Because What Says ‘Christmas’ Better than a Blow-Up Penguin?

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my Dad decided to decorate my house for Christmas–with lights and a blow-up penguin that rises out of an igloo, which is on some kind of timer so that it inflates and lights up at night, but which is so poorly lit it must appear to my neighbors like a giant white boob on top of which a nipple stands erect every so often. The Butcher thinks I see boobs in everything, but in this case, I think I’m right.

This visit has been weird. I think it’s been harder on the Butcher, since I’ve been sick, but, bless my dad’s heart, he has this way of turning everything into a test you cannot help but fail, which just proves that you don’t love him. Like, for instance, I have been sick, obviously, which meant that I could either cook things very slowly, which I had to do on Thanksgiving day, or I could not cook at all, which means someone else was going to have to step up and do it. Which he did this morning.

Which then meant that he couldn’t even come visit us without there being a long list of things we had failed to do–one of which being that he had to cook, when it was his vacation. And, apparently, I am not as good as my mom, because my mom likes to do things and not just lay around all the time.

Yes, apparently my being sick was not actually about being sick, it was about me refusing to be fun.

People, what can you even say in the face of that?

The older I get, the more I’m glad I don’t have kids of my own. It’s weird, I know that sounds kind of sour-grapish, like of course I am now glad I don’t have kids of my own since no one would ever have kids with a loser like me, blah blah blah. But really, I’m glad to not be teaching this dance to another generation.

When I was a kid, a lifetime ago, I made a couple of half-assed attempts at killing myself. Very half-assed. But in the middle of each one was just this overwhelming desire to not feel anything any more, to be able to endure the nonsense without having to feel it.

It’s weird that him running over my flowers this summer finally broke the thing I needed broken back then. But so it has.

If this shit upsets me, I can’t feel it any more. Which is both nice and probably not good. I’m expecting a rash or a tumor out of this, now.


My uncle has really fucked things up between him and my dead cousin’s kids (my dead cousin is the son of another uncle). The daughter has a kid or two my uncle refers to–in front of his friends, to his friends–by a cutesy racially derogatory term. Unsurprisingly, word of this has gotten back to her and now neither she nor her brother are speaking to my uncle.

This, in my family, is cause for some measure of disbelief, because, apparently, there’s just some level of emotional abuse one must be willing to put up with for the sake of the family. Yes, a person can go too far, of course, but the line which constitutes “too far” is always something pulled by some other family member. Never the one in question.

The one under discussion may be “that way,” but we all have to understand that he’s “that way” and still participate in his life for the sake of the family.

Anyone who would chose not to participate for the sake of the family is considered to be not a very good Phillips.

Which is true.

They are indeed failing at being miserable sons-of-bitches.

And yet, I cannot help but suspect that they are happier for it.

My mom would like to get together with my dead cousin’s brother and his wife the next time they’re in Michigan. “But how do you do that without getting Uncle B. involved?” she asks me.

“Are you kidding?” I say, too sick to not be blunt. “You make arrangements and go see them.”

The thing that scares me, that scares me the worst about my family and has scared me since I was old enough to know to be afraid of it, is that they are constantly cringing. Sometimes really and sometimes just figuratively. But they are constantly cringing.

They make the shape the abuse gives them. They bend, even just in anticipation of a wind that has not yet come.

Or to stick with the dance metaphor, they are already moving backwards in the proper pattern.

How can they not help but find partners that know those dances comfortable? The shape fits.

I am terrified of ending up with someone like my dad.

Or worse, someone like my mom, so that I become the fist, the wind, the monster.


13 thoughts on “Because What Says ‘Christmas’ Better than a Blow-Up Penguin?

  1. This so hard!

    “I don’t want to go visit them.” “Why do you hate them?” “I don’t hate them. I hate being abused every visit.” “That’s just the way they are.”

    The thing with your own nuclear family, the one you marry, birth or create with friends, is that you are aware of the crazy and avoid it. I know the extended family makes children eat outside or standing over the sink, so at home I let the children eat and spill any-freaking-where.

  2. There’s no getting away from the crazy because the crazy is in me. I just make my peace with it the best I can. Of course I’m passing a little of it along, but I hope it’s like how the echo of a scream from a sufficiently far distance sounds faintly musical.

  3. I get this. My brother is a big bully. Two Christmas’s ago, he called me, while drunk, and started to ream me out over something he felt I should be doing. I hung up on him. I have never received an apology from him and my mother excused his behavior as “just the way he is, and he was drinking”. Then they wonder why I’ve never visited his new house yet.
    We also just discovered he’s been taking target practice in the direction of our property we are clearing. Jackass.

  4. I think maybe this is why your novel-girl turns into a flock of birds. A flock is too many to aim at at once and a flock can fly away. If one of them is taken out there are still many left.

    It’s sad that you have to find the greatest feeling of safety in being broken apart. But if peace finds you there, go there to find it.

  5. Last week I was lying in bed with the woman I’ve been lying in bed with a lot. She started telling me all sorts of new horror stories about her biological father and what a shit he is, her step-father who divorced her mother last year and how awkward the holidays will be because of that, and all the trials and tribulations her parents are having with her younger siblings.

    And there in the bed, I began to wiggle my hips, twist back and forth at the waist, rock my arms to and fro while snapping my fingers.

    “What the hell are you doing?” she asked.

    “Happy dance because I never had kids!” I said.

  6. I kind of want someone to write a country song with “I was lying in bed with the woman I’ve been lying in bed with a lot” in it! What a great line.

  7. I just have to share that I have now seen pictures of the disparaged children, who would be my cousin’s grandkids (wow, but yes, we are that old now), who are so damn cute I about can’t stand it.

    But people, THEY ARE BABIES! I don’t know how to judge baby age, but the girl looks about “I can walk but am uncertain about it and what can I put in my mouth when you’re not looking?” age and the boy is still “I’m like a loaf of bread, but cuter” age.

    What kind of sick, sad fuck disparages babies? Picks on babies to and with his friends?

    Literally, all they could do in self-defense is maybe poke him with their tiny sharp baby fingernails. Assuming they could somehow get to him.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong. His behavior is mortifyingly bad and would be if the kids were any age.

    But something about them just being babies… I don’t know. It has kind of caused me to feel weird in the pit of my stomach.

  8. To some folks, babies aren’t real people until they can talk and do things on their own. So that makes it easier to make fun of them.

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