The last time my entire immediate family had their picture taken together was at the thirtieth birthday party for the son of one of my parents' friends. The son had just gotten out of prison for drugs, and he'd gotten AIDS from dirty needles. He'd recently married a woman he'd met in rehab who also had AIDS and two little boys, who were not infected. I had to be dragged by my hair to this event, given that I'm not a social person by nature and while I liked the birthday boy and had written him in prison, I didn't want to endure the horrors of being trapped in a small house with screaming children and no end in sight. But I went. The father, totally blotto by our arrival, greeted us at the door crying. I suspected that this would be a pretty dismal affair, and so far, my Amazing Karnac impression had proved correct. The new wife tried to get her boys under control -- they were running around like crazy, hitting all the guests on their heads with a rolled-up Spice Girls poster, yelling, These are the spicy girls! over and over. I began to understand the father's strategy of heavy drinking even though almost everyone there besides my family was in some sort of recovery and could not join him in his tour of duty through a box, yes, a box of wine.
The newlyweds talked about how they had met in group therapy and knew they'd found their soulmates. I never met anyone who got me right away, the birthday boy said. He'd written the same thing about heroin in one of his letters to me and about his last, for lack of a better descriptive word, skanky beyond belief girlfriend who he'd found on the ho' troll in Ft. Worth whom he'd saved from her pimp. The boys referred to their mother's new husband as "Daddy Two" and talked about Daddy One's slow descent into death. Daddy One used a walker. Daddy One coughed and had to have a tube. It was enough to make you either count your blessings or want to take the gaspipe. I sat on the couch, accustomed to pretending bizarre situations were completely normal. The birthday boy's parents looked much older than they were, having been through a wringer they could have never even known existed given their staid, middle-class lives. Years ago, the birthday boy's mother had asked my mother if she could have these evil-looking wooden carved statues that once decorated my parents' house. They were a gift from my mother's relatives in the old country, and my mother believed them cursed. My mother wanted to throw them out, but gave them away instead because of the request. Now they surrounded us again, glaring at us from the corners of the living room. The drunk father asked if we wanted our picture taken. My mother was on the verge of getting sick again, my dad had been through a brutal lay-off at work. Everyone had their eyes open, except my sister who was the only one who looked happy, as if she were making a wish. I guess that's what you do at birthday parties.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Muriel Rukeyser
Drinking music suggestion: Hillbilly Deluxe Dwight Yoakum
Benedictions and Maledictions