coughing up christmas

“So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun…”

-John Lennon, Happy Xmas (War is Over)

People say I’m negative and it makes me feel bad because I never intend to be. It’s just what comes out. But after spending the holidays with my family, I’m starting to see they err on the negative side as well and that, perhaps, I’m not just a total asshole and much of the negativity I express is simply an inherited trait from a previous generation of buzzkills.

Does that let me off the hook?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

On Christmas Eve my mom’s mom came over and we had Christmas at my house. I sat there and watched as she tried to form a coherent sentence, a skill she’s been struggling with for the past several years, which has recently been accompanied by an accumulation of physical ailments that have put my mother in a tizzy as she’s had to take my grandmother to the doctor and get test after test to find out what’s wrong with her and then test after test to see what will treat what’s wrong with her. And naturally most of those doctor’s appointments fall on the one day my mother has off from work.

It’s not just me with the crappy luck. My whole family is cursed with it. Which might be one of the causes of the negativity.

And then there’s my dad sitting with my uncle, watching the nightly news because that’s a great source of entertainment to have going on while you’re carving the turkey. With the bombings and school shootings and rape and murder that gets scrolled across the screen, who doesn’t feel like cuddling up next to the tree with a big ass cup of cocoa?

So my dad tears into another conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and my grandmother talks with her mouth full and my sister is off in her own world with her husband and my mom’s running around tired trying to get everyone fed and I try to help but I just get in the way and have to listen to these people go on with their racial slurs with slurred words and I feel completely foreign here. These people are my flesh and blood but they are not my brain nor my beliefs and it makes it hard to feel good about any of it.

The next day I go to my dad’s mom’s house and she’s not doing much better than my other grandmother. She’s still mentally alert but also physically deteriorating. She coughed these intense, dry coughs the entire time, a hacking that made my shoulder blades twitch. Meanwhile, people are showing up late and liquored up, reeking of cigarettes and cheap wine.

Then my dad starts in about all the animals hanging around, the dog who’s blind in one eye and the other dog who probably has cancer and won’t last much longer. Then he talks about our dog, Sam, and tries to guess his age, insinuating he’s also old and also won’t last much longer. And I just don’t understand why he has to talk about such things during a time that’s supposed to be cheerful. Why put a black cloud over the proceedings when they’re already dark enough with a choking matriarch and a slew of unruly Angry Birds-addicted children?

And then I see these shiny happy families on Facebook and Instagram, polite children and adults who wear actual pants instead of pajama bottoms to Christmas dinner. Families who share Christmas songs instead of YouTube clips of a woman shitting in aisle five of a supermarket. Cousins who bring over mashed potatoes instead of moonshine. And it hurts even more. My family won’t ever be like that. Sure, no family is perfect, but ours isn’t even palatable.

I think about the young ones and I hope they turn out better than their parents. It’s unfortunate that the cousins I grew up with couldn’t learn from their parents’ mistakes. I see them following the same path. And I fear their children will do the same. I’ve seen one of my cousins grow up from a baby into a tall and pretty girl. She could end up okay if she’d just stay in school and not get pregnant. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask but we’re a fertile bunch and it doesn’t take much to get knocked up.

But really, it’s hard to say how anyone will turn up. I thought I did everything right. I made excellent grades in high school and did not curtail my cirriculum with drugs or alcohol or sex and followed my dreams of being an artist, which resulted in a pile of student loans I couldn’t comfortably pay back and days of unrelenting loneliness and rage.

I know I’m new around here and some of you who haven’t followed me over from OD don’t know me too well so you might fear I think I’m above these people. Don’t worry, I’m the biggest piece of crap out of all of them. It’s not about thinking I’m better. It’s about thinking I’m disconnected. I don’t agree with some of the choices they’ve made but they seem to be far more comfortable with themselves than I am with myself. And maybe being content with your choices, whether they be good or bad, is more important than trying to play it safe and make no choice at all, like in my case.

They have families, albeit accidental ones. But there seems to be love there. When you look past the camouflage, you can see a closeness. They’re not highbrow, but they’re a family and that’s really all that matters. It’s more than I can say. I’m the odd guy out, the only one not partnered up. They might have Honey Boo Boo caliber class but I’m the Christmas curmudgeon.

The next day they rushed my grandmother to the emergency room because her coughing got worse.

And then we took down the Christmas tree.

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