I guess George Michael died today, too, because why not.

It’s hard to explain
What it is that makes
Make me feel so
Done in and
Bottomed out.
It would be easy enough to cite
Gift-giving stress,
Carols, cold weather,
But I don’t dislike
Any of that.

I’ve never not had
Enough to eat or
‘Enough’ presents under the tree,
Or a tree to put presents under, for that matter,
And to adorn its branches with weighty baubles,
(Even the years after
My mom’s main caretaker, her great aunt,
Passed, scant days before Christmas,
Just after showing my dad
How to make ‘her’ pie crust
And having my uncle [who was cheating on her]
Go with my dad to
Pick out our first family dog,
And my mom hated
That the decorations
Reminded her of death,
And so I got pretty good after that
At putting up a tree);
And so to complain at all
When others have so much less
Makes my unspecified emotional burdens
That much heavier to bear.

I was maybe nine or ten,
Presents had already been hung by the chimney,
And drawn and quartered,
And we still had to eat
Christmas dinner.
My mom and dad
Were arguing about something
(I don’t really remember),
And then arguing begat
Slammed doors and tears,
Amidst piles of presents,
Boxes, batteries.
It hurt, to be so shallow,
So hollow,
So destitute amidst such decadent debris.
Our elderly neighbor
(Who was out of town, of course)
Had an elderly cat
Who needed feeding
And brushing
While he was away.
The cat was fat,
And I was sad
As I crouched in an old man’s chair
And cried into its tangled white fur.

“I know why people from the school
Came to your house,”
Crowed Andrea Fassbender,
Who probably isn’t as big a cunt now
As she was in fourth grade.
Apparently, it was leverage,
The knowledge that I might have been
A nameless, faceless kid
Her PTA mom might have absentmindedly bought
A cheap, off-brand Barbie doll for,
And dropped off in the school office,
Now notoriously poor.
I guess my parents had
Let the school do
Some of the heavy-lifting
For them that Christmas season,
Mere months after moving
Our mobile home from
One end of Washington State
To the other.
I didn’t blame them,
Although I remember wishing that
The people who made
Our off-brand holiday happen that year
Knew that we didn’t always eat
Spaghettios for dinner.

I remember the first year
My dad was really weird
About accepting any gifts
Gathered by my mom
And labeled by me and my brother
With great effort.
There were tears, to no avail,
And I remember realizing
That it wasn’t always
The thought that counted.
He would later be more
Pointed in his refusal
The year I sent him a
Starbucks gift card
(Something he’d never buy for himself)
And he sent it back
Because I had done
Something wrong recently,
Though I don’t really remember
What it was.
But I’ll always remember
The way it made me feel
Like my heart had been
Hollowed out by hate.

I went to my parents’ house
As a guest
The year I moved into
My own apartment.
I remember receiving
My own vacuum,
And observing all the niceties,
And cooking and cleaning,
And saying all the right things.
Then my mom wanted me
To talk to the grandmother
From whom my family
Had been estranged
Since before I was born.
It wasn’t my fault that
Nobody talked to one another,
Until now, apparently,
But it became my fault
When I handed back the receiver
Sans awkward phone posturing.
It was my fault, too,
That I now lived “so far away,”
And somebody would
Bring me back home
(Shouldn’t say ‘home’ there)
When they were ready.
I often wondered,
Sans driver’s license,
What would happen if
One day,
Nobody felt like getting ready,
Because I was a “selfish bitch,”
And it was my fault that
Nobody would let me go home.
(There, I said it.)
That was the first time,
But not the last time,
That I began to think of
Transportation to and fro
As a commodity,
Something to earn
If I was grateful,
Pleasant enough,
And when I stopped calling it ‘home,’
And stopped wanting to go there at all,
As a guest or otherwise,
At least I had earned the
“Selfish bitch” moniker.

And lo,
Even from a distance,
My mom’s reach extends
Through phone lines
And Internet cables,
Making sure to seethe
Every time it seems like
I’m having a bit too merry of a Christmas
(Or any holiday, or a random Saturday)
With my in-laws, without her,
Making a point to complain about
How often one gift (theirs) gets mentioned
In lackdaisical social media posts
Compared to others (hers).
Sometimes, she manages to
Make an impression
It’s hard to comfort someone sobbing
For no apparent reason
On the steep church steps
After mass, after a sermon
That hit very close to home
Because you think maybe your family
Is kind of broken, too,
And you don’t think that
Quoting scripture at one another
Is going to put it back together again.
You can’t quite explain why
You’re bleeding tears
After work, after a successful
Black Friday season,
Except that maybe, your co-workers’ tales
Of family plans,
Of holiday mirth,
Of intentional travel and home-stays,
Make you feel even more like
An alien anthropologist,
Observing their traditions,
While being unable,
To observe your own,
Even out of spite,
Because even that takes energy,
That you just don’t have.
Instead, you have
The December doldrums,
Slumped shoulders, a sad, sour,
Dumpy demeanor,
That you need to shake off
(Shake it off, shake it off),
Before it ruins everything good,
But this year,
Radio silence crackling in your ear
Drowns out the decorations,
The gifts,
The willing and able mirth,
Given freely,
Whether you’ve earned it or not,
Leaving only anger and apologies
In its winter wonderland wake.


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