That one time

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

I’m always happy when the holidays (which include, for this Capricorn, my birthday) are over and done with for the year. Relief soaks into my body like a sitz bath and the lock goes back on the liquor cabinet. As the days grow longer, the process of repression begins anew. But there are some Christmases that even blackouts can’t drive from memory.

December 23rd. Sometime in the eighties. The dachsund, the mother and I are driving to Chicago to see my aunt, uncle and sundry angry young cousins. Because we are all on the internal clock shared by all members of the maternal side of my family, by the time we’ve picked my cousin Bill, it’s nearly midnight. Fortunately, a major storm has hit. Cocky on eggnog and last year’s stale candy canes, lightly furred from the inside of my homemade felt stocking, we decide to make a go with the Honda Civic.

Just outside Gary Indiana. The minus forty windchill and forty mile an hour gusts have littered the highway with trucks and cars like tonker toys. The turnpike is shut down, and we are forced off by police cars. The moment the car stops on the exit ramp, the car dies. We trudge up the offramp. The dachsund, a delicate creature even in the best of times, must be carried deep into the drifts to do his business. All hotel rooms are booked, as every car limping off the freeway freezes up the moment it stops. We phone my uncle. He is on the way to rescue us.

After a night where the three of us share a room with one double bed, my uncle arrives. The moment he stops his car, it seizes up and dies. We retire to our hotel room.

The only way to get to Chicago is via the Amtrack train. No dogs allowed. The prospect of the four of us spending another night in that hotel room drives us all to suicidal ideation. We steal a blanket from the hotel room, and swaddle the dog into a bundle. We smudge my mother’s eyes with mascara to make her look as pitiful as possible. The conductor accepts tickets from the adults, but he’s balking at the “baby”. Another glance back at us, to affirm that the nervous tremors, strange profile and the disturbing black hairs that peek from the pristine white bundle appear to be family traits, and we’re on.

We arrive at my aunt’s home in Chicago. The boys have been given the task of decorating the Christmas tree. They have made their own ornaments out of a kind of homemade playdoh, and the tree is festooned with rats and naked women, many of whom look suspicously like my aunt.

Later that night, after my mother and the younger boys have gone to sleep, my cousin Cy pops a video tape in the VHS. A few minutes go by, and my uncle wanders in, sits down to watch. My aunt follows a few minutes later. Curious, I wander into the room. The family peacefully watches together a science fiction porno film from the late seventies. A kidnapped space maiden quivers with desire at the feet of a sexy space drone who’s packing nine inches under that space codpiece. Too bad he can’t feel anything ’cause he’s not human. But wait! She seems to be bringing him to life! Uncle Al lights his pipe, and Auntie Rose trundles into the kitchen to make popcorn. Just another family Christmas Eve.

Later Cy goes out with some friends. Everyone sleeps quietly in their respective rooms, eagerly awaiting their Christmas bounty and that other family stuff you’re supposed to feel on Christmas. Not a creature is stirring . . . . except Cy, whom I wake up at four AM to find curled in a fetal position at the foot of my bed because he’s incoherent from all the booze and speedballs he’s been doing.

Silence. Should I cry out? Call the police? Get my mother? My aunt?
He mumbles incoherently.
“Go upstairs, Cy.”
After a few minutes, he crawls off the bed. He looks at me, then begins to crawl towards me.
“Not here, Cy. Upstairs.”
It takes a few minutes to dawn on him, and several more minutes to crawl out of the room. There’s a crash in the hallway. I open the door and watch him crawl a few steps on his belly, then slide down. Ten minutes or so is what it takes for him to get up the stairs. I don’t know why I just sat and watched him. Possibly that’s where he stayed all night, I don’t know.

In the morning, Cy remembered nothing. We ate a lot of turkey together and play monopoly. He cheated and let me Boardwalk, so that in the end I won. That was the kind of guy he was.


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