I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying being home. My first impression was that I should be spending every waking moment with Derrick, but oddly enough, I found that not to be the case. With him only a few floors away at any given time, he was more accessible than ever, so there was no longer such a great need to be together. To be completely honest, it felt almost as though we were married, and ask any couple that has been married for more than a year if they want to spend every minute with each other and I can guarantee you the answer won’t be “yes.”
I sat upstairs in my room, lounging back in my computer chair, reading a book on the history of the Egyptian culture. I always enjoyed these quiet, private moments that I had to myself. I appreciated them even more so, since it was the first time I was alone in a week that I didn’t have either a heart rate monitor attached to me or an IV in my arm. It was good to be home. Suddenly, there was a knock on my door.
“You can come in,” I said as I placed my bookmark in my book and set it back on my bookshelf. I had a rather large collection of classic literature and reference books, so yes, being the nerd I was I had my own bookshelf in my room.
Mom walked in as she opened the door. “Hi Tommy, did I interrupt something?”
“Nope, just reading. By the way, you don’t have to knock when you come in.” This was something mom and dad had begun doing all the time. It bugged me since it made it seem as if they thought I had something to hide. Which I didn’t…most of the time.
“Some of the cookies are done, do you want to come down and frost them?”
“Sure.” Duh! How could I have forgotten? In our family, we always made a bunch of Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t believe Christmas was almost here. Time flies when you’re sitting in a hospital bed with nothing to do
I joined mom downstairs to find dad and Ty already frosting some of the cookies. I sat down in my usual chair at the table and took one of the Christmas tree shaped cookies. I suppose you could call me a conformist, since I covered it with green frosting.
“Mom, do you think it would be okay if Derrick came up to help frost also?” I asked
“I think that’s a great idea. I suppose it would be good to make him feel more welcomed here. I’ll go get him.” Mom walked off and came back with Derrick trailing behind her. He was trying to hide a huge grin. He sat down between me and mom and we all returned to our frosting, none of us saying a word but all perceiving the sense of acceptance. I suppose you could say this was the formal way of welcoming Derrick into the family, when you let him in on a family tradition.
After finishing frosting the cookies, and having a few, we stockpiled them up in various Tupperware containers.
The rest of our Christmas Eve day was spent lounging about the house, enjoying a calm and peaceful life that I so desperately needed now before things got a hell of a lot more complicated. In the next few weeks, school start up again.
The evening had come so quickly that I had completely forgotten about another family tradition when mom approached me as I was lying on the couch around 5 pm.
“Tommy, we’re going to go to mass in a little bit. You can come if you want, but don’t feel pressured. I know you still haven’t quite returned to normal yet.”
“I’m sure I’ve go enough energy to make it through one hour of sitting and kneeling.”
“I wasn’t just referring to your physical health. This would be the first public place you’ve gone to since…then.”
I hadn’t even realized that. I don’t know how this would change things in my spiritual life. I know that I already had the support of our priest, but our parish still consisted mostly of older people who grew up with the archaic beliefs of the Pre-Vatican II church. Vatican II was a council which lasted for three years from 1962-1965, under two different popes. The council in some sense “modernized” the church, in that there was formal agreement to end masses in Latin and begin doing them in the language of the country where the church was among other changes. Most of the changes, though, were formal guidelines of how a mass was to be performed.
Despite this, I felt it would be a good place to gradually return to what could be considered a “normal” life. So I told mom I was up for it and went upstairs to get dressed. Christmas Eve mass was one of the few we really dressed up for unless mom was singing or I was reading prayers in front of the congregation.
I insisted to Derrick that he come along with us. He agreed, grudgingly. I knew, though, that it would just be one step closer to having him feel more comfortable as a member of the family. Also, when went off to live together, he would have to get used to going to church with me.
We were all dressed and piling in the van to go to mass. It was then that it struck me how lucky I truly was. I was with the man I loved, the family that accepted and embraced us, and the God that granted me this newfound life.
We all gathered back in the living room at home after mass and gorged ourselves on the stockpile of cookies we had in the kitchen. After an hour or so of small talk, we each headed up to bed (or down in Derrick’s case) so we could get an early start on the morning. Who can honestly sleep on Christmas Eve though?
It wasn’t just the thought of all those presents downstairs that kept me up; something more troubling was juggling in my mind. While school didn’t start up until mid-January for me, high school started up the day after New Years for Derrick. Whatever rumors had been floating around prior to break would now be all but confirmed due to the “incident.” It worried me how students would take it once it was a known fact, considering what happened when it was only speculation. But here I go again with the number one mistake in logic; judging the many by the few.
Obviously many, if not most, people knew I was gay back in high school, and I was treated pretty well. It’s always those few, hateful, radical ones that make a bad name for people in general. We would no doubt have the support of the faculty, since if any discrimination did occur, they’d have the ACLU up their asses faster than…well, fill in your own joke here. Plus, Derrick was pretty well liked in school and was fairly popular due to his involvement in sports and obvious physique. Perhaps people were more surprised and unable to deal with their reactions than outright hateful. At least in my place, I played the stereotypical role of a gay man (I loved musicals, I had good personal hygiene…you get the picture). Derrick never really emitted that vibe, which is one reason I never had the guts to approach him.
But I suppose we never know exactly what to expect, and anything we face, we face together.
It was still dark out and I had hardly slept at all, but I checked the clock anyway. 6:48 am. That was good enough for me. Ty was always a little more excited about Christmas recently since it was the time of the year when he got tons of new golf clubs. Not that they do a lot of good in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin. Still he had probably already beaten me downstairs, so I decided to get up and head down.
Not to my surprise, there was Ty carefully picking through and removing his own gifts from the stack under the tree. I joined him and began picking out my gifts too. Neither of us opened any yet, since tradition states that the whole family has to be up first. Mom and dad usually gave up day of sleeping in for our own sake, and within fifteen minutes, they had both come down the stairs to join us.
“Do you know if Derrick is up yet?” mom asked.
“I haven’t heard him yet, should I go check or let him sleep?”
“I think you should go check, I have a feeling he might feel a little hesitant spending Christmas with us, since it’s his first away from home.”
“Okay, I’ll go down and check, but if he’s still asleep, I’ll let him rest and we’ll wait to open presents.”
“Do we have to,” Ty complained, “I mean it’s not like he’s even…”
“I agree with Tommy,” dad interrupted, “We’ll wait for Derrick to get up if he’s not already awake.”
I gave dad that ‘thanks’ grin before walking to the basement door.
Just as I had suspected, Derrick was lying back on his makeshift bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Merry Christmas you,” I said.
He propped himself up so he could look back as I finished descending the stairs. “Is it?” he asked in a sarcastic tone. I knew this would be hard for him. We’ve both gone through so much in the past week, so I don’t blame him for being a little down.
“We’re all waiting for you upstairs.”
“Why?” This time he had a genuinely curious look.
“Why to open presents of course.”
I saw his sadness melt away to an expression of, and pardon my lame analogy, a kid at Christmas time. “You mean…”
“Yeah, I think I saw a few under there for you too. Come on.”
Derrick quickly leapt to his feet and rushed upstairs, close behind me. We both plopped down next to each other on the floor in front of the tree.
“Nice to see you up Derrick,” dad commented.
“Well I suppose that makes everyone then,” mom added. “Go at it boys.” And with that we descended upon our gifts.
Ty of course got all of his golf clubs unpacked in a heart beat. I took my time enjoying the new books I unwrapped. I saw that Derrick was sitting attentively and reached under the tree to some familiar packaging. Familiar in the sense that I had wrapped them.
“It looks like Santa knew you moved, ‘cause he left your gifts here.” I handed him the packaging. I knew he recognized the ‘to Derrick from Santa’ as my handwriting since he shot me that ‘what did you get me?’ guilt look. He unwrapped the box of expensive Titleist golf balls with a surprised look on his face.
Ty saw the gift and commented, ‘Damn, those are some nice balls.’
I had a smirk on my face. All I could think was, ‘You have no idea.’