The Dave Who Ruined Christmas
“Man, I wish you could join me for Christmas,” Dave said.
“I know. It’s not even like I’m doing anything special—maybe a movie and some Chinese food.”
“Why don’t you come up to Syracuse? My family always makes it a really big event, and I’ve been wanting you to meet my parents anyway. And . . . I miss you. Besides, maybe then we can finally, you know, take our relationship further.”
That was all it took. I had never celebrated Christmas before, most likely because I’m Jewish. But like most Jewish people, I’d always been kind of curious as to what actually happens at Christmas. Was it as warm and fuzzy as all the Hallmark commercials? Did someone always get a diamond and happiness abounds, like Zale’s says? Would I get the hottest new toy that I had been wishing for, as Toys R’ Us predicts? I’d also never dated a guy who was so freaking . . . nice. There were no games with Dave, no mystery as to how he felt about me. And it was refreshing. I couldn’t wait to see him.
Several days later, after a long and snowy six-hour car ride, with me gripping the wheel until my knuckles turned white, I found myself at Dave’s parent’s house on Christmas Eve. He greeted me with a long hug, as did his parents, his ninety-three-year-old grandmother, his three older sisters, their spouses, and their multiple kids. I found myself overwhelmed. I smiled and made small talk, but I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. There were so many people. And so many Christmas decorations. And so many representations of Jesus and his various relatives.
We sat down to dinner. There was a large ham. There was turkey. There were about fifty side dishes. I picked at the sides and made small talk about my classes. Dave and I held hands under the table. I felt the pressure of his thumb stroking my inner palm, and it soothed me. Every time one of Dave’s parents would ask me a question, they would look at each other and smile after my answer. After dinner the children ran off to play games that small children play.
“Okay, guys,” Dave’s dad said, looking at all of us adults expectantly. “It’s time to take communion!”
Oh, no. Was he really serious? Is that something you do at Christmas? Was I expected to do this, too? I imagined if I actually took “communion” some Jewish child would lose his Hanukah gelt.
“Pssst, Emily. Over here.” I looked over to see John, Dave’s oldest sister’s husband, gesturing to me. “You look scared,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. I’m Jewish, too.”
“Do they know?” I asked, alarmed.
“Of course. Listen, since we’re Jews, I’ve come up with our own special ‘communion’ that only we can do. Join me.”
“Okay,” I said, looking over at Dave, who gave me an encouraging smile from across the room.
“Take this Ritz cracker. I want you to eat it, say ‘shalom’ and kiss me on the cheek on the count of three.”
We did. It seemed to make John incredibly happy. I’d forgotten how good Ritz crackers can be. Probably much more buttery than a communion wafer. I also wondered if John would just perform this ritual with himself before I came along. That must have been really weird.
“Now go back to the Christmas stuff,” he said, as Dave came over. We sat in front of the fire and looked at their Christmas tree. It was huge and leaned slightly to the right. The ornaments were plentiful, some homemade, and didn’t match.
“We add new ones every year,” he began to explain in great detail, as if I had not only never celebrated Christmas before, but as if I was also autistic.
“Nice,” I said. It was really a very good idea, those Christmas trees. Kind of like a shrub of memories.
“See this one?” Dave said, pointing to a small ornament that looked like a movie camera. “My parents gave me that one when I started college and I decided to be a film major.” Dave was now in his junior year and I was a sophomore. We had met while working on the school newspaper as Features editors. We were just like the movie Up Close and Personal without the excitement or Robert Redford.
It was getting late so we got in our pajamas. I had packed the most flannelly pajamas I owned, not wanting to alarm Dave’s parents. If I could have found footie pajamas, I probably would have brought them. I was surprised to find out that I was sleeping in the same room as Dave, him on the floor and me in the bed. That would not have been cool at my house. Of course, a Christmas tree wouldn’t have been cool either.
“Well, my sisters are so much older that my parents probably aren’t even thinking about us being in the same room. That or they’re really glad I finally have a girlfriend,” he said, smiling shyly. He seemed almost giddy. I had a feeling I knew what was coming. It felt weird doing it here, but kind of exciting, like I when I used to smoke pot in my parent’s basement.
We said our goodnights to everyone and went to bed. Spooning me from behind, he whispered in my ear, “I really am glad you came up.”
I was glad, too. I wondered why I hadn’t always made life so easy for myself by dating someone free of drama. Sure, it wasn’t always nonstop excitement, but it was comfortable. We started to kiss, when he stopped and looked deeply with his navy blue eyes right into mine. “I want this to be the night,” he said.
“Are you sure? You’re ready?”
It wasn’t me I was worried about, it was Dave. He might have been older, but I was more learned in the ways of the sex. And by more learned, I meant I’d slept with one other person.
“No. I want to do it,” he said, blushing furiously. “I’m glad I waited for you to come along.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle,” I said, laughing. And we went to it. Or at least we tried to. Dave had a little, how shall we say, performance anxiety. So after trying for a while, we gave up and fell asleep, still content to be next to each other.
The next morning we woke up to Christmas. I got a sweater from the sisters, sans Christmas tree (‘we weren’t sure you’d like that,’ said Carole, the middle sister) and I ate more cookies than all the kids combined, most likely because there was no one there willing to stop me. I headed home later that day, with a container of more cookies and ham (I couldn’t say no) in my backseat. While I was slightly irked by my lack of booty, overall, it had been a memorable experience.
Dave and I kept dating for a few months. It was nice but fizzled out. We never consummated the relationship, despite quite a few attempts. That probably didn’t help things either.
A couple years after college around Christmas I got an email from Dave. “Here's a surprise about my life,” he wrote. “I'm in medical school up here in Buffalo! I finally got in this past summer! Additionally, I am dating someone. Her name is Tracy and it is going really well. Give me a call if you get a chance, I’d love to catch up.”
So I contacted him. And he emailed back. And soon it became clear why he had really contacted me. “So I really like Tracy,” he wrote. “And I think we’re ready to sleep together. And I know that we didn’t, but we got pretty close. I don’t know how to say this, but, you didn’t have any diseases, did you? I mean, I’m sure you don’t but I just figured it would be good to know these things before I take the plunge. Okay, thanks and glad to hear you’re doing so well! Best, Dave.”
I stared at my computer. Dave thought I was whore. And Dave was in medical school, so unless he was studying some new disease, I’m not sure what diseases he thought I might have given him just by making out. (I do not have herpes. My lips are just chapped.) I responded with a terse “No, I’m clean.” So much for catching up.