Sunday, December 23
Patty and I drove downtown to see the Joffery Ballet perform The Nutcracker. We dropped Tom at my mother’s house on the way because he’s having a sleepover then driving with Nana to my sister’s Christmas Eve.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Patty said. “You whip your Tahoe around like it’s a Beetle. I’d like to do more things in the city but I’m afraid to drive.”
“I grew up driving in Chicago and can parallel park with a half-inch on either side of my bumpers,” I laughed.
We pulled into a parking lot, walked to the Congress Hotel, sipped tea, ate gobs of garlicky hummus, and walked across the street to the Auditorium Theater. We found our seats. I held my hand to my face and breathed. I reeked of garlic. I made an effort not to breathe on Patty and the well-coifed woman in haute couture sitting next to me. The ballet began. The posh woman kicked her over-sized bag, which was sitting on the floor, in front of my legs then crossed her legs toward me and dangled a foot over her bag. I crossed my legs toward her, knocking her dangling foot with mine, and kicked her bag back in front of her seat. This got repeated three times before intermission. Halfway through the first act, I began breathing heavily toward the woman. She got up at intermission and left. I began laughing and told Patty what was going on.
“Oh my God,” Patty said. “I would have sat there worrying that I was in her way. I wish I could be more like you.”
I was dumbfounded. Were most people like Patty or me?
Patty and I drove to Greek Town for dinner and split an order of saganaki. Patty ordered a Greek salad. I ordered grilled snapper. Patty, who’s overweight, always orders something small and eats less than half of it. I’d enjoy eating with her a lot more if she ate like normal. I dug into my snapper and Patty picked at her salad.
“I’m driving to Iowa on Christmas Day,” she said, pushing lettuce around on her plate. “I’m picking up my mother from my sister’s house. I haven’t spoken to Rhonda since last Christmas.”
Patty and her sister argue then give each other the silent treatment routinely. It doesn't last long because Patty apologizes and makes nice. Patty drives to Iowa on Christmas Eve, spends the night at her mother’s, then the two of them go to Rhonda’s Christmas Day. But this year Patty is driving there Christmas Day to collect her mother from Rhonda’s house. Last year, during an argument, Patty told Rhonda she was just like their father—a dead man they both despise—and Rhonda kicked Patty out of her house forever. Patty didn’t apologize.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go,” Patty said glumly. “Rhonda told my mother I could come in when I pick her up. My cousins and their families will be there, so I guess it’ll be okay. But I don’t know. She didn’t apologize. She never does. Not once has she apologized to me. I always have to be the one and I’m not doing it this time.”
“I always apologize to Trish,” I said. “She’s got a big pile of axes to grind: I didn’t talk to her enough at a party, I didn’t help her move years ago, I didn’t yell at Blake for throwing crackers on the floor when he was a toddler. I have no recollection of what she dredges up. I just apologize and keep the peace while she tries to make me feel like an asshole. It happens every time we see each other. I’m going to Trish’s tomorrow. I sure as hell don’t feel like it. But it’ll make my boys and mom happy. My sister, too, I guess.”
Patty took a bite of food. She clapped her hand over her mouth. She chewed carefully and spit something into her hand.
“My tooth just fell out,” she gasped. “I wonder if my dentist can put it back in tomorrow. Oh, I don’t want to go on this trip. I sure don’t want to go toothless.”
Patty opened her palm and showed me her tooth. She smiled. There was a dark little stub where her front tooth had been.
“Shit,” I said.
We started laughing.