Home For The Holidays: Part One

22 Dec


My parents were bugging me to go home for Christmas.

I’d been resisting, knowing how difficult it’d be to field their judgmental questions about the breakup and my recent life choices. I knew how aggravated I’d feel when they’d tell me about my childhood schoolmates who had impressive jobs and impressive life accomplishments, like giving their parents grandbabies.

But then my mom said that Alek, my brother, would be home too. I missed Alek. I hadn’t talked to him much since I’d left Boston. He seemed consumed with his life in New York and didn’t have much time to talk.

If Alek were home, we’d deal with our parents’ bullshit together, probably over our mother’s mulled wine and our inside jokes. Thinking about laughing with my brother made me feel happy, so I begrudgingly accepted my parents’ offer to fly me home.

I decided I would pre-emptively silence any discussions about the breakup by wowing my parents with my chic appearance and bold new outlook on life. How could they criticize me when it was so obvious that the breakup had done me so much good?

Besides, I’m an International Woman of Mystery now and I simply don’t have time for family drama.

The night I flew home, I watched the swirling snow outside my plane window, and I remembered something Alek said years ago when we’d been Christmas shopping for our parents. All that week the weather reports had been predicting a big storm. As we walked back to our car, it started to snow. Alek looked up and said, “Looks like the snow gods are going to Bing Crosby the shit out of this place.”

I laughed to myself. I couldn’t wait to tell my brother about my skydiving, laugh about the wig shopping, and brag about my badass response to Mr. Poison.

Holding my head high as I exited the plane, I felt a wave of new energy as I anticipated the reunion with my family. I walked through the small, nearly empty regional airport and soon saw my parents waiting for me. My mother held a book – her favorite way to pass the time, always waiting for people to show up – and my father studied the passengers walking ahead of me. They didn’t seem to recognize me from afar, and only when I was a few feet from them did my mom give a start. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh my! Jennifer!”

I strode toward them and wrapped my arms around my mom. Any last defensiveness I felt melted away. It had been a long time since I’d seen them. My dad crowded in near us and kissed me on the cheek.

“You look beautiful, my dear Jennifer,” he said, almost proudly.

“You’re stunning.” My mom looked at me in what felt like awe. I smiled back, silently accepting their compliments, thrilled that they saw me just as I wanted.

“Where’s Alek?” I searched the crowd for my brother’s dark hair and lanky build.

“He’s out with some friends,” my mom said. “He’ll be home a little later.”

Mild disappointment washed over me. Oh well. Alek probably had a lot of people to catch up with. We’d have all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to hang out.

Later that night, while I read a book in the family room after my parents went to bed, the garage door opened and Alek walked in.

“Hey Alek!” I bounded up from my chair.

“Jen, hey.” Alek raised his eyebrows at me, but didn’t smile. “You look different.”

“Thanks.” I wrapped my sweater around me tighter. “How are you?”

“I’m pretty tired.” He set the keys on the counter. “I’m going to bed. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” I said hopefully, but I didn’t think he heard me.


All the next day Alek was in a bad mood. If he wasn’t totally ignoring my parents and me, then he was comparing everything to New York. He observed that Brooklyn is just so much more “real” than our hometown. He told, almost angrily, about the “super exclusive” show he was missing in New York that night. He told pretentious stories about his well-connected friends. He compared everything to the cost of things in New York. In just a few hours, his critical and boastful comments quickly depleted my healthy stores of optimism, confidence and resiliency to family drama.

Has Alek always been this way and I just never noticed? Or has he changed too? When I think about how hard I tried to avoid this, my chest gets tight, and, in the moment, I felt that I was approaching the edge of something emotionally dangerous.

After dinner, Alek and I retreated to the living room to watch TV.

“Want some of mom’s mulled wine?” I asked, carrying two mugs into the living room.

“No thanks.” Alek stared at the TV and pressed the remote robotically. “God, I just want to watch some good TV. I wish they had something better than this shitty basic cable.”

This brooding man before me felt like a total stranger.

After a few minutes of watching Alek flip through the channels, I noticed that it was snowing outside. “Hey Alek,” I said, trying to catch his eye. “Looks like the snow gods are going to Bing Crosby the shit out of this place.” I laughed.

He just looked at me. “What?”

“Don’t you remember? That time we were Christmas shopping and you made that joke about the weather. We laughed forever.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, but the confused look stayed on his face. He looked out the window, then back to the TV.

“Yeah, so Denver’s really cool.” I finally offered up.


“I love it. I feel like a new person.”

“You look like a new person.” Alek didn’t look away from the TV.

“Mission accomplished,” I said under my breath.

“What was that?”

“Oh nothing. Anyway. I went indoor skydiving the other day.”

“That’s cool.”

It was silent again, until I said, “I didn’t think I would be this happy so soon after the breakup.”

Alek shook his head. “I never liked that guy.”


“Yeah, Jen.” Alek finally looked at me, and gave me a serious, almost pissed off, look. “That guy was a dick. I never understood why you were with him, much less engaged to him.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“I thought you just wanted to settle down like everyone else. You just wanted to live out your fantasy.”

“What do you mean, my fantasy?” My face felt hot. I set down my mug.

“Oh come on. You always do this.”

“Do what?”

“Oh come on, Jen.” Alek looked at me with condescension, as if he was tsk-tsk-ing me, as if I should have known better. “You have unrealistic expectations from your life and you count on other people too much to make those fantasies happen. And when the other person doesn’t deliver that fantasy for you, you’re crushed.”

It felt like someone slammed me against a wall. I don’t take criticism well to begin with – coming from my brother, it stung.

“I wish you would have said something earlier,” I said.

“It wouldn’t have mattered. You wouldn’t have seen things the way I did. You were always that way with guys.”

“What the hell?” They were the only words I could find to say. I was totally baffled. Could not think of a biting retort fast enough. I frowned at him.

“You’re passive,” he continued. “You let guys walk all over you. You always go for guys who fit some weird vision or expectation you have. It’s not real.”

“Well, maybe that was the way things used to be, but I’m different now.”

“Sure.” Alek stared forward and shook his head, blinked slow and hard.

“Are you angry at me or something?” I asked.

“No?” The word went up at the end, like a question. He sounded confused.

“Then why are you being so critical about me and what happened with Jake?”

“Honestly, Jen, I don’t really care. You can do whatever you want.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.

“Look,” Alek continued. “You can cut your hair however you want, and try to be this fancy woman or whatever, and you can try to dress all slick like they do in Denver, but we both know that as soon as the next guy comes around, things will just go back to the way they were. You may look different, but you haven’t really changed. I’m so sick of people not being real.”

“And I’m so sick of you talking about fucking Brooklyn and how real it is.”

I slammed my drink on the coffee table, got up and dashed out of the living room. I grabbed my coat, my laptop and the car keys off the kitchen counter.

“I’m taking the car,” I barked out and stormed into the garage.

All this time I’d been preparing for my parents to treat me this way, but I never expected it from Alek. I turned on the car and backed out of the garage wildly, not sure where to go or what to do.

And then I asked myself, “What would the International Woman of Mystery do?”

Eyes on the road, I brushed the tears from my face, focused on my destination and sped into the night.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: