Last Christmas eve I was alone on a beach in Thailand.
“But no one there even celebrates Christmas,” said my mother over the phone.
Yes, I thought. That is why I am on a beach in Thailand.
“You’re thousands of kilometres away from your family!” she said.
Wow, I thought. She really gets it.
You may be happily spending your holidays with your family, but that is because your family is not like my family. My family is what you would find if you were to stumble into a warehouse of odd-shaped aliens who have been observing our ways for years in order to imitate us without ever quite getting it right, and have also eaten hallucinogenic cactuses.
There’s my grandmother, who’s so grumpy she once punched a cat. There’s Uncle Roy, who is always the first person to put on one of those stupid paper party hats, then goes around harassing you to put yours on too, saying “Come on, don’t be a spoilsport, have some fun!” Does wearing a paper party hat equal fun for Uncle Roy? Does he come home from a hard day, flop down on the La-Z-Boy and slip on a paper party hat to cheer himself up?
By the way, Uncle Roy’s head is roughly the size of a watermelon so his hat always rips and is the first to fall off. That distresses him because he doesn’t want to miss out on all the fun, so he’s always searching the Internet for plus-sized paper party hats. One year he brought sticky-tape from home to repair the hat when it ripped. Sticky-tape doesn’t make the hat diameter larger, though, nor his head narrower, so it just ripped somewhere else. Eventually there were just shreds of ripped paper hat, sticky-taped to his forehead. It was quite sad.
But worst is my Aunty Ray, who smells of shoe polish and always has a cigarette in her mouth. When I was eight she kissed me hello without removing the cigarette and set my paper hat on fire. She was married once, for about ten minutes, and this had a negative impact on her personality. I’ve seen her using her cigarette to deliberately pop balloons at birthday parties. Once at Christmas lunch she stole the roast potatoes off my plate, wrapped them in a serviette and put them in her handbag.
“That’s not fair!” I said.
“Life’s not fair, kid,” she growled.
Once I received a watch for Christmas and took it off to show her. She squinted at it through her cigarette smoke, said, “Is it waterproof?” and threw it in the pool.
When I finally managed to fish it out, I discovered that in fact it wasn’t waterproof.
“Life’s full of disappointments,” she coughed. “The sooner you discover that the better. You’ll thank me one day.”
My mother sighed down the phone. “You’ll miss us when we’re not around.”
I chuckled about that the next day as I dug my toes into the warm Thai sand and listened to the sound of no one complaining about the food. But then I remembered Uncle Roy reading out the jokes from his Christmas cracker and the way Aunty Ray would drink too much and start singing “Oops, I Did It Again”, and I know my mom will be reading this, and a kind word is worth more than money to her, so I’d like to end with a heartwarming affirmation that secretly she was right, that in the depths of damaged, defended heart I really did miss them. I’d like to say that. I really would.
Clicks, 19 September 2017