Heavily Suburban Interfaith Christmas Experience: Day 1

I knew this would happen. The rest of my family is asleep and I’m wide awake here in the weird little room that used to be my brother’s bedroom, until I went to college and we switched rooms, so now it is my semi-old bedroom but really my dad’s office and also a kind of receptacle for all my parents’ random extra stuff. There’s a lava lamp next to an adding machine on the desk here. It’s the same adding machine we used to use to play store.

My high school and college diplomas sit, unframed, on the bookshelf next to my high school yearbook. On the bulletin board above the desk my dad has pinned an iron-on patch from Wel-Met camp, which he attended, a picture of himself and his friend Steve, who he met at Wel-Met camp, wreck diving in the Carribean and a two-page spread of a kangaroo from a nature magazine who, when I asked about it, my dad referred to as “my friend.” The kangaroo does look very cool, like a jazz musician would look if jazz musicians were sometimes kangaroos.

The shelves above the desk contain a black-and-white picture of my mom, about 20, looking moody and sad, a black-and-white picture of me, about 20, also looking moody and sad, a pink music box that I recall worshipping in my early childhood as some kind of touchstone of my own precarious femininity, and my birth announcement, which my aunt Ellen made for me and has these special characters on it that she invented called, if I remember correctly, Grumpets. Grumpets have square heads but are very friendly.

The nightstand, recently purged of all my junk (a collection that should be sealed in plexiglass and called, “Nighstand Drawer, 1992-1997,” so perfect a group of adolescent artifacts did it contain), is empty save for my dad’s bar mitzvah album, which came to live here after my grandmother passed away two years ago. Strange how our parents keep our histories in boxes for us and we only take full possession of them after they are gone.

I love my dad’s bar mitzvah album. His mother was and he is small and olive-complected. I am, too, though to a lesser extent, as my mother’s side is tall and fair and some of them are even redheads. My dad and Grandma Betty almost look Latin, giving the impression that a velvety youth from Spanish Harlem has been inexplicably dressed in a yarmulke and tallis. From the pictures, I can’t tell if my dad is truly serious or abjectly miserable, though I take the fact that the next day he burned all his Hebrew school books in the family barbecue to be evidence of the latter. I was not bat mitzvahed and so there is no album here to bind in white leatherette the shames of my early adolesence, glasses and Jersey-style poufy bangs among them.

I could amble downstairs and leaf through my baby albums again. I do that a lot when I’m visiting my parents’ house. I never tire of trying to connect the tiny person in the pictures to myself. It’s a kind of meditation. “That’s me,” I say to myself over and over. “That’s me.” I stare at the baby, who does indeed look like me, and try to remember being small and helpless and new. My parents are in the pictures and I recognize them, but I still believe at some level that the tiny person in the pictures was some other being, who after a year or so was replaced by a smaller version of my current self, someone with curly hair and more defined features and clothing that consists of differentiated articles, someone I recognize, someone I remember being.

I could bundle up and go outside and lie on the hammock in the backyard, or sit on the big bench swing. The swing abuts a kind of woodsy area and I would sit there sometimes in high school, scaring myself into thinking someone could come up behind me like in a horror movie, daring myself to keep the swing moving, making its ominous creaks. I would look at the back of my parents’ house, which was then my house, its continuous wall of white vinyl siding, the windows through which I could see, even in the dark, every piece of furniture I knew so well, and I would never imagine that things would be as they are now, not once. I never imagined I would meet the people I have met or do the things I have done or think the thoughts I now think. I didn’t comprehend then that all the tiny, mundane aspects of a life that was a continuous present to me would one day just be talismans I would use to evoke the past. It never occured to me, sitting in the swing, that I would one day sit in the swing just to remember the feeling of sitting in the swing. It never occured to me that the mess I hoarded in my nightstand drawer, of letters and folded notes and primative emails from the numerical email addresses of boys far away I never saw again would be swept away and boxed and no longer important to me as anything but a passing idea for an art project.

I could sit on the front steps of the house and marvel at the soundstage quiet of the dead-end street this house is on. I could sit and stare at the newly-paved asphalt, lit more than adequetely by the audible streetlamps. I could walk, as I sometimes used to, up the street and around the one loop that forms the peculiar intersection that is labeled with two signs that read “Morewood Oaks,” and not see a single other waking soul, nor even a single light on, not even the bluish light of a television or computer screen. I could wait for a rainstorm that would fall on this well-lit, empty street so perfectly and theatrically that it would only add to the illusion that this is a soundstage. I could find the semi-deflated basketball in my parents’ garage and bounce it on their driveway and listen to it echo off the garage door of the house across the street.

Or I could get in the bed I picked out for my thirteenth birthday, the bed I lay in and tried to imagine my unimaginable life, the bed I rolled out of at 6 a.m. for six years of junior and high and high school to catch the early bus, the bed I brought my first boyfriend home to crowd into, the bed where I had mono and Lyme disease and where I cried about things when I used to cry more than I do now, where I worried about things I no longer care about and prayed for things to happen that have long since come true, and try to sleep.

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