I present to you: a scene from my typical Christmas vacation.
It was 12:18 PM. I’d retreated to the basement, because there was nowhere else to go.
Originally, I had planned to write in the living room. I’d turned the corner to walk downstairs… and found my grandma standing on the steps in mid-lunge, with a woman in black long sleeves and a purple winter vest behind her. “If your knee hurts, then don’t keep going,” the woman said.
Gram was still recovering from knee surgery. She’d shown me the scar, where industrial staples laddered down her kneecap like a railroad. Currently, the scar was covered by generic black pants. Not much fit her, since she’d gained weight from loss of mobility over the years. Her short hair was a feathery cross between a bob and a pixie cut, and it was red, like mine.
I approached and said hello.
The lady smiled. “Hi, I’m the physical therapist! Are you trying to get downstairs?”
I politely nodded.
“Your ankle only beds so far,” the therapist instructed as I slipped by. “In order for your knee to keep going, your heel’s gonna have to come up.”
I sat down on the one-seater couch, across from the sofa, where Uncle Ken was asleep and snoring. The sound was similar to the noise made when you pull the crank on a pull-start lawnmower.
Somehow, my uncle had managed to fall asleep with nothing but a blanket half-draped over him. The reek of cheep cigarettes hung off him like the smell of smoke after a campfire. His face bristled with thick stubble, and his shirtsleeve had rolled up, exposing a tattoo of an angry bearded man’s face. Not sure what that signified.
“Is someone sleeping on the couch?” The therapist asked, after Uncle Ken gave a loud snore that I swear could have shaken the earth like an earthquake.
“Yes,” I said, laughing. “But you’re not bothering anyone — he sleeps like a rock.”
I started to write, and I did a fairly good job of zoning things out.
Until Uncle Ken started talking in his sleep.
“You took all the gold,” he said; my head snapped up from my laptop. “You took all the f***ing gold.”
My chest shook with silent laughter. I was used to Ken’s badmouthing: he cussed like a sailor in a constant state of walking off a stubbed toe.
On the stairwell, the therapist continued to assist Gram. “How long, five seconds?” Gram asked, lowering into another lunge.
“If you can, ten.” The therapist answered.
And then, from the couch: “You took all the f***ing gold, you mother******.”
My eyes went wide. I texted my mom: “Later, I have a HILARIOUS story to tell you.”
And then, yeah, I went to the basement, because even I couldn’t write in that environment.
After I read my mom this story, she had some pretty insightful commentary. “You know, for a writer, this is a moneyshot,” she said. “It’s a goldmine of dysfunction: exactly the family you wanna be in.”
She couldn’t be more right. My family has given me plenty to write about. Over the years, the stories I’ve experienced have forced me to hone my skills — while at the same time, it often feels like I don’t even have to try. I might as well be copying the script of a sitcom. And one thing’s for sure: I’ll definitely be using this stuff in the future.
So it looks like you were right, Uncle Ken: this time, I did take all the gold.