I brought my boyfriend home for Thanksgiving. First time I’ve ever done this.
It was a bold move. Just last Christmas, my father told me this “gay thing” was the result of evil spirits. Over the past year, he and my mother changed in noticeable ways, and I felt it was time to introduce them to someone I love.
It went better than I expected. My boyfriend is from Venezuela and has never experienced Thanksgiving.
Sure, it was tense. It was the first time they ever been confronted face-to-face with the fact that I date, kiss, and fuck another man. When the tension got too heavy, we escaped to the woods and made out against a tree.
The day after Thanksgiving, I drove him four hours to the airport so he could catch a flight home to spend the holidays with his family. After I dropped him off, I was incredibly sad. I didn’t want to go back to that house.
The billboards that line the highway from Savannah to Atlanta appear like this: “Got hemorrhoids? Call [insert number here],” “Uncle Chuck’s Chicken Shack: the best fried chicken in the South!” “Mt. Zion Baptist Church,” “Are you addicted to painkillers? Call [insert number here],” “GOD IS MAD AT YOU NO MATTER WHAT,” “Granny’s Southern Cooking: we cater!” “CHOW DOWN Chinese Buffet, Sushi, Buffet, Barbecue: All you can eat for $5.99,” “Put your heart at rest: BELIEVE IN GOD.”
If I saw one more advertisement for Good Ol’ Country Cookin’, I was certain I would be sick. America was unfolding its fried heart to me mile after mile.
I have never understood why Christians are so desperate to sell God to non-believers. I suspect it’s because they know in the back of their minds that, if they were the only ones spouting this nonsense, they would sound absolutely insane, so their beliefs need bolstering by greater numbers.
I was disgusted. Then I saw a sign: “TRY JESUS.”
I realized with horror that some people going through a death in the family or a bad breakup see these billboards and actually take them seriously. People in bad emotional states drive these roads, and these billboards, with their horrible photoshop and bad typography, speak to them. Some people are actually convinced to try this thing called Christianity by being told “God hates you no matter what.”
My boyfriend was somewhere overhead on his way home to Caracas. Take me with you!
In Augusta, Georgia, I pulled into the mall to visit Barnes & Noble and realized too late that it was Black Friday. It was almost impossible to find a parking spot. Of all days, today was the symbol of American ugliness — where citizens of the wealthiest country in the world trample each other for discounts.
Then it all came together in my mind: My parents, Caracas, Black Friday. Those road signs out on the highway. Everything was horrifying and disgusting and cheap.
What had happened to Walt Whitman’s America? The America of Jackie Kennedy and Jack Kerouac? Was it ever a good place? Or was it ruined from the ground up — from the signage and on through the years? Slavery came, then AIDS came, and where had we gone since? What was our great achievement? Strip malls and a democratic system. A polarized political scene. Burger King.
I walked through destroyed department stores, sidestepping piles of decimated designer underwear, and my thoughts returned to the violent unrest of Venezuela where my boyfriend would be landing. I only know of the situation there from what he tells me, and from what I read. I don’t know firsthand what it’s like.
But I do know my own brand of American violence. White cops firing rounds into unarmed black teenagers and families battling through the doors at Toys ‘R’ Us.
In front of me, a little girl with pigtails screamed and pointed at a man in a red suit. She was almost crying with joy. The man waved back softly with a white mitten. He was standing in a little house with fake snow on it. Hordes of children were lined up to sit on his lap.
When I was a kid, I loved Black Friday. Before I was old enough to understand the culture of salesmanship I was living in, I loved the lights and toys and people running around. It meant Christmas was close, and Christmas promised presents, and presents promised something even more wonderful: The idea that magical things happened, that fat men rode sleighs to bless us in the night.
Everybody wants to believe in Santa. They really do.
My friends and neighbors ask for angels to protect them and their children while they sleep. My parents pray to someone they can’t see and ask him for guidance. They thank him for the food. They believe he hears them.
I want to understand. I want to put on a red suit and come down to all of them in the night to their bedsides and whisper, “I hear you. I’m here.”
But if I had my own personal sleigh, I would fly south to a country that lost its dictator only to have him replaced by a new one. I would go to one bedside and lay down silently and hold him tight.
The girl with pigtails could not contain her joy. Her mom yelled at her to sit her ass down. They were outside Michael Kors. I kept walking, missing the days when I left cookies on the kitchen table and waited for my presents, certain that he was watching over me, certain that I was loved.