Greyhoud coach

A Peripatetic Christmas


Cole Parker

Looking back, my most memorable Christmas was in the ’90’s. I was 12, and Christmas was the next big event on the calendar. I’d had to put up with my unpleasant cousins when they came to visit us for Thanksgiving. What I gave thanks for was that they wouldn’t be joining us for Christmas. Never had; hoped they never would. They lived in Idaho; we lived in San Diego. They didn’t visit much, and with my mother in a wheelchair for the past three years because of a car accident, we never visited anyone at all now.

My Idaho cousins? I’d rather not think about them. There were three of them, and they were all older than I was. Two boys, 13 and 18, Jimmy and Edward, and a 16-year-old girl, Tessa. They all had an attitude; they thought they were better than us. No, they were sure they were. I could see their attitude in their faces and hear it in their voices. Their family did have more money than we did, but that didn’t make them better. All it showed was that they had two wage earners and we had one.

My cousins never let me forget that they had more money than we did. The kids wore fashionable clothes and had name-brand sneakers, and they spoke smack about our car and went on about how they had a Lexus, and . . . well, you get the idea. All of them except Aunt Joan evinced a supercilious manner that was difficult to tolerate.

The kids got their attitude from their dad. I didn’t like him any more than I liked the cousins. Their mom, my mother’s sister, was all right, but she was outnumbered and had stopped trying to change them years ago. I could tell she didn’t like how they acted by the looks on her face. I also thought maybe her defeated appearance was due not only her husband’s negativity, but also because he always seemed to have a drink in his hand. We were a family of non-drinkers. To me most any alcoholic drink was a lot. He usually started a little after lunch, continued through dinner and after, and how he didn’t slur his speech spoke of years of building a tolerance to the stuff. He didn’t slur his speech, but he did slur all the people he despised for being whatever nationality or color they were that wasn’t white and what language they spoke or how those people getting government money were all leeches, living off unearned largesse from the welfare rolls and taking money that hard-working people earned honestly.

We had a small house—we only needed two bedrooms, mine and my parents—and there really wasn’t room for five more people, but my mom wanted to spend as much time with her sister as possible, so Dad had figured out how to accommodate them. He let the two adults have my bedroom. I had a full-size bed, so it was large enough for the parents to sleep there. And the rest of us kids?

Well, our house had a back porch, and Dad had screened it in a couple of summers ago. The climate in San Diego is very pleasant, and that porch was where we tended to sit in the evening. Even me. I guess I wasn’t a typical boy of 12. I still enjoyed my parents’ company. We’d sit out there and talk. I didn’t have any secrets from them. Maybe I would when puberty struck. Probably would. But that hadn’t happened yet.

So, my three cousins and I slept on that porch. Let me tell you, I learned things I hadn’t known before. We were all sleeping on air mattresses, and I found it difficult to get comfortable on mine, so sleep didn’t come about as soon as my head hit the pillow like it did when I was in my own bed. I lay awake, and by doing so, I heard both my male cousins making noises I’d never heard before. I also heard the girl bitching at them, telling them to do that in the bathroom so she didn’t have to hear it.

I knew what they were doing and what she was talking about. I’d had Sex-Ed, so I knew. But I hadn’t known it was accompanied with the guttural noises they were making. Sounded like a dying animal of some kind. I wished they’d listen to their sister. I hadn’t done what they were doing yet, and hearing them, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Sounded painful.

Anyway, that was Thanksgiving, and I was very happy when they left. Especially getting my own bed back. In my own quiet bedroom.

Twelve is a great age for a boy at Christmas. You know the truth about Santa but try not to think about that—at least for a little bit. You’re teetering on the edge of growing up but still an excited kid. As the day grows closer, the excitement builds, probably not quite as much as it did a couple years earlier, but it still jangles the nerves, increases the heart rate, and causes butterflies in the tummy the closer it gets to the 25th.

And then the bomb exploded. A few days before Christmas, my dad told me he was taking Mom to the hospital. She’d had an episode, and the doctor had told him to get her there ASAP. “They’re talking about possible surgery, Daniel, and, well, I can’t leave you alone during the day and maybe some nights. I called your aunt, and they’ll take you in over Christmas. I don’t know how long this’ll last; they’re still doing tests. But I need to get you on a bus today.”

“Dad! Is . . . is Mom going to be okay?” My quavering voice said it all. I couldn’t lose Mom. Couldn’t!

“I don’t know, Daniel. The doctors say it depends. They’ll know more when they’ve fully evaluated her. But I need to spend as much time as possible with her, and I still have my work, and . . . and, well, you need to be brave for her and go to Idaho for a while for me. I know you’re not real happy with those people, but it’s all I know how to do, and please, don’t argue about it.”

I could tell from his voice he was struggling to hold it all together. I was shaken up, too. Most of it was the fact I might lose my mom. I was actually on the bus and moving north before my situation became real to me. Christmas in Idaho with people I didn’t like. A long way from home. Worrying about my mom. Sitting on that bus, watching the flat land of inland Southern California looking like it was patiently waiting for spring planting in the December dormant period: one flat field after the next, nothing growing, just idle—it made me feel like me. Nothing happening, nothing getting better, just waiting. Just like me. When we reached Northern Nevada, the scenery changed for the better, but I hardly noticed. I had lots of time to think about what life would be like without my mom. Even in the wheelchair, she was always a positive person, cheerful and encouraging. We were as tight as a family could be, the three of us, all needing each other. I needed that family. I needed my mom. I tended to be too introspective, too within myself. I’d gotten that way when my mom got hurt. I’d overheard Dad telling her once that I was much more sensitive than he’d been as a boy, and because of that, I’d certainly find the world a painful place.

I was feeling some of that right then on that bus.

Scene break

I’d had to change buses at the Greyhound terminal in Los Angeles. I don’t know if it would be accurate to call me a timid boy, I wasn’t generally, but maybe most boys my age all alone in a place like that terminal with so many weird-looking people staring at them would be intimidated. I needed to use the restroom, but the few stalls in there were in use, and some of the men at the urinals gave me a funny feeling—not a nice one—and I decided to get out of there, to hold it till I was on the bus to use the toilet on board.

I had managed to get on the right bus. I held tight to my suitcase, and I never did let go of it till I put it in the overhead place across the aisle in the bus. I could see no one took it from there; it would be invisible to me if I put it over my seat. I got a window seat. It would be a long trip.

I’d left San Diego early in the morning. The bus arrived in Pocatello the next day sometime after 1 AM. I’d managed to sleep a little but never deeply and never for more than an hour or so. When I was getting off the bus, I was disoriented and more zombie than boy. I grabbed my suitcase and stumbled down the aisle, almost falling going down the steps, but the driver grabbed and steadied me till my feet were firmly on the ground. It wasn’t the same driver who’d been at the wheel when we left L.A. There must have been a change when I’d been asleep.

No one was outside the bus terminal to meet me, and my stomach told me now was the time to start worrying. I walked inside and found my uncle sitting on a bench reading a magazine. He didn’t look up till I’d walked up to him and said, “Uncle Scott?”

He lowered the magazine, scowled and said, “Finally! Seems like I’ve been waiting here all night. Let’s go.”

He made me feel like his waiting was all my fault. I was too sleepy to respond. I just followed him out to his truck—he’d left the Lexus at home, I guessed—put my suitcase in the back and climbed into the passenger side of the front seat. He didn’t say a word, just started up and drove away from the terminal.

We rode in silence, and the longer that went on, the more I realized he didn’t want me here. His silence made that clear. Made me feel even worse. I didn’t ask how far we had to drive. I didn’t feel like speaking to him. My head started to nod, and I had to force myself to stay awake. Eventually, I gave up and dropped off with my head against the side window.

He woke me up when we were at the house. I hadn’t been to their house before. First time in Idaho. We seemed to be out in the countryside. He shook my shoulder and said, “We’re here.” Then he got out, slammed his door, and walked away.

“Way to make me feel welcome,” I said, though no one was around to hear it.

I grabbed my suitcase out of the back of the truck and looked around. The truck was in their driveway back near an unattached garage. The back door to the house was in view; I couldn’t see the front of the house. I figured this was the door my uncle wanted me to use, so that’s where I went. I didn’t walk in. I wasn’t sure what to do. It was the middle of the night, past two in the morning. Should I knock and wake people up?

I stood there, getting more and more unsettled. This was so rude of my uncle—ridiculous, really—leaving me like this. I stood there and realized I was cold. I was almost never cold in San Diego. This certainly wasn’t San Diego. There was snow on the ground in places, and while I didn’t know what the temperature was, the snow told me it was probably at least in the 30s. I’d never been in such cold weather before, and the jacket I had on wasn’t nearly warm enough.

I finally tried the door. It was unlocked. I walked in and found myself in the kitchen. I set my suitcase down and looked around. All the lights were off; no one seemed up. Well, I wasn’t going to go exploring. I might use my cellphone to look for the bus schedule going back home in the morning. Right now? I found the couch in the living room, took off my shoes but not my jacket, lay down and was out.

Scene break

I was awakened in the morning by my aunt. I still felt fuzzy-headed. Not nearly enough sleep and too much stress.

“Daniel, honey, I’m so sorry! I should have been up to greet you! But it was late, and I was running around all day yesterday—Christmas stuff—and I just lay down for a second to rest when your uncle left to get you, and I fell asleep. I couldn’t believe it when he said he brought you home and then went to bed. He should have woken me if he wasn’t going to see to you. That man! If we didn’t have three kids . . .”

She didn’t finish that sentence, but whatever it was, she sounded serious.

“Anyway, you made it, and we’re all delighted to see you.”

“All?” I’d never said things before like I said right then. I was still that upset. “Your husband sure didn’t seem delighted. Didn’t say a word to me all the way here and complained about the long wait for the bus to arrive.”

Okay, okay, that wasn’t like me at all. Not a bit, and my only excuse was the fuzzy-head thing and lack of sleep, and the fact I was still pissed. I immediately finished by dropping my eyes and saying, “Oh, I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry, Aunt Joan. That was rude and not at all nice. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I apologize.”

She smiled at me, not a bright cheerful smile, a rather weak one, but said, “I understand. Your uncle is a difficult man. It’s best if you just ignore him. But the kids are all looking forward to spending Christmas with you, and I’m happy you’re here. How’s your mother?”

“I need to call. They may have finished the tests by now. Can you excuse me?”

“Sure, you go right ahead. I’ll start breakfast. You’re probably starving.”

“I hadn’t noticed, but now that you mention it, I could eat something. Don’t go to any bother.”

She smiled again, a little brighter this time, and said, “Let me show you your room first. You can call from there and have all the privacy you need. Where’s your suitcase?”

She brought it in from the kitchen where I’d left it, and I followed her upstairs and to one of the bedrooms. “This is Jimmy’s room, but he’ll stay in with Edward while you’re here. Make yourself at home. There are clean sheets on the bed, and you can use the towels on the dresser here. Let me know if there’s anything else you need, and come down when you’re done with your call.”

I shut the door and called Dad. “They’ve decided what they need to do,” he told me. “She’s going into surgery this afternoon. They tell me there’s a good success rate with this procedure and not to worry. Yeah, right. Don’t worry. But I’ll call you this evening, probably, and let you know how it went.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Worried, though.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine. I’ll say the same thing the doctor did: don’t worry. But I know we both will.”

“I love you, Dad.”

“Me, too, Daniel. The trip up okay? No problems.”

I wanted to tell him about Uncle Scott but didn’t. He had enough to worry about without my minor problems being part of that.

When I went down, the three kids and Aunt Joan were at the kitchen table. Tess and Edward just looked at me. Jimmy said, “About time. I’m starved, and we had to wait.”

“Jimmy!” Aunt Joan sounded shocked.

“Well, we did!”

I looked at him for a second, then took the empty chair. He dropped his eyes while I was looking at him. Aunt Joan took a plate filled with pancakes out of the warming oven and then another plate of bacon and sausages, then said, “I’m late for the church group. You three take care of Daniel. I’ll be back in time for lunch.” She set the plates on the table and left.

The plates were next to Tess. She took three pancakes, then passed the plate to Edward, who took four. Jimmy came next. He glanced at Edward then also took four. That left one small pancake on the plate which had been flattened by the weight of the others. Jimmy displayed a grin that I could only call hostile and handed me the plate, saying, “Oops.” I think it was supposed to sound sarcastic, but it came out almost apologetic. I couldn’t tell from the look in his eyes what his intent was. But he glanced at Edward and received a smile from him; it looked like he had earned his brother’s approval.

The bacon and sausages suffered the same disappearing fate as they were being passed, except when the plate arrived this time there were none left. Jimmy’s grin this time looked triumphant, though it was aimed at Edward and not me.

I’d had very little to eat the day before and was ravenous. One thin pancake didn’t do much to help. After eating, the three kids scattered, and I was left on my own. That was fine with me. I went back up to ‘my room’ and took a book out of my suitcase, lay on the bed and read till my eyes got heavy, then slept some.

I was awakened by the sound of an argument. It was my aunt and uncle, and she was letting him have it. “That was unconscionable! I know you don’t like that family, but she’s my sister, and they’re nice people. You’re the one with the problem. You need help. You seem to hate everyone who isn’t exactly like you, and thank God there aren’t many of those. I’m so ashamed of you. I don’t know what I’m going to say to my sister. From now on, mister, you’ll be friendly to that boy or so help me, I’m kicking you out, Christmas or not.”

“Why should I be nice to him? He’s the same as his damn father. Hardly speaks at all, thinking all the time, judging me and us. They live in a big city. We’re country folk. Daniel goes to a good school. Our kids don’t have that advantage, and yet they’re still smarter than he is. This is my home, and I don’t want him here, and I make the rules. He’ll be out of here just as soon as that sister of yours is out of the hospital, whatever happens.”

“What does that mean?. You mean if she dies?”

“Either way. Now get off my back.”

Then I heard a door open and close and a heavy tread moving through the hall and down the stairs.

I was upset again but then realized I already knew he didn’t want me here. He’d made that clear last night. Seemed none of the kids wanted me around, either. I got on my phone and looked up bus schedules. I could get a bus shortly after four in the afternoon. There was a connecting bus that would get me to San Diego early in the morning tomorrow. Christmas Eve. I had Mom’s credit card, so I called and reserved a seat on both buses. I’d wait to tell my dad I was coming home; the surgery should be over by then and I’d be on my way.

I was really hungry, but I decided I could tolerate it. I’d get something to eat at the bus station and something to take with me, too. No way I was going to eat another meal with those kids, and maybe my uncle would be there, too. No, I’d wait in my room and then ask Aunt Joan to drive me to the station.

Aunt Joan called up to me announcing lunch. I told her I’d stay in my room if that was okay with her. She didn’t answer, but a few moments later, she knocked on my door.

“Honey,” she said, opening it, “lunch is ready.”

“That’s okay. I’ll skip it.”

“Why? Is everything all right?” She was worried about me. The mood I was in, I could take a lot, but sympathy? That was hard. Especially with my stomach rumbling.

“Well, no, it isn’t, but it’s best if I don’t bother you guys. Oh, and, I need to ask a favor. I know it’s a lot but, I need to go back home today. I bought a ticket online but need a ride to the station. Can you take me? Please? I’d much rather you do it?”

“Did you hear from your dad? Is your mom okay? Is she, did she—”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that anything’s wrong. She’s to have surgery today, but later this afternoon, I think. No, Dad would have called if anything was wrong.”

“Then why are you going back? You were supposed to be here several days?”

“I . . .” I didn’t want to tell her. On the other hand, I did want to. I was 12. And everything that was going on was just too heavy for me. I wanted to do the right thing, not squeal on her kids or husband, but I was hungry and a little scared about my mom, and this was all so hard. At my age, kids still want life to be fair. Think it should be fair. What was fair about this?

“Daniel? What’s wrong? Tell me.”

So I did. I even shed a tear or two, but that was just me feeling sorry for myself, and I stopped that as soon as it started. She could probably still hear it in my voice, however.

“First, your husband made it clear he didn’t want me here when he picked me up at the bus terminal. Then no one even showed me into the house last night, and I didn’t know where to go; I thought about sleeping in the truck, but it was too cold. I came in and no one was awake. Finally, though, even thinking you might be mad at me for sleeping on the couch, I lay down on it anyway.

“At breakfast, when I was starving because I hadn’t eaten much at all yesterday, your kids took all the sausage and bacon and left only one pancake for me, and, well, Jimmy thought it was funny they took all the food and I got almost nothing. If that wasn’t enough, I heard you and Uncle Scott arguing; I heard what he said. It’s all too much. You’re very nice, but the rest of your family want me gone, so I’m going. Right now, with my mom and all, I can’t take people being mean. So I’m going home. And I won’t eat anything till I get to the station. Jimmy doesn’t want me eating your food, Tess doesn’t care, and Edward is, well—I’ve said enough already. I just don’t belong here. I going home.”

She looked both sad and angry when I was done, but there was starch in her voice when she said, “Daniel, come down to lunch. You have to eat. Come on now. We’ll get this cleared up right now. Come!”

So, I got up and followed her downstairs.

This time the kids hadn’t waited. Aunt Joan had made toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. My bowl of soup was sitting in front of my plate. The plate was empty. Jimmy was finishing the last sandwich and grinning at Edward.

Aunt Joan looked at the table, then at her kids, and she got so red in the face I was afraid she might have a stroke. She told them all to go to their rooms. She also told them that if they expected to get Christmas presents this year, that was too bad because everything that had been bought for them, every single thing, was going to the orphanage in town.

They all looked like they’d been struck by lightning. “But we were just fooling around,” Jimmy whined. “Edward made me do it.”

I guessed that, being the youngest, Jimmy would mind more than the others not getting gifts. “That isn’t fair,” Tess complained, but got up and left the room when Aunt Joan glared at her. That left Edward, who said, “We’re just doing what Dad wanted. He said it was okay. Besides, you’re not the boss of me. Dad’ll give us our presents.” Then he got up, grabbed his coat and left the house.

It took Aunt Joan some time to calm down. She made me fresh sandwiches and warmed my soup, and while emotionally I wasn’t hungry, physically I was, and I scarfed it all down. Then I told her I was going back to my room and asked her, “Please, please take me to the station this afternoon.”

Until Aunt Joan came up to get me, I spent the time after lunch in my room reading. I didn’t mind doing that. I did that at home a lot, too. I was surprised when there was a soft tap on my door, and when it didn’t open, I called out, “Come in.” I wasn’t expecting it to be Jimmy, but it was.

“Can I talk to you? I wouldn’t blame you if you said no.”

This didn’t sound or look like the Jimmy I knew, the one who was cocky and sassy, full of himself, conceited, and a consummate brat. He looked shrunken. It was obvious he’d been crying. He could have washed his face so I wouldn’t have known that, but he hadn’t.

“Talking doesn’t hurt,” I said. “It’s everything else you do.” Okay, so I wasn’t feeling all that benevolent toward him.

He nodded. “Mom just gave me hell, and I deserved it. I’m not like how you’ve seen me. I put on an act because of Edward. Dad doesn’t like strangers in the house, he doesn’t like a lot of things, and he told us to do what we could to get rid of you. He didn’t want you here for Christmas. Edward does whatever Dad tells him to. He told me to do stuff to make you go away. He hurts me if I don’t do what he tells me to. Tess is in her own world all the time and does whatever is easiest. It’s easiest just doing what Edward and Dad want.”

“And who are you, if you’re not who you were at my house and then ten times worse here?” I wasn’t buying his act.

He just kept going as if I hadn’t spoken. “Mom told me I had to apologize to you and mean it. She told me her sister might die and how you had to be feeling about that. She told me to think how I’d feel if I had to go to your house and then was treated the way you’d been treated here. How would I have liked that a year ago when I was your age? And so I did; I thought about that, and I was ashamed. I still am. I was just doing what Edward told me to do, but I knew it was wrong.”

“Then why do it? I don’t do things I know are wrong. Why would you?”

He looked at me without answering. Then he looked at the floor.

“You might as well leave,” I said. “I’m leaving soon, and you’ll be rid of me. Then you can act anyway you please. Close the door, please, when you leave.”

He didn’t go. He stood looking at the floor for a short time, then raised his eyes to mine. “I’ll tell you. I owe you that. I thought about what I’d done, well, what we’d all done, but I was part of it. I thought about that as Mom asked. I thought about how I’d have felt, and, well, I remembered what she said about a year ago. I finally realized how you must feel, how I hurt you.”

“What happened last year?” I asked.

He looked down at the floor again and spoke to it rather than me. He said very softly, “A year ago, I realized I was gay.”

The way he said that, I could tell it wasn’t something he said very often. He’d had to prepare himself to get it out, and it had still been hard for him.

But once said, he continued as though glad to be moving on. “Daniel, you can’t be gay in Idaho. You don’t just get beaten up. Oh, that’ll happen! But, sometimes, you can get killed. Dad is as homophobic as it’s possible to be. Edward believes everything Dad tells him, copies what he does and his attitude. He hates gays, too. Along with lots of other types of people who aren’t the same as he is.

“I realized I was gay, knew for sure, when puberty was kicking in. I began getting really strong crushes on boys, nothing like the ones I’d had before. But I knew what Dad thought about gays. I couldn’t tell anyone. I had to pretend to be straight. I was so scared Dad would find out.

“My mom, though, she’s smart, she watches everything, and she saw I was having problems. I was depressed and moody, and I’d never been that way before. She asked me what was going on, and when she gets going on something, you can’t stop her. She kept after me, and I was already hurting; eventually, I ended up telling her.

“She’s been on my side ever since. She says we can’t tell the rest of the family, and we haven’t. It’s her and my secret, but it’s really hard. When she talked to me today, she said she was as ashamed of me as she could possibly be because I knew what it was like to be alone, to be afraid, and that’s what you were feeling. She said you were afraid your mother might die. She asked me how I could torment someone like that. No matter what Dad thought, or Edward, how could I be so unfeeling, so uncaring? Did I have no decency, no empathy?

“And she was right. I thought about you, what you’re going through and how I acted. I apologize, Daniel, and not because Mom said I should. I hurt you, and I’m sorry. I hope your mom is okay. I wish I could make it up to you somehow, but I can’t. I have to live the life I have here till I go to college or run away, or until Dad finds out. I’m so scared he will. Sometimes he looks at me, and . . .” He stopped and shuddered. “I think he’s wondering about me.”

I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. Then he said one last thing.

“I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’m not sure you believe me, so I will. The thing is, when we visited you, and I was so snotty with you because Edward told me I had to be or he’d hurt me—he does hurt me sometimes—I did it. I was a stinker, trying to show you up, trying to make you feel small. I could see the effect it had on you. And all the time I was doing it, inside, I was hating it. See, the true reason we were there was for my mom to ask your mom if there was a way for me to come live with you. She wants me out of here for my own safety, so I can be who I am.”

Scene break

Aunt Joan drove me to the station. We talked on the way. I got the impression she needed someone to dump a lot of stuff on, and I was handy. She said Uncle Scott had been changing in the past year or so. He was going to meetings with other men, and his views were getting extreme; there were a lot of men in Idaho with extreme views. He was drinking a lot more, too. She said she was going to leave him, but she couldn’t yet because of the kids.

She told me she needed to be there to protect Jimmy. Edward was going into the army when he finished high school. He was already 18. He had no interest in college. He was only still in high school because the Army wouldn’t take him without that diploma. Tess was in her own world, and Aunt Joan was pretty sure she’d be married and pregnant before she was 18. She thought Scott was on the road to destruction, and as soon as she could figure out how and Edward was gone, she’d take Jimmy and leave. I didn’t say much, and when we got into Pocatello, I hugged her, thanked her for the ride and caught the bus back to San Diego. Well, to L.A. and then to San Diego. Dad met me at the station. It was 8 AM, Christmas Eve. He was standing outside where the bus parked, and I saw him as soon as I got off the bus. Me and my suitcase. Home.

“How’s Mom?” I asked after I hugged him. The last I’d heard was she was out of surgery; the surgeon had told Dad everything looked good, but they’d know more when she was awake. At the moment, she was still sleeping and in the ICU.

“We’ll go find out. First, we’ll stop and get breakfast. Young boys need to be nourished.” He laughed, and I almost teared up.

Okay, so maybe I was more emotional than I should have been, but I’d just been through what seemed a minor hell to a sensitive 12-year-old, and it was good to be back with someone who cared about me.

We went to a breakfast place, and I got filled to the brim. While I was eating, Dad told me about Mom. “Your mother got to feeling weird at home with a sort of unwell feeling, something just not right. You have to be cautious with paralytic patients, so I took her to the emergency room.

“When I took her in, they ran some more invasive and thorough tests than they had before, and a scan showed something unexpected. They called it, and I hope I’m saying this right, an arteriovenous malformation. It’s something about arteries and veins growing together unnaturally. It’s a rare condition. It can waylay blood that’s needed in the spinal chord; this may be the reason she’s been paralyzed. You know they never did figure that out; it takes special tests to find it. Now, they’re pretty sure this is the cause of the paralysis. This surgery was to correct this. The surgeon is hoping they’ll have resolved the paralysis and that she’ll be able to walk again after some rehab to build up muscle again. He wants to see when she wakes up if she has feeling again in her legs, feet and toes.”

I was excited! I raced through breakfast but still stuffed myself, and then we drove to the hospital.

The nurse said Mom was just waking up, and the surgeon was there talking to her. Maybe she’d walk again! This was wonderful news.

We arrived just as the surgeon was ready to do his assessment. When I asked, he told me what he was using was a Wartenberg wheel, a device with a round wheel with sharp points that he could run over her legs to see what she could feel.

“Here we go,” he said. He started at the top of her leg, up close to where the sheet was covering her private area and rolled the device all the way down to her toes. I didn’t have to wait to know the answer. As soon as he began, Mom had the largest smile on her face I’d ever seen, and then Dad was holding her hand, and when she kept her smile when the doc did her other let, suddenly, just that quickly, all was right in the world.

That was Christmas Eve day. That night I slept like 12 straight hours, and, when I got up, it was well into Christmas day. We’d decided to take all the presents that were under the tree to the hospital and we’d open them there with Mom. Dad had just been waiting for me to wake up.

But before we left, my dad told me I had to open a gift at home first. It was a small box, and shaking it made me think it was empty. No weight, no rattle. I tore off the paper—what 12-year-old is careful of the paper when opening a present—and opened the box. There was a note inside. It said, ‘Look on the back porch.’ I did as directed, went out on the porch, and I screamed. Wow! The one thing I’d wanted but knew we could scarcely afford was a new bike. I wanted a 26-inch one with 21 gear positions, a derailleur and skinny tires. My best friend Tony had one, and my old single-speed, fat-tired bike couldn’t keep up with him. But we couldn’t really afford it, and I hadn’t put it on my list. Yet there it was, on our porch with a huge red ribbon tied to the seat.

I thought Christmas, the year I was 12, would be the worst I’d ever have when I was in Idaho, and then it turned into the best. I got the one present I really wanted, and that turned out to be the second-best thing that happened. My mother being able to feel her legs again and being told that with quite a bit of rehab, she’d be able to walk again, that was definitely the best.

And then I learned I was going to get another gift, too. Dad asked me how I’d feel about my cousin Jimmy coming to live with us.

“Where would we put him?” I asked. My room wasn’t big enough for another bed. And sleeping with a gay boy? That would be interesting and educational to say the least, but together like that for the next six years at least? No, even he might not like that; he should have his own room.

“I wouldn’t mind him living here. She told you why she wanted this, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, that he’s gay, and that you knew that. But I know you have a couple of gay friends so didn’t think that that would matter to you.”

“No, it doesn’t. We just don’t have room is all.”

“Well, part of the deal is, they’d pay for us to add an addition to our house. Jimmy wouldn’t come till we had a room for him. This is all being worked out. They’re negotiating a divorce settlement, and he wants the house there. It’s still all in progress, but adding a room, maybe two, to our house is something she’s not budging on and he isn’t complaining about; he doesn’t want the fact he has a gay son to become common knowledge.”

And that’s what happened: two rooms! I have a pseudo-brother now instead of a cousin. Jimmy is actually a good person when away from Edward’s and his father’s influence, and he says living his life as an out gay kid in a place where it’s accepted is a dream come true. He’s not scared any longer. We get along great now that he’s a real kid. My only problem is Jimmy has a crush on Tony. Tony’s sort of wishy-washy about his sexuality. I’m keeping my eye on him.


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Merry Christmas!


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