Catch up on the whole series! Read all “How I Met My Girlfriend” posts here.
Jas’ first American Christmas unfolds as very typically Midwestern. Christmas parties, sugar cookies, presents, snow, and a trip to Florida to break up the Michigan winter.
Every year, my dad’s family throws a party on Christmas Eve, and lately, my parents play host to these parties. 2019 was the first Christmas with legal weed in the state of Michigan. So, it was also the first Christmas party with edibles.
An aunt ate way more than she needed to and remained glued to her chair for the entirety of the party. Everyone participated in a great round of White Elephant. Jas won an oven mitt that proved least important come packing time. (Or: How-many-items-can-actually-fit-inside-this-suitcase time.)
A cousin put in something Trump-related just to piss off the rest of us. It worked. Good job, Josh! Well played! Years later, he’ll find himself in a tough spot with medical expenses and still think conservative power is there to help him. I thought about putting in a donation to AOC under his name for the next year, but fear he wouldn’t even get the joke.
On Christmas Day, we have a party with my mom’s (much smaller) side of the family. Her parents are divorced, so we only get Christmas with my grandpa. Grandma only shares a space with him on days way more special than just another Christmas. Grandpa and my aunt that lives local are both devout Catholics (unfortunately).
The entire day passed without my aunt speaking a word to Jas. And I didn’t even notice until they left, and Jas cried about it in our bedroom afterward. I only noticed that she wouldn’t hold my hand in my own living room. Noticed that she didn’t kiss me when I leaned in. That she pulled her head away from my fingertips when they danced in her hair.
After the party, we took to my bedroom to pack suitcases for Florida. “Are you okay?” I asked, knowing the answer. Wishing she were asking me the same question. She shook her head with no elaboration.
“You didn’t hold my hand.”
“I was uncomfortable enough as it was.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I knew that my feelings got sidelined. She sat at the foot of the bed; I paced around the room, collecting wrapping paper trash and pulling clothes out of my dresser. Staying busy and in-action masks my immediate reactions, which can often be one-sided and irritated. Which they definitely were in this moment. I mean, my hand didn’t get held.
I made leaps to guess she didn’t want to show PDA in front of my Catholic family and started there. “That’s my family,” I said. “I think I should decide what we hide from them and what we don’t. I don’t want to be closeted in my own living room.”
Silence from the bed.
“Look,” I tried again. “I respect your need and comfort to hide with your own family. But these ones are mine and I don’t want to hide. They know we’re gay. If they don’t like hand-holding or whatever—that’s on them, not us.”
Her voice came out shaky and uneven, holding back tears that didn’t make it to the end. My aunt never talked to her, she said. Instead, she glared at Jas several times across the room throughout the day. Her voice broke trying to tell me that in just two sentences.
With her BPD, it’s hard for me to know when these moments are real or exaggerated into something bigger. Of course, they are all real to her. And I’ve at least gathered enough sense over the years to treat them as such. But am I mad at my aunt? Did she really not say anything to Jas? Did she really give her mean looks? Never say hello or goodbye?
I only pondered these questions because I’ve seen the track record. How easy it is for Jas’ mind to take an extremely mundane exchange and crank out the evidence for how she’s hated. It’s how she loses friends. It’s partly self-fulfillment of the BPD, partly always picking the shittiest people to keep close.
We sat on the bed together and stared at the wall in front of us.
“I promise I’m not mad at you. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Her body shook with a few sobs, something that happens so much more often in the last year than I’ve ever seen. Like she needed permission to cry. Once I grant it, unknowingly, it pours out in a release. It’s relieving for me when she cries. Like maybe I’ve done enough right for her to know she’s allowed to feel something unpleasant. “I did have a good Christmas,” she told me.
“So did I.”
The next day, we headed for Florida. A trip with my “Sib Crew” as I like to call them. Sib Crew includes my brother and sister, my sister’s boyfriend, and his brother. With Jas added to the mix, the six of us rented a van and made the 24-hour drive from Michigan to Florida.
Sib Crew split our time in Florida—my sister and her boys stayed with the boys’ family while Jas, my brother, and I spent the week with my aunt, uncle, and a cousin with whom I had a 10-year seniority over. Florida was, without a doubt, the most relaxing vacation Jas and I have ever taken. Mostly because we were spoiled guests at my rich family’s house.
My Aunt Kirsten and her family have lived in Florida for the entirety of my younger cousin’s life. It’d been the first time I’d visited since 2004. My brother, Conor, was only 3 at the time. So, my aunt made no hesitation to show us a good time.
Day one began with a trip to Mote Aquarium. I’d never seen seahorses or jellyfish before. Conor was halfway through his senior year of high school and talked about studying marine biology. (He’d get a jellyfish tattoo a year later and retire the idea of studying a biology of any kind.)
We ate dinner at The Salty Dog (which apparently had been in an episode of Man v. Food back in 2010 or so https://vimeo.com/6615137). Unbeknownst to ourselves at the time, British folk opened the restaurant decades before. I ordered a foot-long beer-battered hot dog covered in cheese and caramelized onions. With battered sausages marking a British staple for fish n chip shops across the country, a battered hot dog only makes sense for an Americanized version. I ate every last bite (and it was better than a battered sausage).
Of course, we spent time on a beach. Jas and I both sported sunburns after just a few hours on the sand, after applying sunscreen more than once. I’m ginger; she’s British. It’s just the way of our worlds, I suppose.
I bought my first pair of swim trunks after that summer’s swimming season came to a close. So Florida gave me the chance to try them out for the first time. I loved the way they made me feel. For the last three years or so, I’d mostly worn a pair of black swim shorts from Nike. The inseam had to be something around 3 inches or less–very short. But still, better than wearing a pair of bikinis to the beach. But with swim trunks? I finally found comfort in swimming, sunbathing at the beach, and lounging at a pool. The fact my swimsuit and hair now gave off Ariel vibes? Unexpected bonus.
We ate dinner together as a family most nights. My Aunt Kirsten makes the best spinach pie, and I only eat it every few years when she’s in town for a holiday. She printed out the recipe for me and got me started on that god-awful filo dough. Tedious work. Still delicious. Will probably never make it for myself again.
The six of us sat down together for dinner over spinach pie. My aunt talked about why she moved out to California, and later to Florida. “I always knew I’d be living with palm trees,” and “I was never built for the cold.”
“But one thing I do regret,” she told us, “Is not being with you guys.” She looked directly at my brother. My aunt had spent the first several years of my life in Michigan. But at six years my junior, she was gone by the time Conor was born. Teary-eyed, she confessed to feeling sad that her daughter didn’t get to grow up with us nearby. The whole thing made my eyes get wet too.
She looked at Jas and me. “I’m so happy you found each other.” Jas and I exchanged smiles, grins squinting our eyes down to slits. “I can tell you make each other so happy.” I blinked back tears and squeezed Jas’ hand under the table.
My aunt and uncle threw a party for New Year’s, and we drank and chatted and ate with people we didn’t know. They all wanted to know Jas, though. Everyone loves that accent. (Understandably.) All the middle-aged folk ogled at the story of how we met online. (As usual.) We kissed at midnight for the second New Year’s in a row. We’d been all smiles that night, having no idea what the year 2020 would bring us.
Welcome back! Stay tuned for more! (I’ve actually scheduled more posts for the upcoming months!) If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating $3 to my ko-fi page.