We were warned in the car that there had been a party the night before, and everyone was doing their best to pretend they hadn’t been in pajamas all day. As she had accurately predicted, we walked into the kitchen and found both of Nina’s parents looking busy. I introduced Brandon to the family, and then started explaining that he had no siblings and wasn’t accustomed to large holiday gatherings. Again I repeated this fact, this time pointing out that he grew up in a house with only his mother and grandmother. I did this in the hopes that the Harrisons would give him a chance, and not think of him as weird because he wasn’t talking as fast or as loud or as much as we Harrisons do.
But instead, my cousin Chaz looked right at him and said, “No siblings. Hm. Not enough screwing going on in that house.” And that was how our holy celebration began.
We decided—which means I decided, got permission from Brandon, and then made the calls and booked the tickets for the bus that he loaded our heavy bags onto—to spend Christmas in Rhode Island with my cousins. Which meant that we (mainly me) were also choosing to spend our 3-year anniversary traveling home. It’s not a hard decision to make, especially if you know what a blast my cousins are. All of the Harrisons are hard-working, professional people. They are also the fun-nest family on the planet, and they’re amazingly generous too. Nina is close in age to me, and is still one of my best friends though I see less of her now that she’s in law school. She is a walking radio that spits out two or three verses of a song every few minutes, and doesn’t hold back anything that she’s thinking. I think that knowing her is as close to knowing what it’s like to be friends with myself. And like me, she’s also not afraid to admit that she hasn’t shaved her legs in a long time, but then do nothing to fix the problem. Instead, she pulls her nightgown down and screams at us to stop looking. On Christmas morning. In front of Brandon. Whom she just met. And I love every moment and every bit of her.
After hugging Chaz a few more times, we left the kitchen and Nina showed us to our room. I was a little surprised that we were being allowed to share a room, because I’m not sure that I’d want two young people doing God-knows-what on my good linens. Lucky for them, they have nothing to worry about. I mean, there was the night things got a little steamy earlier in the month, but Brandon and I are on a mission to do this thing the right way. We aim to abstain, and we are too committed to quit now. Moving on, we took a tour of the house, and then went to the basement where time quickly flew by. Seeing that Brandon liked the guys he’d be spending the next few days with, I began thinking about going to bed and leaving him on his own. But like a little kid, I didn’t want to miss anything.
At a time when most people start brushing their teeth, my family members start switching cd’s and exotic tobacco enters the air. They have copies of cd’s lying on a big table in the 1st floor hallway, and it serves as the dj booth for the house. ‘A James Brown Christmas’ was on full volume as the four tenants started pulling presents out of random places, and then taking them to the wrapping room. What they use the room for the rest of the year is beyond me, but that night it served as a hallmark fixer-upper room. I stood back trying to pick which kind of wrapping paper I would use for Brandon’s gift. “Pick the Black Santa paper!” Nina yelled.
With gift-wrapping having been completed, again I tried to go to bed but opted not to when my cousin Max’s friends started showing up. The cupcakes I brought with me—a true Southern belle never shows up empty-handed, and she always sends a thank you note!—were a hit, and the laughter just went on and on. I woke up the next morning feeling groggy, but instantly happy when I remembered that it was my absolute, favorite holiday! “Merry Christmas, Bran. Have you been good or bad?” He mumbled, so I said, “Well I told Santa to leave your present under the bed if you were good…let’s see.” And then with great flair, in a highly dramatic fashion, I whipped out a small gift. After prying open the box shipped from Amazon–“Santa uses the postal service, huh?”—he was finally the owner of a copy of the Great Gatsby. The original, you know, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. He looked so happy, seeing as he’s been wanting that film (which they no longer make or sell) for a few months now. Santa is obviously marriage material.
We set the table for 8 people on Christmas night and it looked picture perfect with all of us gathered there. The appetizers that Nina and I cooked were served just before. The classic New England meal consisted of a hulking prime rib, crusted over with rosemary and garlic, fresh asparagus, and a large bowl of small potatoes that were shaded beige, red, and rich purple. That meal, and every meal we ate, was a ‘No, But Seriously, Please Give Me the Recipe’ meal. I was facing to the right watching Chaz look like a king at the head of the table when his wife, my amazing cousin Maggie, asked me to say grace from her position on the queen’s end. My heart skipped at being asked to perform such a responsibility and an honor. I sucked in air, a staggered few swallows. I took Brandon’s hand in mine, reached out for Max, and then said the shortest and best prayer I’ve let out in quite awhile.
“…and thank you for a day that is a simple reminder of the best gift any of us was ever given, Your Son in the flesh, the living Word, Jesus. And it is in His name that we pray, Amen.”
It didn’t take long for the house to fill up with people, even though we were told no one was scheduled to stop by. This family plays host for daily parties during the holidays, but it’s not hard to see why. First of all, their house is pretty close to perfect. It’s four floors, and it has everything you need. We never left, not once during our stay, but got all of our exercise by walking over the big floors that have soft rugs. In every corner, you’ll find a small Christmas memento, or you’re standing on one in the shape of a doormat.There’s a dog, a fireplace that Chaz keeps going most of the day, plenty of couches for lounging, a refrigerator that magically produces more delicious food each time you’re in search of a snack, and the aforementioned basement with video games. There is also a bar. Bailey’s in morning coffee, bubbly cocktails with meals, beer when the men get thirsty, and whiskey for in-between times. I know people who say their families like to have a good time, but Brandon saw for himself that the Harrisons mean business. If you want to marry a Harrison and be family with them, you’ve got to come in knowing that you’ll be asked to stay awake until the sun comes up. And you’ve got to brace for temptation.
I tried, though not hard enough, to prepare myself for how I’d react to different scenarios when I was tempted. The majority of that preparation was supposed to take place on the bus ride to Rhode Island, but not surprisingly I slept most of the way. I had gotten up early to assist with rehearsal for the Christmas play my Church was performing that night, and I was cold, tired, and ready to relax when we boarded. Normally I would fight Brandon for the window seat, but the bus was so empty I could have had the nine windows behind us. Either way, I didn’t read the Bible. It was in that moment that I failed to put my spiritual armor on.
The inhale before the dinner prayer was my way of saying to God that I was really sorry for missing the mark recently, and that I realized yet again that I am weak when I feel like I can’t call on Him. And of course we can always call on Him, but your confidence will severely lack when you know, and He knows, that you’ve chosen to do things that He doesn’t support. If I stretched your cord out prior to you taking a bungee leap, you’d wonder if the cord would hold the whole way down. You’d question. You’d think extremely harrowing thoughts. The same thing happens to me when I try to revert back into old habits, and then go to God for something that I need. And even though I’ve known this, I am again reminded that it’s never worth it.
And if the conviction from the Holy Spirit wasn’t enough, a reminder that God loves me was sitting on my desk this morning. A small black and white envelope was handed to me by one of my good friends right before I left. Inside was a note and a very, very large sum of money. This person supports me in everything I do, guides me, advises me, keeps me looking my best, and is now investing in me. A gift like that isn’t just a gift, it is a seed. It is a way of saying ‘I think you are good ground, and I’m willing to plant this in your life because I know there will be a good return’. So this morning I said my confessions, and I reminded myself that I am the righteousness of God. I am worth the investment others make. And my entire 2012 new year’s resolution is wrapped around making choices that line up with those beliefs. If I do that, I will further prosper.
The trip ended like it began, with warmness in the air and an invisible invitation to stay as long we wanted to. We spent our 3-year anniversary sitting opposite one another playing chess at a table on the lower level of a double-decker bus. When the game ended, I felt cranky and unhappy enough to let out a long list of complaints that centered around Brandon not doing anything to mark the occasion, not even letting me win the stupid game. I walked off from him when we exited the subway, and went to get food. They don’t sell flowers in my neighborhood, so I have no idea how he managed to be standing in the doorway of my apartment with a bouquet of roses and a note that said he was looking forward to more anniversaries in the years to come before I even got there. But I’m so happy he was.
And that was Christmas. I am a Harrison. But more importantly, I am a child of God.
Here are some of my favorite snapshots from the trip. Enjoy!