Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Je ne sais claus

I grew up in a narrow hallway of alcoholics
a family so dispirited that they mostly either died
or fell asleep early, watching tv.

There wasn’t a lot of esprit de corps around,
not to mention je ne sais quoi.

Because of all that I began to drink
and because of all that
I wound up in one of those meetings
years later
where a guy told a new kind of inspiring Christmas story.

He was driving drunk (naturally) on a snowy, frosty night,
it was Christmas Eve, the car windows all fogged up
the speedometer gauge fogged up too, he knew he was going too fast
and that he needed to make a right turn off the parkway
to get home to the prairie village where his family waited for him,
candles in the windows,
and since he didn’t want a speeding ticket
he reached through the steering wheel to wipe the speedometer clear
to see how fast he was going, and as he was wiping, drinking
from a vodka bottle with his other hand, watching for cops
hiding on side streets and behind snowmen, he came to his street
too fast
missed it
hit the brakes
went into a skid
hit a snowdrift and a curb with the front tires
which yanked the steering wheel spinning.

This broke his forearm, which hurt, of course
(made all of us in the meeting simultaneously flinch and spill coffee),
but he had toys to wrap for his daughter; he had milk, cookies
and notebook paper for her to write a note to Santa;
he knew his little girl and wife were waiting, probably by the fireplace.

So, with his other hand, he straightened the wheel
backed the car up out of the snow drift
took one more drink out of the vodka bottle
tuned in Christmas music on the radio
and carefully rolled home toward the candlelight,
through all the late-night blue and red twinkling, snowflakes flying,
broken arm dangling (he said) like droopy, after-Christmas tinsel.

That was some Christmas spirit!
In a whole childhood of Christmases
I’d never known anyone like this guy.

He said his daughter wrote the note to Santa later that night,
after they all got back from the Emergency Room.
She also gave Dad a bottle of Perrier in his stocking. 
“From Santa,” an attached note assured him next morning,
in her handwriting.


After the meeting I went to shake his hand
but got mixed up about which hand got twisted
in the spinning steering wheel, so I froze.
He noticed that and said, go on, put her there, that was years ago,”
but we hugged each other instead and promised never
to go through any of that again.

Coda 2

Then we both spilled our coffee, laughing!

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