It is December and Mr. Dressup is making Christmas stockings out of construction paper on the CBC. The rise and fall of his vowels — remnants of that ‘Canadian dainty’ lilt. I hear my grandfather’s voice, “at all, a-tall, ah-Tall.”
Mr. Dressup writes names on the stockings in perfect cursive, the kind my grandmother wrote my piano lesson transcripts in. The kind I see written across the lone, loose lesson sheet I still have tucked away in a treasure box.
At some point during the years after my grandmother’s death and before my grandfather’s, we started writing letters — me, by hand and him, by typewriter. The message delivered via Courier read: My Handwriting Has Deteriorated Over The Years. I was already too late.
My tears obscure the little window of my phone screen where Mr. Dressup is confined, crafting in his plaid Canadiana, pseudo-country grandeur that stirs something sharper in me than nostalgia. My grandparents, that perfect cursive, the lilt that I’m told still tinges my own voice are gone, or going. I cry because I miss them — them, their voices, their penmanship. I cry because I don’t know any old people anymore.
It is December and hours away M.C. is thinking the same thing, as aging — alone, and living — alone, start to hit harder in the pandemic than the glasses of whisky and Frangelico she drinks one after another. She makes more drinks and more outrageous plays for my attention.
I spend hours on eBay, ThriftBooks, AbeBooks, even Amazon, looking for the hymnal she asks me to get her to make it all better. The 1972 edition, a tattered one, just like we used to hold. I resent myself. I go to therapy. Breathe On Me, Breath Of God.
Shauna talks me through tolerating the discomfort of not responding to her manic, or just desperate, requests. How Are You Tolerating That Discomfort In This Moment? they ask, as my cat audibly screeches on the other side of the closed door.
It is December and I go to the dentist. She traces the ridges on the inside of my cheeks with her gloved finger. See? You’re A Clencher.
Nobody can touch me. The gentlest kisses feel like cold and slimy intruders. I burn the dinner. I curse my own body. I break down. I go back to therapy. I am still learning how to put two and two together and not get five.
It is December and I step onto the ice. Kids crowd my vision, the puck clatters against the boards and the sound bounces loudly between the panes of plexiglass. But I don’t clap my hands over my ears. I tolerate discomfort.
My partner takes my hand and our blades cut across the ridges and grooves. We trace the same path, but it’s rougher this year. This Is Some Serious Pond Ice, he says, even though it’s not.
Every Christmas I used to skate on the pond down the hill behind my grandparents’ house. Many Christmases later I sat beside my grandfather as he wept, missing Grandma. I/We tolerate discomfort.
Months ago I dreamed of him at a party, drunk and happy at Christmas — far from the stern, Scorpio man I knew in real life. Far from the stern, Scorpio, Christian man who reproached my queerness in a dream I had, much after he died. I Do Not Approve ah-Tall.
Beside him, though, my grandmother beamed. She has come to me often, once as a pure pink light as I floated in the dark, in water weighted with 900 pounds of epsom salts. I watch her flit around my field of vision and realize the point of being human is the body, is the touch.
When my mother’s mom died, she dreamed of bathing the kids together. She plucked one of us out of the tub and offered the wrapped babe to Nanny to hold. But Nanny shook her head and said I Can’t Hold Them Anymore, I Can Only See Them Now.
It is December and this is why I’m crying.