Collaborations of Abstraction

I’m Dreaming of An Amway Christmas

Posted on: October 2, 2014

I’d rather spend the day with homeless strangers than Christmas with my family.

It dawned on me slowly, smudged in guilt, rather than coated in it, as I’d expected it to be. I set the heaping platefuls of food on the white, tablecloth-clad table.

The restaurant I worked at was serving Christmas dinner to homeless families, and I was one of the waitresses. Last year I got to use the excuse that my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. I couldn’t pretend to like him for a full day. Now my appetite for authenticity had grown. I couldn’t pretend to like my parents for the few days. And feeding the homeless seemed more honorable. An honorable excuse.

I wasn’t alone thankfully. My friend Jennifer couldn’t make it back to the East Coast so we drank wine and opened stockings the night before. I may have even abandoned her to sleep with Nathan the previous night. I couldn’t remember. Maybe that was why I didn’t feel coated in guilt. The alcohol from the previous several days had left my brain feeling slippery, unable to hold onto anything. It’s OK though. That’s how people get through divorce. And Christmas.

After Jennifer and I finished our shifts, her in the kitchen dishing up plates and me waiting on loads of very grateful, very sweet people, we headed back to her place on the north side of town. It was quaint, with a nice kitchen table and some chairs. We drank hot cider and chatted. It was growing dark, even at 3:30 p.m. Thank goodness the Winter Solstice had passed, I thought.

My phone rang. It was Nathan. He invited me to his parents house. Some of his friends would be there, he said.

Maybe I could bring Jennifer, I asked?

Of course. The more the merrier. Jennifer enjoyed the O’Brien family. Nathan had a few brothers who drank about as much as he did, told great stories and flirted with her mercilessly. They all had girlfriends, though. Still, it was flattering.

I felt tense. Maybe it was all the coffee. Maybe it was the endless days of curing a hangover with another glass of wine. Perhaps it really was that the holidays suck for people like me. I never really did like Christmas. I was trying though. That was more than I’d done in years past.

Although Jennifer was excited at the prospect of another amusing evening, I shared my worry. Nathan had been hinting at his interest in wanting more from me. Well, hinting wasn’t exactly right.

He’d been jealous when I stood outside smoking with his friends at an ugly sweater party. A month previous when we first met, he barely looked twice at who I spoke to. He told me he thought I really wanted to make a home and have a family, even if my bitter demeanor suggested otherwise.

Spending Christmas evening with him at his parent’s was a step toward the girlfriend direction — a direction I had no intention of going. I didn’t know where I was heading, but girlfriend wasn’t the destination. Hell, it wasn’t even on the map.

Jennifer convinced me that it was a party, that I would just be one of many females there, and I should consider it. Christmas night is always a weird time, she said. And she was right. It was either that or go to a movie, and that was a Watson family tradition, something I wasn’t eager to remind myself of.

We drove the 40 minutes into the suburbs and pulled up in front of a ranch style home, snow-covered lawn sprawled out in all directions. Nate’s car was already there. Not one other vehicle, not even his brother’s car, was in sight.

Maybe we’re early? Jennifer said, not sounding very sure of herself.

We knocked and Nate let us in. Family pictures hung on the walls as we walked into the split level entrance. I took off my snow-covered shoes, left them in the hallway and tossed my coat on the bed as instructed. That’s where coats go in Minnesota, you see. On the bed.

We headed into the family room, where his parents were watching Agustin Borough’s Running With Scissors. Nate’s brother nursed a beer on the corner couch. He must’ve driven with Nate. Nate’s mom jumped up to meet me, eager to size me up, sweet as pie in the Midwestern way.

Nate’s dad set the mood by making a mildly inappropriate comment about my hips, and we settled into the couch to watch the movie. When offered a beer, I immediately accepted.

The movie didn’t sit well with either of the O’Brien parents, so Jennifer suggested we play a board game. Jennifer is always suggesting games, and this time I was grateful for the distraction. However, Nate picked Life out of the bunch. Yes, the one where you choose a degree, a spouse, a number of children and go on to buy a home and achieve mediocrity.

When I celebrated getting past the child-bearing stage unscathed, Nate’s mother seemed concerned. Don’t you want kids dear?

I needed a cigarette. Now.

Jennifer stood outside in the cold and got me to laugh at how uncomfortable the situation was. I took a few deep breaths of cold air. Then I took a few more nicotine-filled ones.

OK, I’d go back in. But only for a bit. Then we’re leaving.

Of course.

It was time to have a snack. All that beer was making us hungry. Nate’s dad pulled out some pickles and olives. I started to notice the alarming amount of Catholic garb covering the walls. I tried to calm down by reminding myself it was Christmas, a perfectly normal time to have shitloads of Jesus paraphernalia around.

When I floated back into the conversation, it was just around the time that Nate’s dad called Jennifer a communist. For what? Who knows? Maybe belonging to a newspaper union. But more likely I think it was because she was a woman who had the nerve to have an opinion.

To change the subject I asked about the pickles. They were good. What brand? In Minnesota, this was a perfectly legitimate question because pickles were a legitimate side dish.

Oh, you like them? He was pleased. Nathan, you’ll have to get her involved in your business.

Business? I wondered. Are you in the pickling business? I thought you were an insurance salesman.

Oh no, my parents sell Amway.

Stunned silence.

You’ve heard of Amway, right?

Well, yes. But I thought it was like, illegal or something now. I mean, that still exists?

Of course. You’ve probably seen commercials for it before. Late night TV?

I shook my head. I didn’t have a TV. But I suddenly was the proud owner of a brand new stomach ache.

We left, with two jars of pickles as our parting gift. So nice to meet you, everyone said. So glad you could make it. See you next year.

I’d rather spend Christmas with a bunch of suckers than my own family. Or was that just another version of my family? Another nightmare film entertaining me while I kept digging the same hole?

After reliving the evening’s most shining moments, Communist Jennifer and Childless Rebecca drove in silence back to North Minneapolis.

At one point, a lot of the homeless folks we’d served that day had lived in this neighborhood. When they could still pay rent. Before they’d lost their jobs. Now that was a hole to dig yourself out of. Maybe my Amway Christmas wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was exactly the gift I needed.


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Collaborations of Abstraction

Two close (though, unfortunately, not in proximity) friends – a Welsh man living in Ireland and a Minnesotan woman living in Germany – come together to share musings, wit and random things of interest in this journey called life



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