, you’re surrounded by people just as much as you would be on the bus—it’s just that each of them is armed with a ton of glass, steel, and composites. And maybe you feel like you’re in control in your car in a way that you aren’t on the bus or train. But if there’s an accident up ahead, and you’re stuck in the middle lane of a long bridge, you don’t have any more control than the passengers in a bus.
Anyway, I think it is mildly funny that, so far, Viadoom hasn’t materialized. The station that was using the term has stopped posting daily stories detailing how the commute went, because each day there has been nothing to report. And really, how many times can you say with a straight face, “None of the bad things we predicted have happened yet, but just you wait!”
So, I’ll keep riding my bus and keeping my fingers crossed.
I had several answers—all of them true:
- It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
- In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
- I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
- One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
- Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?
However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:
“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.
“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.
“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”
And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.
So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”
I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.
I have always considered this just a variant on an older technology behavior: I would have piles of books on my desk or stacked beside my bed with bookmarks in them. Sometime a small book with a bookmark would be acting as a bookmark inside a larger book. Yes, a lot of the books in those piles were books that I was reading, and just hadn’t finished. But a lot of them were part of one of my research projects, and the bookmarks were things that I wanted to be able to look at again as I moved forward with the project. Some of the projects were for school, so the books would be returned to their shelves once the essay or whatever I had to turn in was finished. Other projects were personal. I might be researching something for a story I was trying to write. Or I might be researching something for a scenario I was running for one of my gaming groups, and so on.
I do try to do a better job of limiting how many tabs are open on my computer, though improvements in browsers (sandboxing among them) has made it less likely that having all those tabs open is going to slow the computer down or cause crashes. And there are some websites (certain news sites, for instance) that I learned long ago that I need to close down as soon as I finish reading an article.
One problem with this habit is that it also means I always have a whole bunch of projects in progress at any time. Which means things don’t get finished as quickly as I like.
Which sometimes plays out here, as I will have dozens of draft blog posts ranging from a dozen or so words to hundreds that I just haven’t finished, yet.
Even when I give myself a totally arbitrary goal to post something every day for thirty days in a row, I find myself staring at a bunch of draft posts, opening one after the other, maybe adding a few words, yet somehow unable to commit and just finish one.
And it’s more than a bit frustrating. It’s also a little confusing, because finishing, and putting things away once a project is done, are things that I really enjoy. So you would think that would motivate me.
First, Birds: So, the saga of the bird feeder continues. Quick refresher: over a year ago I put up a bird feeder on our veranda in a spot where I could watch birds that visited it from my living room window. We got so many birds coming to the feeder that my husband decided we needed a web cam so I could get pictures more easily and/or check on it from the office. Much to my delight the number of birds kept increasing, we had cool species like Stellar Jays showing up, it was very cool. Until just before Halloween, when the amount of birdseed consumed each day suddenly dropped for, then a few days later I learned why as an immature Cooper’s Hawk landed on my railing. Over the course of the next many weeks I witnessed the hawk snatching chickadees and juncos and sparrows out of midair in the vicinity of the feeder and then all the little birds stopped coming.
The level of birdseed in the feeder didn’t go down between the last time I topped it off just before Thanksgiving up to New Year’s Day. I cleaned out the feeder and tried scattering some feed on the deck and different locations, because I still very occasionally saw little birds on the deck. I cleaned out the feeder and put a very teeny amount of seeds in it.
Since then, I have seen pairs of small birds (usually pairs of juncos, but occasionally a pair of chickadees) show up on the veranda together and they have all adopted a similar strategy: one bird perches in one of my larger lavender plants, or on the branch of a nearby tree, the other hops around on the deck for a couple of minutes picking up seeds. Then the one that has eaten will flit to the spot where the buddy bird as been keeping watch, and the buddy bird flits down to the deck to peck at seeds. They trade off like that, one standing lookout the other eating, a few times before flying away.
Very, very occasionally a pair will take turns at the actual feeder, but it is clear that they all feel safer down on the deck where they have the planters and other things as cover.
I haven’t seen the hawk since late November.
I’ll keep scattering birdseed on the deck for now.
Dining: When we moved from Ballard to Shoreline, we decided to try to make some changes in the way we did things around the house. One of those changes was that I wanted us to sit down and eat one meal together at the table every day. The old place had not had adequate counter space or cabinets, and the way the kitchen was arranged, our table wound up being supplemental counter and storage space. So we almost never could clear it off enough to have a meal at the table. We instead would use the TV trays (or folding tray tables, as some people call them), or just each of us eat separately at our computers.
I admit that one reason that I wanted to make this change was the incredible guilt I felt at the dozens and dozens of tablecloths I found squirreled away in a couple of the closets. Tablecloths that had never been removed from their packaging. At least two of which I recognized as ones that were bought before my late husband, Ray, died. In 1997.
Michael had one change to my original proposal that we start using the tablecloths and eating at the table: he wanted to haul all the vinyl tablecloths to Value Village, and only use actual fabric cloths. Mostly because he just preferred fabric ones. Anyway, we got rid of all the vinyl ones, which left us with only a couple of fabric ones. We have since acquired a number more, some of them I think of as seasonal, some aren’t.
But we have eaten at least one meal at least six days out of every week at the table since moving. And the fact that on weekends we often eat two or three at the table in a single day, I think lets us off the hook for the nights that we go out instead of eating at home.
One of the things that means is that we have to keep at least half the table clear most of the time. That is a bit of a challenge, given that the table is really the only horizontal surface of any size near the front door, but we’ve been doing it.
So far, whenever we are cleaning for company, it never takes more than a few minutes to clear the table, pull off the tablecloth, wipe down the table, and pick out and deploy a clean cloth. And I can’t tell you what kind of happy goosebumps I get every time.
Haunted by Expectations: We have a certain number of habits about how we clean and keep the house that cause the voices of my grandmothers to occasionally admonish me. Both my nice Grandma and evil Grandma had very strong feelings along the lines of “a place for everything and everything in its place” and it’s amazing how much of that stuff got engraved in my neurons.
So, for example, t-shirts and laundry. A few years ago, thanks to a care label that came on some t-shirts we bought on Red Bubble (each with artwork that had be created by friends), when I did laundry I would pull those t-shirts out of the wash while transferring laundry from washer to dryer. Those t-shirts were put on broad hangers and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.
About six months after I started doing that, I noticed that some other cute graphic t-shirts which we had purchased as a sci fi con around the same time as the bunch from Red Bubble were noticeably much more faded. As in, they looked years older in comparison. So I stopped running any graphic t-shirts in the dryer. They all get pulled out and hung up on the shower curtain.
When I started doing this, Sunday was our laundry day, and the t-shirts were often still damp when we needed to shower Monday morning, so Michael would move all the hangers to the end of the towel rod & take his shower (since he went in to work much earlier than I). And then I would, after finishing my shower, move them all back up to the shower curtain rod and spread them out to finish drying.
At our new place, for various reasons, Friday evening is when I do laundry, and the t-shirts wind up hanging in the bathroom all weekend. If one of us decides we need a shower, me move them, then put them back. Until Monday morning.
Neither of us puts the t-shirts away Monday morning, mind you. We just leave them hanging in a bundle on the towel rod. Michael often chooses one of the shirts hanging there to wear to work that day. While I don’t wear t-shirts to the office, on Monday night, when I come home and peel off the office drag, I’ll pick a t-shirt, sometimes from the ones hanging up, somethings from my drawer, to wear while kicking around the house.
The upshot is that the t-shirts that were washed last laundry day often hang in a bundle on one of the towel rods all week long. Unless one of us is suddenly inspired to put them away, the pile slowly dwindles as we wear some from it, but there are usually still about three hanging on the towel rack by the next Friday evening when I carry up a new pile of damp t-shirts from the laundry room.
Both my Grandmothers would be appalled. My Nice Grandma, if she saw it, would give me that look and ask, “You know, it only takes a couple of minutes to put things away, right?” Whereas my Evil Grandma would say something like, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect you to understand how important cleaning is, since your mother was atrociously bad at housekeeping. I remember one time…” and a story implying that my mother was not only insane but also morally corrupt on a Lovecraftian level would follow.
And some mornings while I’m rushing to get ready to work, I hear one of the other of those voices in my head, wanting to know why I don’t just put the t-shirts away.
And while my Nice Grandma’s version of the question does sound perfectly reasonable, we often forget that the inverse of the question is just as reasonable: “What is the harm in leaving them hanging there, clean, dry, and within easy reach, for a few days?”
Yeah, putting them away (folding and separating them into my chest of drawers of Michael’s, putting the empty hangers into the hall closer) is probably only a two-spell-slot task… most mornings I don’t know how many slots I’m going to need that day. And getting myself dressed and out the door with my lunch packed and everything else I need for the day are tasks that much be done. Putting away the t-shirts? Not an imperative.
Some times I realize I have the slots and the time and let’s get this done now. And that’s great. But I have to remember that it is okay to prioritize.
Never forget: you are amazing. You are worthy of love. There have been times when you were the moment of light in someone else’s day—and you never knew. Believe that.
It doesn’t require a hero and a pulse-pounding battle to change the world. Each of us can change the world if we just remember to show up. To be kind when it’s needed. To be resolute, even if we’re scared.
To be a moment of light.
My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.
I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.
Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.
Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.
Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.
Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”
Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”
And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.
Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.
And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.
Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.
Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”
My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.
My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.
The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.
That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”
The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”
While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…
(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)
After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.
The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.
I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.
Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”
Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.
Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”
I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.
Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.