Everyone tells you birthdays are when you start feeling older but that really isn’t true. That pain in your back doesn’t decide to act up when you’re that one day further along. For me, it’s Christmas. I see most of my family that day, one of the few days a year when we can all cram ourselves into my aunt’s little den and eat meat stuffing from a trough and act pleasant.
It switched on early this year. I needed bread on Christmas Eve so I walked down the street to the Portuguese bakery to buy a nice loaf of sourdough. I was walking by the new bar and I could see inside for the first time, the windows not blacked out but emanating an inviting warmth. Five men sat at the bar nursing one thing or another and four had pulsing orange red spots in their abdomens but one had an angry purple and black swell instead. Every time they drank they grew a little brighter except for that last one, shuddering and wavering and fighting.
Every time I go to the bakery I open the door for some little old woman or another. If they’re five feet tall I’d be impressed. This one today was dressed in all black like so many others, probably for a dead husband. She was a cool, frail blue with little spots of yellow all over, some radiating and some striking out with every step. She didn’t say thank you, probably because she only speaks Portuguese.
It wasn’t just the drinkers and the old women it was everyone. Some had hundreds of little red dots around their nose or hard and dark things on their feet. When I went to see my mother that night to exchange the gifts our meager incomes allowed us she had bolts of lighting coming from a molar and this was even after her cocktail of pain meds and sleeping pills and anxiety pills and antidepressants. It kept her from her beloved church that night and the next morning and stopped her from driving to my memere’s. Blinding lightning.
Christmas day was a blinding array of colors and lights. They reflected off the wrapping paper and shone through every bite of food, lit the back of teeth through every smile. My uncle was there and he’s been fighting for most of the year, his big round face a sickly call to my own appearance, our shared lineage highlighted in perverse grays and hanging skin, the color indescribable and changing as slithering black hues beat back his health. He joked that since his sister cut down the tree he planted as a kid he was wasting away but even a funny man can only get so far with all that brown and all that purple.
My cousins have kids now. Kids that don’t really have a shot in so many ways because, well, that’s my family, but they’re the brightest things I’ve seen in two days, like little fires in their Christmas clothes. Early dawn or that furthest reach of light around a campfire. It was a fine contrast.