This is for this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt: Tradition.
Tradition, when you have a brother with autism, can be sketchy. You take what you can get, and you hold very, very tightly to it.
* * *
I open my eyes. It’s between 9 and 10 a.m. I think, “I’m home, at my parents’ house.” I get that feeling in my solar plexus, that “holiday” one. It’s cozy, and familiar. It’s excitement and love. It’s cheesy, but I like it anyway.
My pajamas have Santa on them, and I slip on a pair of fuzzy blue slipper socks with snowmen on them before bounding into the kitchen. Mom is up, drinking coffee and playing a game online, Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit or one of a million others that calm her before the masses come. Nani will ask “What day is it?” a million times, and I will do her nails because they haven’t been done since the last time I saw her. They’re kind of claw like. I make them short and rounded and pink, maybe red for Christmas. Dad and Aunt Carmen and Aunt Helen will laugh and occasionally blurt out very loud Assyrian phrases while the rest of us keep on eating/watching football/playing Apples to Apples, because it doesn’t phase us. Cousin Matt and I might look at each other and go “ah la la la ah la la la” — our gibberish approximation of Assyrian. I might shout out the only Assyrian phrase I know, which translates to “Diarrhea on your head,” which if pronounced incorrectly, translates to “Diarrhea on my head.”
But for now, Mom is on the computer. I kiss her, we wish one another Merry Christmas, and I look at the tree before I start flipping through the paper spread out on the counter.
Within a half hour, Dad will emerge. Kisses, hugs, “Merry Christmases.”
And then, we wait.
And we wait longer.
And I ask, “Can I get him up now???”
“Go open the door and tell him Merry Christmas.”
I open Joey’s door. He’s in bed, but I can’t tell. He sleeps completely wrapped in his comforter. It’s amazing he hasn’t suffocated. “Joey! It’s Christmas.”
He can’t talk, but the “Go, go” is pretty clear as an arm pops out of the covers and flaps at the door.
I go, but I leave the door open. He might run and close it, or he might fall back asleep and leave it open.
Fifteen minutes later, I jump in his bed. “Joey, it’s Christmas, let’s open presents! Get up!”
His head pokes out from under the covers, completely sweaty because it’s like a sauna under there, puckers and doesn’t kiss me so much as hits his lips against mine.
This happens another time or two before he gets up. He proceeds to the island in the kitchen. If anyone is on his stool, he paces around. Mom or Dad will notice and pop up. If I am there, I will sit until he tells me to Goooo. I like to piss him off; it makes him pay attention to me.
After he’s had a glass or two of orange juice or taken whatever pill or pills he is on (which he chews — doesn’t quite get the concept of swallowing whole, and Dad has tried them — they’re nasty), he’s ready.
The four of us sit around the tree. We dole out gifts so everyone has a little pile. And we open. After Joey unwraps, he puts the gift aside. If the box is opaque, he has no idea what’s inside, because he only unwraps: He doesn’t dig deeper. Unless the gift is one of his favorites: a pop corn tin, Gushers, Coke. Then, he’ll get breakfast.
This year, there will be a stranger in the midst. We’re breaking tradition, and the beau is coming home with me for the holiday.
I bet I’ll still have to wake up Joey.