I haven’t lived near my family in twelve years. It’s not something I’m happy about, but until Arkansas establishes itself as a media mecca it’s necessary. This means usually spending one of the major holidays on my own, with friends, or with the family of a significant other. Specifically, for the last two years, this has meant spending the last couple of high holidays with the ladyfriend’s family, either in Seattle or Northern California.
The ladyfriend’s family is lovely and it is large. Even when just one side is gathered, it’s a coming-together that’s at least twenty-something strong. They are a gregarious bunch and, especially during the holidays, a little lubed up on good wine. Growing up in my devout Christian family, I didn’t drink alcohol during Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. And when I’m not hiding behind a computer keyboard I tend to be shy. When surrounded by strangers, I stick to the walls and corners and try not to look unoccupied.
This whole stealth thing can be a problem, though. Especially when, by the time you arrive at the shindig (as we did this past Thursday), everybody else, in true celebratory fashion, is half in the bag. This is even more of a concern when a certain member of the ladyfriend’s family (let’s call him “Bill”) is not just drunk, but belligerently so. He is the husband of the ladyfriend’s cousin, and as we wade into her family he spends the entirety of an awkwardly long hello hug telling her how hot she is. Then he turns to me. “You’re a good-looking dude, man! I mean, like, you could be a model. Y’all are a hot couple. Wow, you’re a handsome man …”
This goes on for a good five minutes until, feeling entirely too uncomfortable, I try and make a joke.
“So, Bill… You wanna make out?”
It seemed simple and ice-breaking enough, a light deflection to defuse the situation and let me reach the sweet, sweet succor of the beer cooler in the kitchen. But no. Bill was wasted. And, apparently, not in the mood to have his weird fixation with my appearance construed as some sort of come-on. Even in jest.
“What!?” he spat. “I will KICK your ass!”
To recap: Less than five minutes after walking into a room full of my ladyfriend’s kin, I’d been challenged to a fight by a barefoot drunk.
Now, to be fair, Bill quickly reined himself in and realized that I didn’t really want to swap spit with him in front of his wife and kids. Later in the evening, in fact, we actually bonded over SEC football, quoting forty-times, coaching changes, and good-natured smack talk like it was tender poetry.
Of course, by that time, I was riding a nice beer buzz too.
Which leads me to a question I’m still twisting about in my head: How did I survive thirty-two years of family holiday gatherings without alcohol?
More important: How will I survive Christmas in Arkansas this year with not a drop to drink?