Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home for Christmas

My mother recently broke her wrist. Her arm is in a cast, so most of the time she has to hold it at a 90 degree angle, which gives the impression that she’s permanently asking questions. Which I suppose, in some ways, she is.

The Friday before Christmas, I drove home to see her. It took me three hours, through a snowstorm, in a rented Ford Escort. I was positive she’d be happy to see me alive.

“HI MOM!” I yelled when I walked through the door.

“You brought a whole suitcase for two days?” she said.

“How about 'Welcome'?” I asked. “Or, ‘Nice to see you!’”

“Could you stand on the rubber mat?” she said. “Your boots are dripping on the carpet.”

Saturday night was my high school friends’ annual Christmas get-together, hosted every year by Erika. Unlike my home life at the time, my high school years were as close to a movie or after-school sitcom as you could get. This is entirely because of my friends. We played music together, had bonfires on the beach, and went camping. We spent every waking minute together. I probably owe most of the sanity I accumulated until age 23 to them.

Most of them have gone on to become insanely successful. They are doctors, and professors. They are high-up government types, and aerospace engineers. They have homes – real homes, with swimming pools and yards – and a lot of them have kids. They have become the kind of people their parents hoped they’d be, whereas my parents are still hoping. Or were, last time I checked.

Erika and her husband live in the country, in a home with an actual West wing. Their house has more bathrooms than my apartment has bedrooms, and an atrium looking out over acres of forest. It is stunning. Their baby is so adorable she could be on the side of a diaper box, and Erika’s younger brother, who was also coming to the party, has a wife and an equally cute new baby. He is also an optometrist. He is two years younger than me.

At about 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, I started thinking about the party and began to panic. What would I say when they asked what I’d been up to? Writing an unpublished novel? Living in a rental in Cote des Neiges? I paced around, trying desperately to compose a mental CV of 2008. But it was pointless. My friends don’t wake up in the middle of the night to their alcoholic, wet-brain neighbours drunkenly singing the first two lines of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” at the top of their lungs, over and over (and not just at Christmas.) My friends throw baby showers. They have carpeting. They go on real vacations, in resorts. My life, I realized, was shoddy and unaccomplished. I has absolutely nothing to show for myself. I should stay home, hide my head under my pillow and drink eggnog through a straw.

But about three minutes after I got to Erika's, I forgot everything I’ve just told you. Her husband greeted me the hugest, warmest hug, and someone immediately poured me a glass of wine. We reminisced about the old days. The girls complained about post-breastfeeding boobs, and we gorged on oven-ready hors d’oeuvres. I stayed till 2am, on a chesterfield under a blanket, wedged between people I've now known for half my life, laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.

The next day, my mother told me to move my car to her neighbours’ driveway. They were in Florida, and she wanted hers to be clear for when the snowplow came. I went outside, moved the car, came back in, and took off my coat, boots, mitts, scarf and hat.

“Actually,” she said. "Why don’t you just put your car in the garage, next to mine? Then the neighbours’ driveway can be plowed properly too.”

I got dressed again and trudged back outside. I brushed off every last snowflake from the car, as my mother instructed. Then I got into her car, moved it over, got out and looked around.

There was not enough space in the garage for two cars.

"JUST PARK IN THE STREET!" My mother yelled from the doorway, so I did, then came inside and took off my coat, boots, mitts, scarf and hat. She was watching the news.

“You can’t park in the street,” she said. “They’re giving out tickets. Just go out there and move it around until the snowplow's finished."

The truth is, for me, the holidays seem to bring on a certain type of amnesia. And thank god for that. If didn’t forget my mother’s unfailing ability to drive me around the bend every single Christmas, I would probably never come back home. Which means I wouldn't be reminded that my old friends don't ask me why I don’t have a mortgage, or a garage, or a car for that matter. That they don’t ask what I’ll be doing about RRSPs, or why don't I behave more responsibly. That usually, they're just glad to see me.

And I’m glad to see them. It is important, around the holidays, to be with people with whom you share history. Even if that history includes drunkenly singing “Yellow Submarine” at the top of your lungs underneath Mike’s parents’ piano in the summer of grade eleven. That, I will never forget.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All the Single Ladies

My friend Rachel, 32 and recently divorced, plunged headfirst into the world of internet dating couple of weeks ago. It was her first time online, and she was a little stunned by the response.

“In under 60 seconds,” she said, “my screen lit up like a Christmas tree with flashing messages from different guys wanting to chat... No wait!” she added as my eyes grew wide, “One was 51 and had a handlebar mustache and a mullet. And compared to some of the others, he wasn't so bad.”

Tony and I are not internet dating (fortunately.) But we are on the market for a house, and somehow, I feel the two aren’t so different. When you see place come up on MLS in the area you want with the right square footage, you jump on it. You cancel all your appointments, and get yourself across town as soon as possible, snowstorm or no snowstorm. If it’s an open house and you like the place, you lurk around the living room, narrowing your eyes in a sinister fashion at anyone with the audacity to even consider stepping inside to have a look around. And if the place is more expensive than you could possibly afford, you still put in an offer - you just shoot very low. You never know if you’ll get lucky, as I imagine handlebar mustache man must have thought.

My friend Ally can relate to this. She’s been online for months now, with little success. Recently, she received this message from an admirer on J-Date:

“i was passing by i asked myself howcome bella bambina like you are spending
time without me?thats not fair you gotta know me and i gotta know you you
gotta tell me nice things and i will tell you more nice things you gotta
tell me more about you so you can know me better too.”

That, by the way, is verbatim.

“Do you really have to do this?” I begged. “Tony has two divorced cousins. TWO.”

“Greek,” Ally pointed out, “is not Jewish.”

“Greeks also see their parents a lot, eat a ton and yell at each other as a means of expressing love," I urged, but then I let it go.

Besides, as I’ve learned throughout my friendship with Ally, much like a ground floor 2-bedroom with a basement and backyard, a good Jewish boy is hard to find. And as Rachel is a shiksa, with no religious preferences in a man except financial stability and that he must love dogs, I’d actually been plotting for her to meet one of Tony’s cousins. I imagined the speech they’d give at their wedding, about how I’d been right all along and where would they be if I hadn’t introduced them. Then Rachel and I would be related, and could sit together at all the baptisms.

So last Saturday night, when cousin George had a gig with his blues band and all the cousins showed up, I was pretty disappointed that Rachel couldn’t make it. But Ally, bless her, still nursing the hangover she’d had since going to bed at 4am, drove out to the West Island to rock and roll with me and my future family. And 10 minutes later, she and divorced cousin Nick were giving each other massages at the table.

“He is SO cute,” she said later, in the ladies room.

“Really?” I said, excitedly. “Even though he’s not a Member of the Tribe?”

“I think I actually kind of like him,” she said. So, naturally, they went home together.

Because he comes from excellent stock, Nick has called, texted, and dropped by Ally’s (apparently he was in the area) several times since the weekend. I’m very pleased about the whole thing, and am equally thrilled about the prospect of having Ally as a cousin-in-law. But the best part is when Rachel called Monday to tell me about her fourth internet date.

“His name is Daniel,” she swooned. “He manages a business and has a 2-year old chocolate lab.”

“That’s great!” I said.

“And guess what else?" she said. "He’s Jewish.”