Please, Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas

...and stop smoking crack with Leon Spinks, plus other tales of blue yules past

The presents I unwrapped that year included domestic items from around my mom's house, since all of her money was going to the Leave Bill Fund. I got a set of steak knives, the ones my parents had received as a wedding present and used every Friday of the summer when my dad would barbecue, as well as salt-and-pepper shakers, place mats, and potholders. As for Kathy, she gave me a handmade monogrammed robe. It came in a teeny jewelry box in the form of a picture from a magazine. "That's the robe I'm making for you," she said.

She never sewed the robe--at least I never got it. But I still have the steak knives; I use them all the time. The wood handles have rotted out, though, and in the last few months, I've wrapped the ends with tape. I'm trying to keep them from falling apart.

 

Jeremy Eaton

The Thorazine Helped My Brother Put on 30 Pounds
By Rhys Anderson (not her real name)

"You might want to prepare yourself," my father was telling me by phone from California. "His forehead is rather large."

I was 3,000 miles away at college in Pennsylvania, speaking over the communal dorm phone. In 1993 there were no cell phones on college campuses; my school didn't even have individual lines. We all heard each other's breakups and meltdowns, the lies we told our parents. In this fashion, my roommates had been within earshot two months previously when my parents called to say they'd placed my younger brother in an inpatient psychiatric treatment facility.

I remember feeling complete disbelief. When I'd left for school, my brother was a skinny, punky, irritating little piece of shit who ran cross-country with me and had a tendency to pick fights with my friends. If my older brother had a don't ask/don't tell policy about my private affairs, Tim had an ask-and-tell policy. He was constantly getting me grounded and when I left for college, I did not much think I would miss him.

The next time I saw him, that Thanksgiving, at a family powwow in New York, he had dreadlocks and a 10-mile stare. He laughed to himself almost constantly and had a tendency to leave the table. Occasionally he would walk up to me and stand very close and repeat gibberish in my face. The scary thing was that it always sounded just enough like me to make me realize he had been listening and was mocking me. I was a fraud and even though he was crazy, he knew it.

Anyway, I came home expecting more of the same, but what I got was worse. Over the last month, the Thorazine had helped him put on 30 pounds, maybe more, and a lot of it, by all appearances, really had gone to his forehead. The physical change made him seem shifty and mean. He caught me staring once or twice and he began to taunt me with his belly: rolling up his shirt and shoving it in front of my face as I ate my cereal.

And so the Christmas that was supposed to be a coming together felt like a shipwreck. My father continued to work late, my older brother took Tim's medicine to see how it felt, and I went for 18- and 20-mile runs in the dry, 40-degree Sacramento winter. Oh, and my mom cried a lot.

I stole my Christmas presents that year. Not sure why. I got away with it, though, and remember the surprise when my older brother unwrapped an entire set of the City Lights pocket poets. "Just what we need," my dad said, "more druggy poetry." Tim giggled his way through the proceedings.

I remember that Christmas feeling that emotion Tim had always been so good at provoking--irritation. Only this year it was warmed over with guilt. He was schizophrenic and it wasn't his fault. Still, we couldn't help pitying ourselves for being plagued with him. A year earlier, Tim had been the 14-year-old who woke up early for Christmas and dragged everyone down to the tree. Mostly because he wanted to hurry up and open his presents. Now, he had dragged us all back to California for a Christmas crisis, and this time, none of us felt like celebrating.

 

Kill Them with Kindness
By Beth Hawkins

When I was 12, I signed on to deliver the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press, a rite of passage for kids at the time. Someone at the paper told me to show up at an organizing meeting in the basement of the local Catholic church. There, I was presented a white canvas shoulder bag with a bright orange strap and the names of the papers (younger readers may not recall that there were still two, each with an afternoon and evening edition) spelled out in raised, glittery script. I was also handed a route list consisting of four blocks starting on St. Clair Avenue and finishing on a steep grade rolling south toward what is now Interstate 35E.

I was terribly full of myself, made my mother take my picture while I was draped in the bag, even. Although, truth be told, it was a rotten way to make money. And even if it hadn't been, I was a pretty bad papergirl. I did all right with the afternoon papers but I had a hard time getting up early enough to make my morning deliveries. More crucial, I was terrible at collecting from customers. (Younger readers may not realize that newspapers used to leave billing to carriers, who, as the most poorly paid independent contractors this side of Bangladesh, in turn paid the paper for the papers they "bought" and "resold." Fail to collect from a customer or two and you'd toiled that month in vain.)

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