Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Time I Met the Virgin Mary

Please refer to The Bridal Shower (May 2009) for a more adequate preamble…

I hated Christmas. I hated it because I had no family. Because I hated being cold. Because the spending was stressful, the receiving was never good enough, and the religious aspect was still far in my future. Not quite as near as my realization about being heavily sedated on whiskey might make it better but then again, I hated afternoon hangovers. Then I got used to them.

When they bought a new house deep in the Pleasantville suburbs, they were slow to invite us over. They wanted to forget they had ever lived in a townhouse, ever lived without a garage. The house had a foyer with cathedral ceilings and an unfinished basement. At least in the townhouse they had a finished basement; a good location for all the porn the father was downloading from the internet and hiding in the ceiling. In the new house the computer stayed in the living room. The expectation was they entered the new house and they were new people, washed clean of us and their old life. But the same problems persisted; a deeply held misunderstanding that everyone else had it better. A festering insecurity that was not relieved by a conscious understanding of the Bible, exacerbated by suddenly being surrounded by other Pleasantville neighbors and all their ideas about how to improve their current situation. The new house was not the promised finish line but the introduction to a much faster race. Suddenly, they began to call again. We did not have it better than them and that was relaxing. They could be “themselves” whatever the hell that was. They called when they felt most alone, they called at Christmas.

They welcomed us back with toothy smiles and thousand yard stares. They had to keep a renter to cover the mortgage payments. They had bought leather furniture, a new boat, a car for the daughter and sports equipment for the son. But the son was in prison on violations of his probation. He was turned in by his girlfriend. His pregnant-for-the-second-time girlfriend. The sports equipment was returned to the store and exchanged for toys for their first grandchild. They screamed bloody murder that they wanted a DNA test while the poor girl was pregnant but fell quickly silent once the precious child was born. It did not matter. One look at that boy and I knew he was his father’s son. They were all a bunch of lunatics.

We must have looked funny in our finest silk and fur coats standing in their empty house. After all we were still deeply middle-class, not the working poor. We had money for many things, because we had not sold our souls for greater square-footage. Life is transactional, an endless series of checks and balances. You play the cards you are dealt as carefully as you can and good things happen. Grasping at material affectation is as effective as grasping at God. You come away with empty hands.

They provided an over-cooked turkey and some sugar drinks because alcohol was not allowed in the home. We talked a little. The pregnant girlfriend was hysterically happy to see me. She set her child down on the beautiful thick carpet and ran to my side. She wanted to talk about girly things and my job, my school work, if I wanted to hang sometime after church. She even said a prayer at the table thanking God that I was spending time with her. It was charmingly-innocently-creepy and deeply manipulative. This girl was forever bound by her children to this lunatic family and she was suddenly realizing how poorly she had played her hand. The prayer was a thinly-veiled insult to her mother-in-law because she did not thank her at all.

As the evening drew to a close, I became aware of an unspoken shift of energy in the room. This was not uncommon. The father controlled the family using some sort of code word telepathy. He never seemed to speak and yet his daughter could read his intention. This time she did not want to do what he was asking. She was disobeying. The mother, always a beat behind, brayed a question. What the mother lacked in speed she made up for in brute force, underscoring the father’s direction and it was decided. The girlfriend was quietly vibrating with excitement beside me when the announcement was finally made: We would drive to the prison so that the girlfriend could visit with the brother briefly before visitation was over.

Imagine this: the empty dark and snowy barrens of rural Canada on Christmas Eve.

Out we went the three of us in the night toward the prison. The car took a long time to heat up and the wind-swept parking lot was only half full. We could not enter the lobby without being searched so the sister and I stayed in the car while the girlfriend ran in to line up. There were many young women roaming around inside waiting their turn to be escorted to the visitors’ area. The sister and I listened to the radio and made awkward conversation, trying to pretend we were not where we were, not doing what we were doing, that is hadn’t come to this. We wanted to pretend that we were nothing like these girls. Stupid fools waiting for common criminals who would beat them as soon as they got out, violating their probation and starting the process over again, season after season.

Christmas, be damned!

There was some disturbance in the lobby; the silhouettes began to move more quickly. Visitation was ending. A short time later the girlfriend ran back to the car. She opened the door of the car but did not get in. “Hi, guys” she said, like she didn’t fucking know us. We stared back in stony silence. She was a lunatic. “Can you give this girl a ride to the bus terminal?” We continued to stare quietly and from out behind her stepped what looked to be a beautiful child. A child in a giant winter coat. No, the coat was fine. It was the girl that looked funny. She was heavily pregnant. I looked at the sister with wide eyes and we both knew what the other was thinking: “Is there any room at the inn?”

The girls got in the back and immediately the child bride’s cell phone rang. “Ya,” she said softly.”Ya…ya…I love you too”. Someone inside the prison was wondering if she had got a ride all right. We asked her how she got there in the first place and she said simply “The bus” and stared out the window into the blackness. The terminal was miles away so we just left it at that until we reached it. She got out and made to stand inside the shelter. She was the only one there. It seem like she was standing in the only light for as far as the eye could see. I didn’t want to leave her there but she didn’t give us a choice and pretty soon another person shuffled under the light with her.

We drove back in silence. The energy was deep and thick like a slow moving river, a sense of capability for the future, of calm.

I don’t hate Christmas anymore.

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