The holidays can be a difficult time for all of us, but especially for those of us getting a little older and (hopefully) wiser. One of the things I do to break out of the funk that usually hits me between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is watch a lot of schmaltzy movies on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel and soak up the happy endings.
I lost my mom twelve years ago. She went into a coma on Thanksgiving Day, and died about two weeks later. That first year, all of us kids—eight of us—got together at my dad’s house and to say it was subdued would be an understatement. But eventually, like all things do, the open wound scabbed over and now we can all get together and tell stories about how much she loved the holidays without the tears falling. I always did like bittersweet chocolate…
Anyway, the reason I tell you this is that events like this have inspired my writing. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about a guy who meets the love of his life, falls madly truly deeply in that first day and he and Mr. Right make passionate love on every surface of the house and ride off into the sunset together. That is all of our dream, right?
But the stories I write and the characters that fill them, they aren’t those guys. They are the people who lose, who hurt, but who never get up. They don’t believe in happily ever after. They might have bruises and scars, but they believe, at heart, people are good and there’s a somebody special for them out there. You know my guys down, and they stand up and lick the blood off their split lip, shrug the pain off and take a step forward.
That’s what real life is like. And I think we all respect and admire people who are like that. People like Mark Jennings, in my book Second Chances. Come meet him…
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I wondered if praying that she wouldn’t pull out of this episode made me a terrible son. I didn’t dare breathe a word of that to anybody, but fuck it, I could stand here and by God take a minute to suffer and let my heart bleed in private. Pull all the jagged pieces of my soul together and cobble them into something resembling the man everybody knew as Mark Jennings before I had to go in and be him.
But after a few minutes and a few more deep breaths, I pulled it together. Took the piece of me that was the good son, attached it to the responsible work Mark, the peacemaker brother, the single gay man pieces. Looked at all the parts tiredly, and once they fit into something that approached a whole man, I slipped back into my skin. I took a deep breath and opened the door to Mom’s room.
Dad was there. It may have been too early for any of my brothers and sisters, but that was almost a relief. Today it would be nice just to have some time with him while I still felt so tired and raw.
“It’s good to see you, son.” He hugged me and eyed the sack I brought in from Huey’s. He loved the beignets and the muffaletta sandwiches I’d gotten into the habit of picking up for our dinner.
I handed him the bag. “You too, Dad. Looks like everything’s about the same here, huh? Thought I’d come and keep you company.”
“But I know you’re tired. I told you to go home after work and I’d call you if anything changed,” he fussed as he dug around in the bag.
“Just hush and eat. Where is everybody?” I plopped down in a chair and kicked my shoes off. I’d been at this damn hospital enough to know how to make myself comfortable.
“You’re it right now.” He plowed into the food like a hungry bear, and I knew he’d probably skipped lunch to sit with her. Again. “Patty was here earlier, and Robert. Said he and Jennifer’d be back tonight. The doctor was in today, said she may wake up tomorrow some time.”
I didn’t want to talk about that right now. More than anything, that subject threatened the fragile internal balance I’d forged, so we talked about little crap. What my day’d been like. What had to be done around the house when he made it back there.
But we also slid in some of the more important things, too. How was he holding up. Was I okay. Had I heard from Brian. Things he would share with me, the responsible son. My brothers and sisters, while I loved them, always made everything such fucking drama, and found reasons to let me handle the hard things. You know, since I didn’t have kids and a wife, or a husband, or a boyfriend. At least that’s what Brenda and Sam and Linda thought. Robert and Patti, at least, pitched in as best they could.
But it was also our way to ignore the big things without telling each other to fuck off.
Go home,” he finally sighed. “Get some sleep. I don’t want to have to visit you in the hospital, too. You aren’t doing her any good wearing yourself out like this.” He turned that look on me that still made me want to give up my secrets like I did when I was a kid.
“Backatcha old man,” I shot back. “You know she’s gonna peel the hide off you for not taking care of yourself. And then it’s me that’s gonna catch hell for letting you stay here too long. Go home and take a shower, feed that damn cat of hers.”
“Shut the fuck up and don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” He smiled. I love you, son.
“Hush up, you dirty old man.” I grinned back at him, using Mom’s favorite admonition. I love you, too, Daddy.
Good Southern boys always made everyone at ease and happy. Who were we to fight what was in our blood? We were pleasant, manly, and only said the hard things and showed our emotions, man to man, when we abso-fucking-lutely had to. But finally, I hugged my old man and took him by surprise when I kissed his cheek and left.