So this is Christmas...

I saw no reason to blindly love and respect a verbally-abusive recovering alcoholic with a penchant for women's underwear.

When I wake up, the only wreath in the house is one of cigarette and marijuana smoke that lazily curls around the naked bulb in the ceiling of our studio apartment. I climb out of the top bunk of the bed I share with my younger brother. It's hard to escape the view of anyone in a space that small. My brother and my father are sitting on the floor. My brother talks animatedly of nothing, spewing out words that fill the air as surely as my father's smoke. My father sits in a full lotus, wearing a pink ruffled skirt, and naked from the waist up, taciturn, nodding sagely at my brother's inanities, his cheeks drawing in sharply as he sucks on a glass pipe.

He glares at me, and his eyes say the words that I've heard so frequently. "Get the fuck out," those black orbs tell me. I shake out my boots, to make sure no ear-wigs or cockroaches have taken up residence during the night, and I put on my gray leather jacket. It's warm, but its out-of-style-in-the-70s look gets me some flack at school; the holiday break is always one that I look forward to, but after a couple of days I realize how nice having a place to go is. I get even more flack for having perfect attendance halfway into my sophomore year, but whatever, they don't know what it's like.

I grab a cold pancake from the stove and take small, quick bites from it while I stare at the grime-crusted enamel to stave off the dreaded moment I know must come. I ask the question every morning, and every morning my pride battles my greed. "Dad, can I have my allowance?" The question comes out of my mouth quietly, with a subtle stutter. I wish I could speak up, because I know that my stutter will prevent me from saying anything if I have to ask again. He gives me one dollar a day. It's nice to have a little money, and sure, I know kids who get a lot more, but I hate asking for it, asking for money that he feels obligated to give me, asking for money from a stranger.

Our mom abandoned us with him two years ago. She went to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Texas, somewhere. I'm not sure. She dropped us off and left her goodbyes in a cloud of sooty exhaust. I can't say I miss her. I had no memory of my father. We hadn't lived with him since I was a zygote as far as I could tell. My mom had told us stories of him, usually things about their time in Alaska, where I was conceived, stories of masculinity, of living the homestead life. Mom had only recently come into contact with him again, and after a nasty divorce with her second husband, dropped us off at father's studio apartment.

My father's home was something different. It smelled of smokes and spices that my middle-class nose wasn't used to. The entire place was about as big as my bedroom had been living with mom. My brother greeted him with a big burly hug and a smile of warm affection. It all seemed so fake to me. I never really liked touching people, but shook my father's hand because my brother started it.

My brother took an immediate liking to him. He wanted to participate in his AA meetings, even going so far as to participate in the ritualized greeting: Hi, I'm Roger, and I'm an alcoholic. Why should I say I'm an alcoholic if I've never had a drink? They were constantly having deep conversations of little significance while surrounded by incense and pseudo-spiritual pamphlets, my brother taking up his filial responsibility for the love of his father.

I wanted to take my time to get to know him. Apparently he expected his oldest son to immediately worship him as well, but I saw no reason to blindly love and respect a verbally-abusive recovering alcoholic with a penchant for women's underwear. He hates me for every time I don't smile when I look at him, for every time I don't hug him, for every time I don't want to talk about "unlocking my spirit chakras." With a grunt he gives up his dollar.

I leave the apartment, and immediately put my hands in my pockets. The one good thing I can say about our studio apartment is that it's warm. I start walking the mile downtown. The lack of traffic and the smell of the woodsmoke that puffs cheerily out of chimineys reminds me that its Christmas. Fuck. I start to get angry. I hate fucking Christmas. Nothing is open. My dollar that I was looking forward to buying a burger or a burrito with is worthless. I usually spend my days wandering the aisles of the local grocery stores, taking the free samples of food from the delis and butchers' counters, but those stores are closed. All my friends are with their families. As much as I appreciate having a break from school, this one day always sneaks up on me. I lose track of the date without the daily reminders of homework and upcoming assignments.

I want to turn around, but I can't. I want to go home and turn on some sappy Christmas movie about how even people who live in shit have a nice life on Christmas, but I can't. My dad will yell at me, tell me how he hates me, wishes he could kill me if he weren't my father. I wish that the words wouldn't affect me, but they do, they devastate me. I hate looking weak in front of him, I hate when I cry in response to his cruelty, so I keep walking, with nowhere to go.

An occasional car speeds by me on the nearly empty streets. The sky is gray, but the clouds look high, with no promise of rain, which I'm glad of. I finally get downtown and the empty parking lots and dimmed lights of the stores affirm my dread. I walk around, wishing that one store was open, where I could just go inside to be out of the wind, and look for the things that I can spend a dollar on.

Denny's is open. I go inside and join the detritus of humanity sitting at the counter. There are two ragged looking men. One is silent, and the other flirts with the only waitress. She seems disinterested, as though she's waiting for the promised time that only comes once a year, Denny's five o'clock closing time on Christmas day. I really want hot chocolate, but I order iced tea, because I know I'll get refills. The waitress is young enough that my fourteen-year-old mind fantasizes about her. I'm jealous of the old guy who's flirting with her, but I know that I can hardly talk to her: I stuttered just trying to order my iced tea. The more I try to force the words out, the harder it is to say them, and I end up sounding like a freak.

I've never seen her before, but my adolescent mind is fascinated with her. I fantasize about holding her hand, and kissing her. My biggest fantasy is of telling her that I love her, and hearing the words returned before we gently make love. I've never actually done it before, but in the movies the lights are always dimmed and bodies gently rub against each other, and that's how I imagine myself with this slightly disheveled waitress. I'm frustrated to be a fourteen year old who can hardly talk.

I leave the restaurant and start walking home as the sun sets. Fat drops of rain shock me with cold and surprise as they run down my neck, but my jacket keeps me mostly dry. I take shelter under a small bridge near my apartment. It hasn't rained enough for the creek bed under the bridge to fill up this year, and the ground is covered with large pebbles and bits of trash weathered and bleached by the elements. It's completely dark out, and the bridge is a small shadow in the rain. I imagine myself sheltered from the world, and I masturbate, thinking about the waitress.

I return to the apartment, knowing that my father can't bitch at me. It's dark out, and the law tells him that he has to give me a place to sleep, and some food to eat, even if it is just cold beans and rice. I lay down in my bunk, and watch that movie I was telling you about: the one where life doesn't suck on Christmas. I wish I could tell you about more interesting things: about the people who helped me have a great day, about meeting Santa Claus or Jesus, and finding treasure buried in their excrement, about being adopted by a rich family and getting a thousand shiny red bicycles and a puppy, but I can't. For a boy with nowhere to go, Christmas is a dark, desolate wasteland where hope doesn't have any place.


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