It Is Christmas Morning
is very good at wrapping gifts and arranging them beneath the Christmas tree.
Many pine needles have fallen from it is branches, but you'd never know that,
because there are so many boxes and bags that they are totally covered up. Mom
isn't with us in the living room, where we are all sitting on the floor around
the presents. She is standing on the tiled kitchen floor, just a foot or two
beyond the edge of the living room's carpet.
girlfriend is sitting right next to me, and both of us are leaning on our knees
with our calves folded under us. We started dating almost a whole year ago,
while she was still a senior at Winterbrook School. That's the high school we
went to, were we first met. It feels like I meet her again every few months. We
are constantly changing, becoming different people. We even look different.
This happens to everyone. But we notice it more, because we have been growing
together, and I mean that in both senses.
is looking at us all in a very detached way, as though she is gazing at the air
in front of her. But through that air, she sees her husband and their two sons.
And of course, she sees the girlfriend that one of those sons tried to have sex
with on a very strange day.
Paint has a Smell that is Unforgettable
my first two years at the Winterbrook, I took a lot of art classes. I've always
been a little good at a lot of things. For a few months I thought that it would
be nice to become an illustrator after I graduated from college.
was a thick white paint that we used to brush onto canvases after we stretched
them. The coat needed to be totally even for when we painted over it.
Everyone's hair was always painted into everyone's canvas. Our class had seven
people in it. That was a small enough number that we could recognize each
others' curls or strands or little buzz clippings beneath the endless bright
fabric. And knowing whose hair it was made the whole ordeal something for one
girl to giggle at and all the guys to shrug, even the boys without confidence,
whose shoulders were made of rubber.
was like a canvas freshly primed white. Art classes at Winterbrook are twice as
long as all of the other classes.
am a small person.
have long weak fingers like a Daddy Long Legs and rubber shoulders that weigh
down my whole spine.
boy with a very large head was the first person I ever called my best friend.
That's Why I Don't Answer the Phone When You Call Me
always see a person before you meet them, unless you are blind, or unless you
slam into each other while running round a street corner in opposite
takes effort to not see a person before you meet them, because it takes haste,
and hasting takes effort.
you see a person right before you meet them, because they are approaching you,
and they very prepared to introduce themselves. On the other hand, I am never
prepared to introduce myself. That's why I don't answer the phone when you call
That's Why I Never Answer the Phone When You Call Me
was sitting on his calves looking into the kitchen. Our phone has a little
display that tells you exactly who is calling. That's why I never pick up the
phone. Because the people whose names show up are always people that I don't
know, or people that my parents don't like. That's why I never answer the phone
when you call me.
Dad might have asked who was calling. He knew she read the display because she
waiting until it had rung three times. Mom picked up the phone. Then Dad had
that blank canvas face. We didn't know what was going on.
blank canvas face is the most vulnerable face in the world. A little curl will
always get stuck in the paint before it's done drying.
would have cried if one of my classmates flicked a streak of their oil paint
onto my canvas while it was still drying.
didn't cry. You could hear it in Mom's voice that something was going on. She
sounded very assured. Mom was very confident speaking into the phone, because
what she heard confirmed what she had anticipated.
Passing of Time
Mom's brother died, she received the news over the phone. She walked out of the
living room into the kitchen, and Dad kept watching where she walked as she
disappeared around a corner to pick up the receiver. His face was like a blank.
didn't introduce herself when she received the news that her brother had died.
That's because she read the little screen that told her who was calling. And
that's why she waited.
for a person to pass on from their last pains always reminds me of passing
time. You can keep putting on shows for yourself and then you will forget that
you are waiting for something. But something that is scheduled always happens
right when it is supposed to. That's why Mom listened to the phone ring three
times before she answered it.
used to talk to my ex-girlfriend on the phone for hours. They were short hours,
though. They were the shortest hours I have ever lived.
short hours that I spent talking to my ex-girlfriend were much longer than the
hours Mom spent next to Grandpa's bed in the hospital.
almost one entire year, I will drive home from Smith College. Mom will tell me
that I must go visit Nanny at the nursing home because I won't have seen her
through the whole summer. Mom will tell me that Nanny might not remember who I
am, and I will ask why. It's because she will have Alzheimer's. Nobody will
tell me this until I come home for December. I think that Mom and Dad are
keeping this from me because then they can pretend that they won't have to face
it so soon.
knew another woman with Alzheimer's, and I thought that I would never see her
again. Then I did see her again, and I asked my girlfriend to take pictures of
her. My girlfriend is an photographer.
I saw a crocodile at an exhibit, but he was behind bars and covered in old
pennies that visitors had thrown on him for good luck.
is disgusting to imagine a person with no past living in a place full of people
whose grown children believe have no future.
has always been stubborn and unpredictable. But come December, she will be
Right Thing To Do
have never cried over hearing the news that a person had died. I believe that
there is something beautiful in it.
Grandpa, that's Mom's dad, was in the hospital. I was very young. On day, I
went to my friend's house after school to play. I was there for a long time,
even after it became dark outside and my friend went to bed. Then, his mother
drove me home, even though we lived only two houses apart. The kitchen light
was off but the light in the hall ways on and that was unusual. Dad told me
that Mom's dad had died and started crying and gave me a big hug that lasted a
long time, and it was like a gorilla had fallen asleep on me for a little
arms couldn't reach all the way around my dad's back but I knew the right thing
to do was to pat him like he was a big gorilla baby.
day, my ex-girlfriend led me down the highway to go to a bowling alley a few
blocks from her mom's apartment. My shoe was untied and so she bent down to tie
it. A police car pulled next to us and spoke to us in this horrible way. It was
comforting to have my shoe tied on the side of the highway. Then we got off the
road and pushed through the stickers and brambles that grow just beside it.
my ex-girlfriend told me a secret she kept with the sticker bushes. It was a
very sad secret, but I loved her, and I was so thankful that someone would
share their sad secrets with me.
isn't around the corner anymore. Now she is standing just where the carpet in
the living room meets the tile in the kitchen. She is looking at all of us at
once. She is looking at Dad, me, my girlfriend, and my brother. She is probably
looking at the Christmas tree, too.
am very bad at reacting to things in an appropriate manner. Mom's face is red
like a pomegranate.
brother's on total life support” and I do not know how write the way that she
is saying it.
When I Hear That Sound, Part I
Christmas, my own brother is trying to teach himself violin. He is not a very
gentle person and drinks like an Austrian tippler.
day, my brother will snap all of the velvet hairs on his violin bow. They will
pull themselves loose over the highest string. The violin will whistle as the
bridge is pulled off-center. And the strings will not bear the tension as they
are pulled in every direction, and they will all crack at once.
Two Good People
voice sounds like the violin and it sounds like the trees.
is wearing her nightgown because she is okay with that.
is going to give my girlfriend the most remarkably thoughtful presents in the
thinks that my girlfriend is truly a good person.
think they are truly good people.
Dad and my uncle were very different people. I will tell you one thing that
they shared in common. I can not speak honestly to my dad and I could not speak
at all to my uncle.
Sex and Carrot Juice, Part I
first day that my girlfriend and I decided to have sex was a very strange day.
A man had come into the store that morning and he was very angry. Whenever we
bottled carrot juice we would have to leave a bit of headroom at the top
because the juice would foam up and needed to settle. The man was very angry
because he thought that we were trying to rob him.
Sex and Carrot Juice, Part II
store that I bottled carrot juice at was owned by a very Italian family with
very Italian names. There were three brothers that owned it, and they had a
frumpy mother named Eileen, who also owned it. The brothers were all very big
men with very rough words. But they were all good people.
coworker was panicking because the very angry man was confronting her about the
carrot juice. He did this every time he bought carrot juice so my coworker and
I took turns ringing him up. But on that strange day he was red as a
man who screams at a girl over carrot juice is a very small man indeed.
That's Why I Never Answer the Phone When You Call Me, II
single minute ago, I had no idea that my uncle has been ill, and right now, I
do not know what it means to be on total life support.
hate myself because I never act appropriately.
man was crying over carrot juice and it would be nice to know that I could have
first day that my girlfriend and I decided to have sex it didn't work.
My coworker had called our boss and let the
very angry man talk to her and
“Fuck you” the very angry man screamed at her.
taking a shower we decided to have sex.
screamed himself hoarse in two words.
belly of a broken violin is just as beauty as the belly of a person.
phone was above the cash register and the very angry man reached right past my
coworker's head as he slammed the phone onto its hook.
is why you shouldn't be hasty. That is why I was nervous. That is why all the
buttons on the receiver flashed at once. That is why I never answer the phone
when you call me.
I will never know how to speak to my uncle.
supposed to prime a canvas with a special mixture called gesso. But Winterbrook
couldn't afford the real thing. When I think of gesso I remember the smell of plastic poster paint.
was worried because wrestling an alligator slathered in oil would have been
much easier than making that canvas.
me, a belly is the second most beautiful thing in the entire world. Rounded
bottles with in a macrame net, violin soundboards firmed down by their
strings. My family used to go camping. My brother and I would catch toads, and
they have pale bellies that look like marshmellows.
I Even Hear
one whole month ago the phone rang and I answered it. It was my uncle. He knew
that I didn't recognize his voice because we only speak every couple of years
and I am always changing into different a different person. I even hear
differently. He asked my Mom was home and she was not.
uncle told me that he wanted to wish my family a happy Thanksgiving. I will
always have trouble believing that he had nothing else to say. In a few months,
I will tell him in my dreams how much Mom misses him.
over one whole year from now, I will write this. In over one whole year, I will
realize that all of the people my mother grew up with are now gone. I will have
written many songs about my uncle's passing.
Grandpa died, my uncle embraced my mother because he did not need a wheelchair
yet and he the said to her
dead” and he sounded like the violin and the trees.
especially did not know how to talk to him then because I was so little that my
fingers weren't long Daddy Long Legs yet. They were just fingers.
uncle's voice was not like Mom's. He spoke in a completely different way. But
there is one voice that everyone shares, and that voice sounds like the violin
and it sounds like the trees.
are many beautiful things in my life. The most beautiful thing in my life
sounds like the violin and sounds like the trees.
Dad gave me his big sad gorilla hug, I wondered where Mom was.
over one whole year from now, I will write this. In over one whole year, I will
realize that my mother's family consists of three boys, and that I am one of
them. I think that Mom realized a very long time ago that this is all that will
matter for the rest of her life.
most beautiful thing in my life is a sound, and when I hear that sound, I am
assured that someone knew a very deep love.
Stronger with a
afternoon, my mother will be preparing for Christmas dinner, and I will ask if
there is anything that I can do for her, and she will tell me with syrupy tears
in her throat,
I just need to keep busy.”
is stronger with a broken heart than I am with a whole one.
For my mom. It isn't done now, maybe it will never be completed, but it's been a year since I wrote it and two since that Christmas and I've less to lose now that ever in my life.