The Elephant In the Room, Part I: The Dollar Store Christmas

I haven’t written a new post in a while. For once, this has less to do with my self-defeatism and more to do with not knowing how to handle an obvious topic.

My parents are divorced. Seems like a pretty big part of any weird kid’s childhood, right? Well, when I finished my last post and compulsively re-read my entire blog (don’t judge me), I noticed I’d never mentioned it anywhere on here. It’s just been too tricky to write about. How do I come off as light-hearted about dark subject matter without seeming either insensitive or pity-grubbing? I think I found the answer:

No fucking clue. I’m just gonna start writing and try not to look like an asshole.


Also, too many of my paragraphs start with "so" (7) (I'm insane)

All this not talking about divorce reminded me of my parents’ marriage. They separated in 2005. Took ’em long enough! Flashback to fall ’94. My parents were young, realigning themselves as professionals after returning from years of missionary work in the South American jungles. They scrapped through my dad’s seminary bills (seminary = grad school + Jesus – weed) by working odd jobs, counting down the hours until the next WIC payout, and knocking on every wooden surface in sight.

"The wolves have bikes now. Call the National Guard."

"If you get hurt, tell the hospital you were raised by wolves because Daddy doesn't have insurance."

But good news was just around the corner. A local church offered my dad a preaching job with insurance and benefits—including a fully funded education. Hip hip hooray! Nailed it, dad! No more sardines for this family! No more broken plunger we can’t afford to replace! All he had to do was sign the church charter and we’d get beds under our mattresses.

Nobody tell him that we die alone

I haven't been this happy since I popped those bubbles!

Dad came home one evening with his thorny-is-the-path-of-righteousness sermon face ‘n’ voice combo pre-loaded on his head like some kind of sad, Puritan Nintendo. Any relatives we care about (anyone but the shitty kids from Dan’s wife’s first marriage) dead? Nope! He turned the job down.

My mom was confused. Why? Would you have to let the mafia dissolve corpses in the baptismal pool? Did you catch Deacon Brown eyeraping you while taking six minutes to find a pen in his pocket? Were they actually just confused Muslims? Three strikes and you have misplaced faith in your husband.

good thing no one reads this or we'd all be in secret prisons

Don't tell me this is another one of those fake churches.

The church, he said, had some doctrinal points he stood against too strongly to find common ground. Biggest was infant baptism, which, okay, he wouldn’t have to perform them, they’d just be in the building, but still. Really, he wouldn’t have to do anything he didn’t believe in and they didn’t expect him to, but, but, but they were wroooong! My mom’s favorite quote from the ensuing argument: “Do you expect me to stand before Christ in judgment and tell him I preached at a church that believed in amillenialism?”

I was too young to get what was going on, but I probably would’ve gotten repressed-memory level fight trauma if my brother didn’t whisk me the hell out of there. (Or did he?) Sure, we were just a year out of voluntarily living in the third world, but god had never come this far ahead of the family.

The next few days were really quiet. Like there-are-Nazis-under-us-and-if-you-acknowledge-the-tension-we-will-be-shot quiet.

No joke in this alt text, I just fucking hate that show

Getting alienated from the ones you love is hilarious!

Everyone in my family, including myself, is infuriatingly non-confrontational. Knowing this is the only way the rest of the story will make sense. Here are some choice examples:

  • I once had a roommate who masturbated in bed every night and also thought I only take five minutes to fall asleep. Unless he’s reading this now, he still doesn’t know that I don’t.
  • My brother and his recent bitter ex were assigned acting partners for three months. He couldn’t talk to her about the awkwardness, so he gave her a mix CD as an olive branch. It included a funny little Stephen Lynch song about murdering one’s grandfather. Except hers had recently died—something he forgot and wasn’t reminded of until he asked her why she was being such a bitch a month later.
  • I was an avid partier at seventeen and hadn’t gotten around to getting my driver’s license. Rather than just telling me to stop drinking, my dad dragged me to the DMV at 7 am in the middle of what was then the worst hangover of my life. My face in my first license pic is covered in barely-visible marker streaks.

I can totally drive. Can I just get a, like, a big coffee and a couple Grand Slams?

Conflict isn’t our thing. If asked to point to any day to explain why, I’d pick that Christmas.

The month leading up to the big day was like someone trying to knock together two magnets with the same polarity. Nobody knew how to respond to anything, so we all kept coming close to having The Big Fight and then flying away from it. My dad, too insensitive to see why he might be wrong, my mom, too shell-shocked to try to find a way to reason with him, my brother and I, figuring that if our parents weren’t saying anything neither should we. What I’m trying to say is that we were the cast of the boringest fucking Sundance movie never made.

If you recognize these guys, I probably don't like you

"Unexpressed emotions are fertile territory. Did you even SEE American Beauty?"

This post’s title is a bit misleading. True, most of our gifts came from the dollar store, but plenty of our Christmases were like that. 1994 was the dollar store Christmas we could’ve avoided. Like usual, my dad took my brother and me to Dollar Tree and we split up to pick out gifts. At the end of the trip, we compared our choices and formed consensus. Most of it was pretty normal: my brother and I got each other plastic weapons and our mom some candles or something. Dad showed us his gifts to mom, the highlight of which was a brand new plunger! Hilarious! Like what cartoon characters use to climb buildings! Do it, pa!

So (8) he wrapped it up and stuck it under the tree. Unboxed, form clearly visible, addressed to Linda. For our sake, she had to pretend for weeks that she couldn’t tell that the man who ruined her year was going to cap it off by giving her a plunger for Christmas. Finally, when the morning came and she unwrapped what had clearly always been a plunger, she had to fake excited surprise and say, “A plunger!” while we squealed our ignorant joy.

the male nudity's more organic this time

Not what I asked for.

That’s the long answer to why I haven’t been posting. I grew up learning to be really, really good about not talking about things smacking me in the face, and I’m trying to get better at not doing that. And what do you know, I finished the first act of my parents’ slow, brutal divorce in almost-hilarious fashion. It took them over a decade to acknowledge that their marriage was over, and it only took me two weeks to acknowledge that I have to acknowledge that acknowledgement. Personal development. Where’s my goddamn medal?

currently trying to find someone who will engrave this on bronze for under $50

There we go.


4 thoughts on “The Elephant In the Room, Part I: The Dollar Store Christmas

  1. […] his parents’ divorce. Which reminds him of his parents’ marriage. Which reminds him of that one time his dad was trying to make ends meet…Flashback to fall ’94. My parents were young, realigning themselves as professionals after […]

  2. Rex says:

    This story is not unlike one of mine. Except my dad had dreams of Televangelism. Oh and no plunger under the tree. My mom would have shot him.

  3. Crys says:

    …. there are Christians that are against infant baptism? Learn something new every day…

  4. Allen says:

    @Crys: Oh yes, my dad is a (retired) Conservative Baptist pastor. Premillennial dispensationalism all the way, man! And infant baptism is a no-no. It’s not just meaningless in a theological way, it’s too much like Catholic practice and therefore, evil. Growing up I was taught that Rome is of the Devil. Candles used for anything other than decoration or as a light source were “suspect.” Incense? Sounds too much like “incest.” (Okay, I made that last bit up.)

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