Rainbow Advent Calendar
Merry Christmas to you all, whether you celebrate today, on Christmas Eve, or tomorrow morning, Christmas Day. You’ve just opened the last door of this year’s Rainbow Advent Calendar, and I’m happy and very proud to bring you the final story. And what could be more fitting than an homage to the master of all Christmas tales, Charles Dickens, and his “A Christmas Carol”. Our story comes with a twist, of course, and it may just be the first LGBT-themed one out there. Enjoy!
Paul’s Dickensian Christmas – A Short Story
“Who are you?” Paul offered weakly.
The old man who suddenly appeared before him was scary looking, with a big white beard, a severe expression on his face, and the strange, colorful robe he wore. And, as old as he appeared, his eyes were youthful and full of energy—intimidating yet strangely familiar. The man suddenly laughed heartily, as if he’d been asked the silliest question ever. “I’m God. Who else did you expect?”
“Am I dead?” Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“No, Paul, you’re not. You’re dreaming,” God responded, his voice paternal, patient, his eyes gleaming with mischief.
“So…I’m delusional. I’m dreaming about having a conversation with God—which is really quite upsetting, given I don’t even believe in you.” And as if he needed convincing himself, he added, repeating what he’d already said, “I’m an atheist, have been for most of my life.”
God laughed some more before raising his hand in an appeasing gesture. “This is a special dream, Paul. No, you’re not delusional, and quite frankly, I don’t blame you for not believing in me. Heck, given all the BS people say I demand they do, and all the horrors humanity commits in my name, I’m surprised any sane person still believes in me.”
“I don’t understand. If you really are God, why don’t you stop people?”
“Ah, the ten-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, it’s been on my mind ever since I was a child. For all the misdeeds done to me, to others, I’ve questioned how anyone could really allow that—how evil done to any human being could be sanctioned by any deity, not just you. You do not, after all, have the monopoly on being a god to humanity.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely true. You see, I go by many names. You know me as the Christian ‘God,’ but I’m also known as YHWH, Allah, Brahma, Zeus, Oden, and a great many other names. Some worship me as the sun god, I’ve been worshipped as Gaia or Mother Earth through the ages of mankind. But it’s always good old me.”
“You’re Gaia? How’s that possible?” Before Paul’s eyes, God seemed to shape-shift into a dark-skinned, middle-aged woman with a full figure, standing before him in all her glorious nudity.
She laughed. “How’s this for you? Better?”
Paul shook his head in disbelief. “But…how…?”
“My dear child, you’re overthinking this. I am whatever you need me to be, whatever each human being wants me to be. If they feel the need to pray to a fertile woman, I can be Gaia, Mother Earth, Hera, Pallas Athena or Aphrodite, and if they need a man, I’ll be Allah or God or whatever. I’ve even been known to be a gender bender at times.”
“Are you real?” Paul was anything but convinced, doubting his own dream.
“It’s your dream… But seriously, Paul, I didn’t come here to debate theology with you. I am part of you, just as I am part of every other human being that has ever walked the earth, past, present, and future. Which is why I’m limited in what I can do. I am what you are, not more, not less. If humanity works together for the common good, I am omnipotent. I can achieve anything. Alternatively, I am powerless to interfere when you go to war, hurt each other.”
“Then why did you appear to me now?” Paul was seriously worried about God’s presence at this stage in his life—if he was real. At the age of fifty-five, he was what the lifestyle magazines dubbed the “new thirties”—a man in his best years, yet at the same time a man trapped by his upbringing, the wrongdoings of his parents, and the consequences thereof on his life, his lack of capacity for love, his commitment issues. A long list. Now he could add fear of death to the list. Why else would God appear in his dream?
“Am I dying?”
Again, God laughed heartily at the suggestion. “No, silly. Why would you be dying? You’re in good health, although you could finally get that lazy ass of yours out of your apartment and go to the gym. Working out a bit more wouldn’t do you any harm, and those non-existent abs aren’t really going to help you with the boys, not to mention your clogged arteries…”
“You know I’m gay?”
God shook his head. “Do you need this in writing, Paul? I’m inside your head. I am you, or at least part of you. So yeah, I know everything about you—probably things you haven’t even acknowledged yourself, at least not on a conscious level. Interesting though that you picked up on gay but let the clogged arteries go unnoticed. Interesting indeed… Can we get on with it now?”
“Get on with what?”
God rested his head in his palms. This was one tough client. “It’s your dream. You summoned me. Seems to me you have something on your mind…” He flashed Paul a smile and a wink that was more than obvious. Paul was relieved that it was only the two of them in the dream, or it might’ve been awkward. Was God flirting with him?
“Let me see if I’m getting this right. It’s my dream, I’ve summoned you, and you know everything about me—stands to reason you also know what’s on my mind, right? Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Excellent!” God exclaimed. “Now you’re talking. I’m actually here to talk to you about Christmas.”
“Twenty questions again? Yes, Christmas. Today is Christmas, remember? You know, the Christian holiday you observe, despite being an atheist? Tree, lights, presents, overeating, carol-singing, commercial overload?”
“I know what Christmas is, but I don’t understand. I like Christmas.”
“You do, yet there’s always a sadness in your eyes, particularly when you look back at a certain Christmas past, and it looms like a dark shadow to this day.”
“So now you’re Dickens?” Paul had an inkling where this might be heading, and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Let me remind you, Paul, that you’ve not always been a cynic. Until you were fifteen, you loved Christmas unreservedly—even after you’d found out that Santa Claus wasn’t the real deal. But that year, something happened, something that forever changed your views of Christmas.”
“I was outed by my parents and tossed out on the streets for good measure. That’s what happened. How’s that not going to affect a person’s view of Christmas? I can never celebrate without thinking back to that morning, and the events that took place.”
“Why don’t we have a look?”
Paul’s eyes widened with terror. “Do we have to?”
“Your dream, your Dickens reference. Come on, let’s go…”
God made a swooping gesture with his arms, and underneath them, the ground slowly dissolved and was gradually replaced by a familiar setting—a weird and ghostly scene from Suburbia, a house with typical seventies furniture, TV blaring in the background, Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, lots of colorful presents underneath it, and a family of four sitting on the couch.
“I believe that’s you, right there? The acne-ridden teenager with the bad hair?”
“What? You’re a style critic, too? Weren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“I am you, and if I’m not mistaken, you are your biggest critic, are you not?” God sneered condescendingly, just about fed up with Paul’s constant nagging.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Let’s get on with the spiel. Do I have to watch this?”
God simply shrugged as the scene in front of them played out, just as it had played out in Paul’s mind hundreds of times since that fateful day back when he was a teen.
“Mom, Dad, is it okay if Jesse comes over later today?” Paul heard himself say from the couch in front of him, and the memory of what was to come cut painfully through him.
“No, son!” his dad replied forcefully. “Your mother and I don’t want you to see that boy again, ever.”
“But he’s my best friend.”
Paul’s mom cut in, “It’s for your own good. Did you not hear the sermon from the pastor last night at midnight mass? How he admonishes us to live without sin? There’s been talk about Jesse in church for some time now—rumors, serious allegations… We think it’s better if you stay as far away from that boy as you can.”
“What rumors, Mom?”
Paul’s dad raised his voice. “Trish, why don’t you go to your room for a minute? Your mother and I need to talk to Paul, alone.”
With an angry stare at her brother for inevitably delaying the presents waiting to be opened under the tree, Trish got up and stormed out of the room. Seconds later, Paul heard her bedroom door slam shut.
Paul tried again. “What rumors, Mom?”
She didn’t answer but stared pleadingly at her husband, who responded in her place. “Rumors, about aberrant behavior, things happening at the latest scout gathering, ugly things, abominable things, sin, mortal sin.” His dad pressed out the final syllables forcefully as if to convey their actual meaning, but Paul was lost.
“I don’t understand…”
“I’m relieved you don’t, son. Jesse is a homosexual, an abomination in the eyes of God, an evil monster sentenced to eternal damnation in the hottest fires of purgatory. I’m surprised his parents are still in town. I would’ve left. How they can face the Andersens every Sunday in church is beyond me.”
“What did he do?” Paul was utterly confused. He liked Jesse—liked him a lot actually, a feeling he thought was mutual. They’d even kissed and made out a couple of times, but what did Alex Andersen have to do with any of this.
It had made no sense to young Paul, and the pain from remembering the next few minutes in the Baker household was almost physical, particularly as he was seeing it now, staged by his very own “Ghost of Christmas Past,” for his personal viewing pleasure, or torture, as it were.
“He corrupted the boy. Did unspeakable things to him—things two men, two boys, should never even think about, let alone act upon. They were caught by their scoutmaster in a most compromising position, one I shall not dignify with mentioning out loud. Safe to say, you shall never see this abomination again. I will not have any homosexuals in this house. Ever. And that is final!”
“But I like him, he’s my best friend,” Paul offered defiantly.
“Nonsense. How would you even know what a best friend is?”
“We kissed…” Paul blurted out, blushing. He’d never thought about telling his parents about his feelings toward Jesse. It had seemed unnecessary somehow, an instinctive security barrier, keeping him from mentioning it. But asked about it, he wouldn’t, couldn’t lie. He’d been taught better. Lying was a sin. Sure, he’d been called names in school—faggot, gay, and so on—but he’d never connected the dots. Even the pastor’s sermons had never really made any sense to him, with regards to him. When the pastor had spoken of the sin of homosexuality, it had always seemed so theoretical, as if he’d spoken of much older men, and carnal things—things a fifteen-year-old did not understand, could not fathom. His feelings for Jesse were pure as snow, and the kisses they’d exchanged were pristine, innocent.
Not once had Paul understood the implication of his words, his emotions, not until he saw the horror on his mother’s face, the utter disgust on his father’s face. Not until they had coerced every last bit of information from him, not until his father had literally beaten it out of him, not until they’d forced him upstairs to get dressed, not until they’d thrown him out of the house, unceremoniously, wearing nothing but the clothes he’d just put on and with the few dollars he’d had in his wallet. Tossed out onto the street, in the middle of winter, in a small town in Northeast Indiana. Alone. On Christmas morning.
Paul watched the scene unfold before him, saw his young self being driven from his own home, his mother crying, his father yelling hysterically. He had never seen them again. Somehow, he’d survived that day, found shelter at another church in town—one more welcoming to Christopher’s Kind than his parents’ congregation. A kind soul had helped him move to Chicago, where he’d been placed in a home with other children his age, so he could finish school and get whatever education he could without money or parental support.
Paul had done well for himself. That he knew. He’d done better than to survive. He’d built himself a home, started a company in the suburbs of Chicago: express plumbing, services always needed, help always rendered. Paul’s company flourished, and he was in high demand. He had done well…except for his heart. He was lonely. He’d never trusted anyone again, unable to bring himself to place someone else in danger, or risk getting hurt himself.
“Have you seen enough?”
“Why did you show me this?”
“Because you always come here on Christmas. But I have a hunch that after today, you won’t have to, not anymore. Come on, we have two more places to visit.”
Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to. “More Dickens?”
“Yes, sir. Let’s go. Your parents await…”
“Why, yes! You get to see them how they are today…”
Paul hadn’t even known if they were still alive.
Underneath him, the world dissolved into a swirl of sand, and for a second, he seemed to float in absolute darkness before a new swirl of the grayish sand appeared and began to form an entirely different scenery than that of his childhood home. This room was dimly lit with yellow-brownish floor tiles, a hospital bed, sparse furnishings, yellowed curtains. Paul didn’t recognize the place, but it did remind him of a retirement or—more likely—a nursing home. A figure lay in the bed. Next to the bed, with their back toward Paul, sat another figure: slim, small, dressed in dark clothes. Crying.
“Come on.” God gestured, gently pushing Paul forward, toward the bed. “They can’t see you. This is still a dream, remember?”
“Who are they?” Paul whispered, still not quite believing that the two figures, the man in the bed and the woman by his side, couldn’t hear him.
“Don’t you recognize them?” God had an amused tone in his voice.
It dawned on Paul. “Mom? Dad?”
God nodded, nudging Paul to move even closer.
“What’s happening? Dad is barely breathing.”
“Your father will be dead before the night is over. Your mother is here to take her leave.”
“Where’s my sister?”
“No longer alive, I’m afraid. After you were forced from the house, your sister rebelled, against everyone and everything. She began to hang out with the wrong crowd, one thing led to the next…she died of a heroin overdose before she’d turned sixteen. Your parents lost both of their children to their god, their faith, and their own sense of moral superiority. They’ve been paying the price for over forty years. It’s too late for your father, but your mother can still be saved…” There was a knowing undertone to God’s voice.
“She looks so old, so small, so very fragile.”
“She’s suffered a lot. As you might remember from your previous experience, your mom wasn’t quite as orthodox as your dad. I doubt she would’ve tossed you on the streets had it been up to her. But she was brought up never to question her husband, and so she didn’t. Instead, she suffered silently, not only at the loss of you but that of her daughter as well. It broke her heart, but like I said, it’s not too late…”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that your mother is still alive. You still have a chance to reconcile with her. Remember, you only have this one life. Make the most of it. Carpe diem and all that… Go see her, talk to her, make a fresh start.”
Paul was about to ask God about what he meant with this “one life” and all the lessons about an eternity at his side, but thought better of it. His mother looked up from the bed and stared right at him. She had cried a lot, her face pale and sunken. She must’ve been through a lot of pain in the years he hadn’t seen her. Her big brown eyes were barely recognizable, sad, murky, but she was still his mom.
“Are you sure she can’t see me? She’s staring right at me…”
“It’s your dream. Anything is possible… But no, she can’t, although she often thinks about you. She still lives in your hometown in Indiana, in the same house. It’s less than a four-hour drive to see her. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure. Do you really think she’ll want to see me?”
God smiled and beckoned. “I have one more place to show you…”
Once again the ground shifted beneath Paul, making way to the void as the yellow-brownish tiles, the walls, the furniture and everything else dissolved into that gray sand again, swirling and falling into the black abyss underneath Paul’s feet before re-coalescing into a completely different scene: a house, one he didn’t recognize. It was winter; there was a lot of snow on the ground, and a big Christmas tree was lit outside the house, along with other Holiday lights and decorations.
Standing on the sidewalk, Paul spotted a big, colorfully decorated Christmas tree through the front windows. “Whose house is this?”
God chuckled. “You still don’t get it, do you? We’ve been to your Christmas Past, your Christmas Present… What do you think this is?”
Paul shrugged. “Well, if this were Dickens, this would be my Christmas Future, but that would entail a graveyard and a lonely tombstone with my name on it. But this isn’t it, is it?”
God sighed. “You’re a tough cookie, a true skeptic. I figured the scary approach wouldn’t work with you, so let’s just call this…the promise of a Christmas Future…”
Paul looked up at the house. He noticed a character inside the house: a man his own age he didn’t know, and a dog running around the man’s feet.
“It’s a golden retriever. I love that breed. I’ve always wanted one. But living alone, working as much as I do, I just never felt it justified to get one. Who’s the guy?”
“You already know him…and you’ll meet him again…soon,” God said knowingly.
Just as Paul was about to respond, a car pulled up in the driveway. A man in his mid-fifties and an older woman exited the car. Paul became excited. “That’s Mom. What’s she doing here?”
God laughed. “Celebrating Christmas with her son and her future son-in-law, of course…”
Paul stared at the man who’d driven the car. “I’ve lost weight. I look older.”
“Always the critic. But yes, you’ll begin to work out and spend some time at the gym. Your dad’s heart disease and your mom telling you about it will be the final straw to break the camel’s back, to overcome your resistance—getting you to see your own GP, getting some straight talk about your own health—finally looking after yourself. Meeting Jesse again will also help.”
“Yes, Jesse, the one and only. Just like you, he had a horrible youth and ended up in the system, but in Indianapolis. Unlike you, he wasn’t quite so lucky. He did drugs, served time, and never really got a second chance. Mostly working stray day jobs, he never caught a break in life until he ended up in your hometown again, by chance.
“He met your mom at the nursing home where your dad was living out the last few weeks of his life. Jesse was working as a janitor, and he and your mom began to—or rather, will begin to—talk. One of life’s coincidences, really—that your mother is the one to bring Jesse back into your life. The rest, as they say, is history, or it will be, come next Christmas…”
Paul’s heart was racing, yet he remained skeptical. “Why are you showing me this? I thought I was supposed to do something different in order to change the outcome of Christmas Future? This makes no sense…”
“Paul, you really are one stubborn mule.” God tousled Paul’s hair. “You still have to do all the work, make all those changes, or you’ll wake up next year to a Christmas just like the one you’ve celebrated these past decades—in your apartment, alone, working Christmas Day rather than spending time with your family. Life, my friend, is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s what you make of it. Just remember, I am God, and I am right here, right inside you, part of you. Therefore, in some way, you are God, and your fate, your future, is yours to shape, if you work hard, spice it with a pinch of luck and sprinkle it with some Christmas magic.”
Around Paul, the scenery began to dissolve again, but rather than the sand coalescing into another scene, Paul woke up, and found himself where he’d fallen asleep a few hours earlier—in his own bed, in his own bedroom, in his apartment.
Paul turned on the lamp on his nightstand before getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. God was no longer there… if he’d ever been. Yet when Paul returned and saw his phone lying on the nightstand, he was immediately reminded of God’s advice, to call his mother. He picked up the phone and walked out to the kitchen to make coffee. He needed to think clearly. He wasn’t sure if his parents still had a landline, but chances were they did, and given that so little had changed, chances were they still had the same number they had when he was a boy.
Paul didn’t need to think about that number. There had been countless times throughout his life that he’d considered calling, mulling the pros and cons, but ultimately, he never did. Better to be safe than sorry.
He grabbed a cup from the cupboard and poured himself a fresh cup as the coffee maker had stopped spilling the last drops into the pot, and was now mostly sputtering air. He sat down at his kitchen table, picked up his phone and dialed the number to his parents’ landline from memory. After a couple of signals, someone picked up on the other end.
“Hello, who’s this?”
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND REMEMBER, CARPE DIEM!
I hope you enjoyed this short story. May it remind you of the true spirit of Christmas, that of love for your next. To read the other stories in this beautiful calendar, look here:
Rainbow Advent Calendar 2017
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If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. This is my last post of the year. My family and I are already on Madeira celebrating a well-deserved (?) vacation. From all of us to all of you, a very merry Christmas and a Happy, Successful & Peaceful New Year. May 2018 bring about positive change to our world. It is, after all, the only one we have…
Our Christmas tradition: for thirty-four years now, the Hirschi family has (mostly) foregone Christmas presents
…and much of the stress associated with the Holidays, I might add. Christmas is one of the most traditional holidays we have in the western world. It’s a time when families gather, presents are exchanged, food is eaten in copious amounts and stress is permeating every aspect of it. You read Facebook posts of stressed mothers who don’t bake (enough), people who are stressed because they don’t have a family to celebrate with and people who are stressed because they can’t seem to find the right gift. In 1983, my parents introduce da new Christmas tradition in our family: travel.
Christmas tradition premiere: we traveled back to where I had spent the summer and visited my amazing host family in St. Malo, Brittany. From left: my mother, me, my host mom (from behind) and my host dad.
It is a trip I’ll never forget. My brother (thirteen then) and I had spent the summer of 83 in France, studying French. He had been in Sète, in the South of France, while I had ended up in St. Malo, in Brittany (a stunningly beautiful place btw!)
That year, my parents suggested we leave the Engadine, St. Moritz and the glitz and glam of the world’s oldest winter sports resort town to do something else: a few days in Paris followed by a few days in St. Malo. I don’t recall why that suggestion came. Was it some sort of envy of our summer trip and the memories? Was it a health issue? My dad had been forced to take an emergency vacation in the fall of 82 to avoid an imminent heart attack (or so his doctors claimed.)
So it began…
We loved it so much that we did it again, in Sète, the next year. Me with my parents back in 1984.
In any case, we agreed that we – henceforth – would forego Christmas presents and that we’d spend that money on a trip instead. Neither my brother nor I argued the point. It was far too exciting to go places, and both he and I had loved every trip we’d taken abroad, usually in May, for spring break. We never looked back.
After St. Malo in 1983, we ended up in Sète in 1984, (I was in the U.S. in 1985/6), London in 1987 (where we watched the musical Chess), and after a while, we added sunshine and warmth to our trips. My parents live in a place that while sunny, it also sees snow every month of the year, and winters are painfully long (October to April.) At some point, we began to travel to Thailand and we’ve spent the past few years traveling to the Florida Keys (2013), the Caribbean (2014), Bali (2015), and the Caribbean (2016) again.
No tradition without exceptions…
Sometimes, traditions need to be broken to stay alive. In 2012, mom was too ravaged from her dementia to travel, and instead, we visited her. It was to be her final Christmas, celebrated the way we used to when I was a kid. If you’re interested in how we celebrated when I was a child? Read my Christmas Tale, a short story depicting this Swiss-style celebration.
This year, we split up, for the first time since my mom passed away. There have always been years where one or several parts of the family spent their vacations separately, and there have been years where we stayed home, for various reasons, partially because both my brother and I are married and we have partners and their respective families to consider as well. And there have been exceptions to the rule, as e.g. 2012, when my mother celebrated her final Christmas (which we obviously didn’t realize), but she was far gone in her dementia to travel. We’d still been to Thailand the year before, in 2011.
My brother and his husband decided early one to celebrate one year with his in-laws and one year with us. My husband’s family was never much to celebrate with (loooong story), so we never really had that conundrum. This year is “our” year and my dad is flying to Mexico to be with them, as my brother and his husband recently moved back to Mexico.
Alex and I decided not to join them. Instead, we’ve booked a small cottage on the island of Madeira for a quiet couple of weeks on that green paradise. Just the three of us. We haven’t had that in quite a while. The birth of our son also meant that we had to re-adjust our traditions a bit. Rather than completely foregoing Christmas, we don’t want Sascha to miss out, and so we celebrate with him, shlepping Christmas presents to the farthest corners of the world, and back…
Next year, Christmas 2018, we’ll fly to Cape Town for the Holidays… I can’t wait to visit Willem’s hometown.
Our son’s birth meant changes were necessary…
And we’ve kinda, sorta, given up on our no gifts Christmas tradition, at least a little bit. Every now and then, a small gift for Alex may find its way under the tree, and vice versa. It’s not so much an expectation, but rather a pleasant surprise. And it makes sense, particularly as Sascha is curious about what we’re up to, what Santa does etc.
We still travel though, and our son is an avid traveler, and believe it or not, we already know where we’re heading to next year: Cape Town. Personally, I can’t wait, because that city has been on my bucket list ever since I wrote Willem of the Tafel a couple of years ago.
How do you celebrate the Holidays?
Does your family (do you) have any special Christmas tradition? Something out of the ordinary? Let’s share! I can highly recommend traveling. It’s very soothing and you really do escape all the stress of cooking, Christmas shopping and what not. LOL
If you like my reviews, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and enjoy the fourth Advent week.
PS: Are you following the Rainbow Advent Calendar? If not, the stories are still up there for you to read, and new ones are published every day… My story will be published on Christmas Eve… 😉
I came to think of my own Christmas story last night, my husband and our first celebration together
A bit of a personal Christmas story today, all real, no fiction. We’re approaching the half-way point in the Rainbow Advent Calendar which I hope you’re following. I’ve already read some really cute and some quite unique stories. And plenty more to go. If you missed it, don’t worry, all the open doors stay open for you. You can go back and read anytime you like. My husband and I met in 2001, on 9/11 (it’s an important piece as you’ll see soon), and after that, things moved quickly. We had been talking online and on the phone ever since our first contact in April that year, but our first date was 9/11, in part because he lived three hours away from me.
Our official Christmas picture!
He moved in with me December 2 that same year. I’d spent the night up there in his apartment and on Sunday morning, we left it all, dumped the furniture (which was mostly old stuff anyway) and took what little belongings he owned, to my car and drove to Gothenburg. The lone exception was a bicycle, a gift from his parents we couldn’t fit. We’d be back for it later. I had known by then that Alex’s parents were quite homophobic but I wasn’t prepared for what I was in for. He’d also told me that Christmas had always been a dark period for him as he grew up, with his dad leaving for his mistress and/or both his parents drinking heavily. It was not a Holiday he looked forward to. For me, it had always been the opposite. I LOVE Christmas, and even when I was alone, I always had a tree. I was on a mission: I’d show Alex that Christmas was a time to enjoy, a beautiful time for family memories to be made, and yes for unconditional love.
I came to think of this last night, as our little family was enjoying a traditional Swedish Yule table, our Christmas version of the famous Smörgåsbord with delicacies ranging from herring to cold cuts, sausages, meatballs, ham, and fish, not to mention a great assortment of candies and desserts. It was one of the gelatine-pressed meat dishes that triggered my memories because back in 2001 I had bought food for a six-headed family and then some. I’d cooked the ham but most of the rest I’d bought in the story. I had, after all not spent that many years in Sweden and I wasn’t exactly an expert on Swedish cuisine.
Our tree this year.
So I bought “Sylta”, which is minced meats in a form surrounded by gelatine. Quite delicious, but yeah, I’d bought a big sized pack and it was more than too much… We sat down, as tradition bids after noon, to eat. We didn’t get far, as the phone kept ringing off the hook. Alex’s father had left his mother for Christmas, to spend it with one of his mistresses, up north instead. So he called Alex and expected him to be home with his mom, rather than spending time with a [insert colorful expletive] faggot… After fifteen or so calls, we put the phone on voicemail and after thirty plus calls, we pulled the cord. Finally, we’d get some peace and quiet… But by then, the magic was gone, and so were our appetites.
On Boxing Day, we fled the country. No, not because of Alex’s dad, but because that year was special. After 9/11, people stopped flying, for fear of ending up in a building, and in New York, hotels stood empty. We got a super cheap deal and were able to fly to New York on Swissair and stay at a four-star hotel for almost no money at all. We had a great few days in the Big Apple, visiting the various sights, even going to Ground Zero to pay our respect to the many victims we’d watched live. We had a great New Year’s Eve dinner near Times Square and celebrated the arrival of 2002 with a million New Yorkers chanting “Fuck Bin Ladin!”
On our way back to Europe, I was able to upgrade us to Business Class, a first for Alex. That was our first Christmas, and I’m happy to report that seventeen years later, we still celebrate Christmas, we’ve made some amazing memories along the way, traveling with my family around the world. Now that we have a child of our own, the Christmas tree is back, and I’m currently sitting right in front of it, watching TV with a bed-ridden kid. Things turned out alright for us, which is the one thing you never really find out in those romances. They just kind of leave you hanging after that first kiss, right? Well, sometimes, IRL really can rock. Today, 11/12 also happens to be our wedding anniversary. Alex and I got hitched today, thirteen years ago. Sixteen years as a couple, thirteen as spouses, certainly longer than the average marriage these days…
Have a great week, and now go on and read some more Christmas stories. I know I will. There’s one I’m not quite done yet. Remember, my own Christmas story is due On Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
PS: don’t forget to check back in on Friday, when I’ll be posting my release day review of Roe Horvat’s new book, a total must read, just like her last one…
I moaned and my husband asked me why: tale of a homemaker
I’ve been a homemaker for almost five years. In fact, I quit my last full-time job four years and eleven months ago. Since then, I’ve been primarily using the house as a base of operations for my consulting, my teaching gigs, and writing books. With that home office advantage also comes the expectation that I should look after said home. From the get-go, we set out some rules: we’d outsource the coarse cleaning to an outside cleaner coming by every two weeks, but I’d do the daily maintenance around the house and the household.
Yeah, I bake and cook, like any good homemaker. The baking is fun, and it’s nice to see the happy face of your child. But I don’t have the time to do it often…
As we got going, we also expected our son, and I spent the first six months with him, followed by my husband. I was still at the house then, so we were basically both home, me writing and publishing, him doing the child thing. In the four years since, we’ve slipped into this comfortable routine of getting up in the morning, me getting our son ready for school, while he gets himself presentable for work. They leave the house at 7:05 am and don’t usually return until 5:30 to 6 pm. Once they’re out of the house, my routine begins, and it consists of your typical modern “authory” things: social media, blogging, writing, editing, reading & reviewing etc. Apart from that, I also try to make a buck or two from my consultancy and training firm. I’ll be honest: I’m not making much money. My husband is pretty much the sole breadwinner of our family, and therefore, the pressure on me to at least keep the house(-hold) in ship-shape is ever increasing, and my guilt with it. Don’t get me started about my dwindling 401K…
I also empty the dishwasher in the morning, put away the dishes, do laundry, fold clothes that weren’t folded after our (shared) Sunday washing day. I clean up after our son, I prepare and cook our evening meals, I run errands to the post office, downtown and to various malls (on public transport, since my husband uses our only car for work), and I feed our cats and keep their litter box tidy. Did I mention that I also take out the garbage and refill the compost container with a new bag every Wednesday after it’s been collected? I take in the mail daily and I’m our finance minister, meaning I pay our invoices and keep tabs on our credit card spending. I book all of our trips, stay in touch with our son’s school, I book electricians, carpenters, gardeners and others who need to do work in and around the house. I’m also the legal guardian of my mother-in-law and do all of her finances. A couple of times per week I hit the gym to keep my new and improved body in ship-shape.
The traditional image of a homemaker, a woman. Sadly, still a reality, and for the few men out there, invisibility is challenging.
Mind you, I am not complaining. I have a lot of freedom in what I do, when I do it, and how I do it. Writing is a dream come true! But I have to run after a gazillion little things without which our household would seize functioning.
Tonight, after dinner, my husband sat down in our reading corner to work some more. He’s a senior manager for the city of Gothenburg and yeah, he works a lot, often until 10 pm, several times per week. No, he’s not nearly paid enough for it. I remember, having once been an executive myself, I know the work hours of senior management. And I wonder, how did we do things back then? Not having a kid must’ve helped… Still, how did we manage?
Our son was tired and after I had gotten him to finish his dinner, he went to bed. Early. I brushed his teeth, combed his hair, helped him gargle with his mouthwash, spritzed cortisone spray up his nostrils as he’s been having difficulties with his nasal tract again, and saw him off to bed, with a fresh glass of water, and after having fluffed his comforter and pillow for him. After that, I had to empty the dishwasher from the afternoon post-baking load (see picture above. I’m trying out to create the perfect oatmeal cookie) and to put the dinner dishes in, clean the table and the kitchen countertops. You know, the usual post-dinner clean-up. At some point, looking at my husband sitting comfortably in his recliner, laptop in lap, working away, I must’ve moaned. He must’ve heard, and he asked what was wrong.
Well, my dear husband, nothing really. As the one who costs more than he brings home, I don’t have the privilege to complain, really. I work from dusk to bedtime, literally, as my jobs don’t have regular hours, maybe with the teaching exception, but even course preparations often require evening work. I miss having colleagues, people to go to lunch with every day, or brushing off every now and then, having coffee with a colleague or a meeting or two (I know, I know, who would’ve thought I’d ever say that…), but the only ones I’m usually talking to throughout the day are the cats. And the fish, on a bad day…
Yeah, almost. Although I never breastfed our son. This is, of course, the stereotype of a housewife, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We do have a lot to juggle, every day. Being a homemaker isn’t about watching daytime soaps…
Before long, and this is why I’ve stopped complaining a long time ago (apart from the not really being allowed to), is that our marital “chore split discussions” inevitably end up in “but do you really have to… [blog/be social/talk to readers every day/go to cons/do publicity interviews/review books or read this shit/ etc.]?” And I mostly shrug, because as a management consultant, I have that VERY same conversation (unpaid mind you) with my husband every other day, about these worthless and unproductive meetings he (has to) attend (which I question, nevertheless), tasks he finds meaningless (and which I recommend he divest, but he can’t/won’t) etc.
The big difference is this: I’ve been a corporate executive. I’ve lived in his world for many years. He’s never lived in mine. He doesn’t understand the complexity of being a self-employed consultant, or an indie author in today’s publishing flux, or how much fucking time I get to waste in phone queues with hospitals/suppliers/government agencies/etc. to fix things for us, our son, or his mother.
So yes, every now and then, I moan, simply because I wonder – silently of course – what it would be like to go back to a day job, contributing financially to our family again, and to have a looong discussion with my husband about how to redistribute the household chores equally between the two of us. And I wonder, silently of course, what it would be like, having to get up even earlier, for both of us to be ready in time for a 7:05 am departure, and to come home at 6 pm night after night, getting dinner started, rather than sitting down and eating. Would I still be able to write? Would I find the time? The energy?The inspiration?
I don’t know, but yeah, these questions, too, deserve a moan every now and then because I am aware of my contribution to running our family smoothly. No thank yous (usually), no pension funds/points, but at least I know my husband and my son can focus on their days.
Author Hans M. Hirschi, photographed by Alina Oswald in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.
Me, I get to let out a moan every now and then, before it’s back to work for me, too, a 1,400+ word rant on my blog, a post dedicated to the world’s silent worker, who like me, isn’t paid, doesn’t get pension points and far too little gratitude and attention: the homemaker.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good week.
Homemaker, father, author, consultant, teacher, former corporate (& future again?) executive
Labels and labeling aren’t helpful, at all, with one exception: to find yourself
“What are you, little one?”, “why can’t you be like everyone else?”, “it’s just a phase…”, “we need to see a doctor!” In this progression, many a conversation has been held around kitchen or dining room tables around the world, in many different languages. At some point, labels were used: “how can you know you’re [label]?” or “mom, dad, I’m [label]” etc. Over the years, I’ve had neverending discussions with people about our labels, who we are, what we are, and most importantly, why we are (or why we aren’t like the rest…)
Clara, my short story for the upcoming Beaten Track Anthology “Never Too Late“, is about someone who defies labels, too. Clara is, quite simply, “a Clara”…
Labels, I find, tend to get in the way of progress, of true equality. This isn’t primarily about being LGBT, or SAGA (sexual and gender acceptance), or about “masculine” and “feminine”, although the two are closely linked, particularly when it comes to our society, and our value system. Here’s why, and I’ll give you a couple of examples to show why labels are great if you need them to find yourself, but really, really suck, when it comes to shoehorning others.
When we fall in love, or when we’re horny (or sexually attracted to someone if you prefer), a great many things are in play, procreation rarely being the focal point, no matter what they say. We are lucky to be one of the many species on this planet to actually be able to have sex and relationships for pure joy. We should make the most of it. Whether the person we are together with is procreationally compatible with us is irrelevant in nine out of ten cases. We are also lucky to live in a day and age where procreation is no longer necessarily needed to keep our societies growing (a conservative mantra usually) since there are enough kids being born as it is.
I have several friends in my circles who at some point in their lives came to the realization (although this is a lengthy – life-long (?) – process rather than a one-time revelation) they weren’t as clear-cut “male” or “female” as everyone thought, least themselves. A few of them are married, and there are plenty of cases out there which have been dragged around the media. Most people would say that two men who are married are “gay”, right? You might stretch yourself to a compromise that it is entirely possible that one, or both, might be bi-sexual, but with the lingering doubt about “why didn’t they just marry a nice girl then?” (but let’s not be bi-phobic, shall we?) But would you consider it possible that two men are married where at least one of them is straight? Both even? Yet consider this:
Adam marries Eve, Eve realizes she’s really more Steve and transitions, with all the “bells and whistles”. Since Adam really loves Steve, they stay married. So, does that mean that Adam is now gay since clearly he’s married to a guy? Or, as those awful romance books will trope it, is he merely “gay 4U”? Or is Adam still straight? Was he ever straight? Is he pansexual? Here’s the thing: labeling Adam is none of our goddamn business. We shouldn’t even ask him. We should just be happy that there’s one marriage, one relationship, that pasts the test of time and doesn’t break over something as fundamental as a trans/queer coming out.
In the case of Steve, you might say it’s clear-cut since Steve goes from being a “woman” (although was he ever?) to being a “man”, but what about Josie, who considers themselves queer, floating freely between genders, one day feeling all male and butch, the next donning make-up and a nice girly dress. They aren’t “agender”, since clearly, they embrace sometimes very stereotypical gender representations, unlike Sasha, who absolutely hate everything about their born sex and thus assigned gender and consider themselves “agender”, meaning they are neither male nor female, although, to the naked eye of the observer, the way they dress and act, may at times appear very similar to Josie. And yes, there’s the mess with pronouns which gives more people headaches than necessary. Remember this with your “they/them” friends: in 99 out of 100 times when you’d have to use the “they/them”, they will not actually be in the room to hear it – and be offended – as you’d otherwise be using the pronoun “you” in addressing them. Therefore, no need to really worry. You’ll be fine. Just try to get it right. It’s intentionally getting it wrong which is the offensive gesture. What about Josie’s and Sasha’s spouses? What would you label them?
So why do we use labels in the first place? Quite simple: we are so used to the binary system or “male” & “female” and them being straight, that everything that falls outside those categories is confusing to most. Our brain has a built-in need to understand, to categorize, to box things neatly, and that’s where labels come in handy. Problem is that labels can cause offense and be hurtful. Just imagine how Donald Trump would react to being addressed as “Mrs. Trump”, or if you’d call the Queen of England “Mr. Windsor” or “His Majesty”… Imagine yourself, if you’re cis-gendered, being labeled the opposite by a complete stranger. It would certainly sting, and you’d ask yourself “why would they say that?”, “what’s wrong with my masculinity/femininity?”, “what clue could they have misinterpreted?” and depending on who you are, you might ponder for a long time about what signals to avoid sending henceforth. It’s how we tick. Not having a label makes us uncomfortable, and we’d rather shift then discomfort on the other, rather than dealing with it ourselves. Quite egotistical really!
Alok Vaid-Menon is an example of what I’m talking about. Alok defies labels, with the exception of their beautiful name. To learn more about them, their art and their views, listen to this great podcast. Photo: Alok Vaid-Menon
The “rest” of us are quite the same. As a father, I often get to hear that “well, you’re not a mother, you couldn’t know how this feels…” to which I could say a whole bunch of things, but it just exemplifies that we attribute so much content to a specific label, regardless of whether it is true, or not, or to what extent something holds true.
I’m not saying all women are as physically strong as men, but there are a significant number of women who are significantly stronger than a significant number of men. I’m not saying that all men are better at raising kids than women, but there are a significant number of men who are significantly better at raising kids than a significant number of women.
Now replace “physically strong” & “raising kids” with anything, and you’ll get my point. Labels just aren’t helpful. They just cement our prejudice. Labels are necessary though, for ourselves, as we try to learn who we are, ourselves. The minute you realize that you’re different, “abnormal”, a “freakosaurus”, that’s when labels can help you. Whether you’re a gay boy or girl slowly walking the path from straight to gay via bi (it happens kids) or whether they stay put at bi, whether you wake up one day to realize that the body bag you’re in doesn’t quite suit who you are, and you need help to find out where on the spectrum between the poles “male” and “female” you are at home, or whether you’re an eternal wanderer. If a label helps you to find yourself, and – more importantly – others like you, then great.
I’ve used labels to describe things here, too. If you go back over the text though, you’ll realize that the only label which really fits each of the individuals above, is the one we learn when we first meet them, their name: Adam, Steve, Josie, and Sasha. And they’re beautiful labels, individually tailored to fit each and every one of those amazing human beings. The rest? None of our business really, as long as they are kind, gentle members of society.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.
“Boys will be boys”, right? Seems many of the tactics of straight men have also been used in the gay community…
Interesting days we live through, eh? I’m not even referring to the orange cheeto currently occupying the White House, although he is, of course, one of the worst offenders in terms of the whole #MeToo campaign, yet oddly, while male chauvinist pig after male chauvinist pig has been forced out of their jobs (too many to name), DOTUS himself seems to still hover unfazed, above it all. Strange times. Sexual harassment isn’t anything new of course, but the #MeToo campaign has grown into something much bigger, much larger, and it’s refreshing to see how so many millions of women around the world suddenly rise up and demand things to change for the better, at last, at long last.
From my personal vantage point, I look at this all with a certain amusement, because I don’t even get it, I don’t understand how any man would want to grab a woman by her genitals or shove his hands down her bra to give her a good squeeze. But that’s because I’m gay, and I’ve just not interested, and why would I squeeze goods I’m not interested in buying? That would be like squeezing avocados in a store just to see whether they were, in fact, ripe or not, even though you don’t like them. However, I do like men, and so it stands to reason that I might do what is done to women, but to other (gay) men? I’ll get back to that later.
The question warrants asking, because we’ve seen the stories told about other LGBT men, from disgraced Kevin Spacey to George Takei. And it made me wonder, because when “uncle George” talked about his own experiences with Howard Stern, and seemed to shrug off some allegations with “not remembering”, people were understandably upset. Yet don’t we all forget? Let me just say this with regards to my own experiences: I have met people I’ve apparently had sex with, many years later, and I had absolutely no recollection of it. That is, of course, embarrassing in that moment when you see that person again, but is just a symptom of what we think is important in our lives, and what isn’t. “What”, mind you, not necessarily “who”. Do I remember ever behaving inappropriately toward other men? In bars, discos or elsewhere? Honestly? I don’t remember. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible. I am a flawed human being like the rest of them, but unless someone specifically was to jump-start my memories, I can’t remember anything. I don’t think it’s likely though, because of my own experiences as a victim of sexual assault, rape and my deep convictions with regards to that topic. What I do remember, however, are my own experiences as a young gay man, going out, and the constant groping and touching going on in gay bars. Someone recently wrote an excellent post about this on Facebook, in response to the allegations against George Takei, and I do remember all of this going on vividly. Yes, it may have been part of the male gay community, and it may have almost been a necessity to meet people a long time ago when our entire community was reduced to sex(uality). Does that mean we still have to do things this way? I asked some gay men around me, some my age, some older, some younger, about their own experiences, and these are some of their answers:
“Things were very different for gay men in the 80s. Being groped was a regular part of my life. If I didn’t like it, I’d tell the guy to back off, but I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it. There were exceptions, such as the story I’ve told about a man pulling me into a dark room and yanking my pants down. I had to literally fight him off, and that was scary.
But things are different now. Men can’t grab at each other like they used to. People have learned more about boundaries — which is a good thing.”
Someone else had this to say, and I can sympathize with him, not to mention that I felt the same when I felt like an ugly duckling:
“When I first went clubbing in […] as a student I would be grabbed and pinched and oogled all the time. It was just how it was in gay clubs then. It may be the same I don’t know I’ve not been clubbing recently.
To be honest, having struggled with who I’d fancy and getting my head around it being men, back then I took the grabbing & pinching as a compliment because it meant *someone* fancied me; even if I didn’t wanna go to bed with them it was an option I then had unlike before.”
Here’s a comment that I know many women will recognize:
“That was a part of gay culture I hated. Being groped, pinched, fondled without permission pissed me off. Being told what a cold bitch I was for rejecting these advances made it worse.”
I wish I knew for certain that things have changed. Someone very wise said on a podcast the other day that the LGBT community suffers from more alcohol and drug abuse, is more prone to mental illness than anyone else. Given our treatment by parents, schools, workplaces, and society at large, no surprise. Sadly, where alcohol and drugs go in, sense goes out, and people act stupidly. So I’m not as optimistic as the first commenter above. But it certainly seems necessary.
I remember being subjected to all of the above, and I know for a fact that there are three decades between the first and the second commentator, so if anything’s changed, it must’ve been very recently. Some aspects of gay history and culture are unique, and they’re mostly going away (from bathhouses to sex clubs), and our more open embracing of our sexuality, or sex drive to be more accurate, isn’t a bad thing per se. I quite like having sex myself, and I quite dislike monogamy and societal rules built around religious concepts and morality. They serve no one but to oppress. We are one of the few species on the planet that can actually have sex just for enjoyment, and enjoying ourselves, feeling good is not a bad thing (don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise), quite the contrary. Happy people are more likely to be good people, helpful and honest. Suppressing our sex drive, to hide behind veils of vows of monogamy etc. will only lead to people cheating and lying to each other, from the Groper in Chief to Roy Moore and all those other men who have been caught with their pants around their ankles. And where there’s a straight man, there’s usually also a woman. It takes two to tango. Women have sex drives, too.
Here’s the point though: to have a sex drive, to embrace it, have sex with multiple partners or to merely jerk off to a good porn flick or an erotic story is all fine, but to force your needs onto others just isn’t cool. As gay men, we can’t hide behind our “oppressed” label anymore. I hated being disrespected by older gay men in clubs when I was young, and I’d hate to do the same to the young men growing up today. Mind you, I haven’t been to a club in decades (which is why I have no clue what goes on these days), but I do meet other gay men all the time, at conventions, meetings, events. And I keep my distance, physically.
There is a “pecking order” in society. We all know that age, money, job, gender, sexuality, they all give you power over others, perceived or otherwise, depending on the culture of that society. Some use that to their advantage, which is wrong. That’s the only way I can say this. However, to get to the real root issue here, we must dig deeper. MUCH deeper. Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast I listen to regularly, a podcast I was on just two weeks ago, as a guest. The guest on Monday’s recording was Alok Vaid-Menon, a trans artist, and activist. Let me just say that his words summarize most beautifully the real issues we face in our cis-gender-centered world, and if you have a half hour, I highly recommend you listen to Alok with an open mind. I’ve written about feminism in the past, and how I believe that our fate (i.e. that of the LGBT community) depends on the success of feminism, first. Alok explains why, and I don’t remember just how many times I shouted “I totally agree” while walking my miles on the treadmill, listening to him. You can find the episode right here.
Once again, a long post. My apologies. But these are important days for all of us, no matter whether we cis-identify or not, and how we act based upon that in the world that surrounds us. What is your take on all this? I’m curious to hear from you, as always.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.