Christma Eve Blues

I lived in a street-drug-infested apartment complex when I was in my early twenties. I vowed to get out and stay out. My time in the community mental health system was the worst time of my life. This is why I recommend you research your treatment options with great care.


The holidays were here again, and Christmas Eve we celebrated at Aunt Liz’s this time around, again with lobster, shrimp, mussels and seafood salad, and angel hair pasta. The antipast’: caponata, artichokes, roasted peppers, provolone and mozzarella, olives, and baked clams. In our family there was the perpetual jockeying for the clams and the protest of who took the most clams—also the sneaky depositing of the empty shells in another person’s plate so it didn’t look like you went over the limit.

I was a woman, so I stood in the kitchen while my mother and my aunts cooked, even though I wasn’t cooking. The cousins and my father watched whatever show was on TV. Aunt Millie was banished to the couch because no one expected her to help out. My grandmother wandered into the living room too.

My cousin Fulvia recounted a Christmas Eve long ago when she was a child at our grandmother’s house. “The lobster was running after me,” she told us at every holiday. My grandmother used to clunk the lobsters herself at the time, and one of them escaped and was moving toward Fulvia. “I was only seven. The lobster was running after me.” She kept going on and on.

But we didn’t clunk the lobsters anymore; now my aunts went to Jordan’s Lobster Dock in Sheepshead Bay and had one of the employees there do the deed.

I loved lobster and was grateful we could afford this tradition. I always opted for a tail. My aunts had whole lobsters, the works, and used nutcrackers to crack the claws open. Marc got a tail too.

At dinner, we talked about Fulvia’s engagement to an outsider: he wasn’t Italian, he was French, and no one said anything about this because we had met him at my aunt’s birthday party, and he was a great guy. My grandmother loved him because she thought he was Sicilian. “Sici, Sici” she joked in a lucid moment.

I didn’t want the night to end because then I’d have to return to the low-rent apartment where there was no heat, and the cockroaches crawled in the dresser drawers. A mouse lived under the sink in the kitchen. You knew when he was feeling adventurous because you would see a dark shadow moving down the hall toward the bathroom.

At nine o’clock, my father drove me home. I quickly entered the lobby of the building, checked that the drug dealer wasn’t nearby conducting business, and got in the elevator. As I opened the door to my apartment, I heard a guy shouting “Give me the money!” in the apartment next to ours.

This is only temporary, I reminded myself. Suzy was in the living room smoking and watching TV. I made a beeline for my room and went straight to sleep.


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