> THE CHRISTMAS CUSS | mike smith

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas Day. I loved the food, the presents, the music, and most of the relatives who came to visit. I hated Christmas Day at the same time, though, because I had to see Uncle Walter. I tried my best to avoid him because he always tried to make himself look better than me. He was forty-five and I was eleven, but he still felt like he had to compete with me. If I won an award at school, he would recall winning a better award when he was my age. If I did well at baseball practice, he would tell me how he could have gotten into the Major Leagues when he was a young man.

I loved his kids, but I hated him. I played with my cousins all the time and watched movies with them a lot as I was growing up. One year, I wanted to watch a new movie after we had finished eating Christmas dinner. My cousins had never seen this movie before, so I was excited about showing it to them. I walked downstairs to get the tape ready, only to find Uncle Walter, already plopped down in the recliner, watching football. As much as I hated to talk to him, I really wanted to watch the movie with my cousins.

"Uncle Walter?" I said.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Can we watch this new movie I got?"

"No," he said. "I'm watching the game."

I wanted to cuss him out. Out of all the things Uncle Walter had ever said to me, that was the first time he actually truly pissed me off. The other times I was just annoyed. I was determined to get my way, especially since Uncle Walter was the only person standing in it. My cousins didn't seem to care all that much. In fact, it seemed like they were just glad their dad was watching football and leaving us all alone. I didn't know what to do, but deep down, I knew things weren't going to turn out well.

"Please," I said.

"No," he replied. "Watch your movie some other time."

I walked away. My cousins could sense my defeat and tried to comfort me. "It's okay," one said, "let's just go outside and make a snowman or something." I pushed them away. Who wants to make a stupid snowman? I thought to myself. If I couldn't watch that movie with them, I didn't want to be around them at all. I had spent my entire Christmas Day that year just waiting to see them laugh at this movie, to laugh with them. The presents didn't matter anymore. The joy that was opened with my new stereo just two hours earlier had now been replaced by despair. The disappointment of opening clothes had now turned to anger. All of the adults in our home continued to talk and laugh like always. They had no idea the kind of frustration that was building up inside of me. My godmother was about to find out, though.

Blanche had isolated herself from the others, something she usually did after she had carried on too many conversations with too many relatives. She was watching TV upstairs, alone, trying to look at the newspaper at the same time. Her feet were crossed and resting on the wooden coffee table. She looked peaceful, as if she had found peace in a secret place. I would be the one to disturb this peace.


"Huh?" she said, still reading the newspaper, or pretending to.

"Uncle Walter won't let us watch the new movie I got."

"Well," she said, "you know how he is about his football."

"Tell him to let us watch it!"

"Can't you watch it on this TV?" she asked, pointing to the one she was watching.

"No," I whined. "That VCR chews up tapes!"

"Well, you'll just have to watch it another time!"

"But why does he have to watch that shit?" I asked. That was the only time in my life I wasn't able to tell the difference between saying something in my mind and saying it out loud. When Blanche looked over at me with her mouth dropped, I realized that she had heard my thought, that I let her hear exactly what I was thinking, that I had genuinely messed up. The thoughts I had been thinking about watching the movie, the resentment I had toward Uncle Walter, and the anger I had toward the whole world had now disappeared. In five seconds, all of those feelings were replaced by just one shame.

I respected Blanche immensely. She raised me after my parents separated and ran off to live their own lives. Their new lives didn't have room for me. Blanche was there for me. We had a long history and a good relationship. I had never heard Blanche cuss and I always assumed she viewed cussing as disrespectful. I had never disrespected her before that day. We just looked at each other for a few seconds, not saying anything. I had blocked from my mind the loud conversations going on in the other rooms of the house. I had forgotten about Uncle Walter, who was probably asleep by now, with the remote control trapped beneath one of his legs. Blanche gently put the newspaper down in the middle of the couch and stood up.

"Get out of here and go play with your cousins," she said, looking down on me. I said nothing. With my head hung low, I walked out of the upstairs living room and back to my bedroom. I closed the door, pulled the shades, and climbed into bed. I cried for what seemed like hours. I thought about how embarrassed I was going to be the next time I had to face my godmother.

Once people started to miss me around the house, they discovered I was in my bed and knew something wasn't right. Relatives kept coming into the darkened bedroom, feeling my forehead to check for fever, and asking if I was okay. I never answered anyone. I kept hoping that Blanche would walk in so we could talk. The worst part of this whole situation was not knowing what was going to happen between us. Good or bad, I just wanted it to hurry up and happen. More hours passed. My cousins came in and asked why I was crying. I refused to talk to them. I refused to talk to anyone and pulled the covers over my head. Some probably figured I was just being a spoiled brat. Everyone probably thought I was mad because I wasn't getting my way about something. No, it was shame. I was ashamed of myself and didn't want to be seen.

Eventually, people started to leave. They assumed that whatever was wrong with me was Blanche's problem. She was the godmother. It was her place. People gathered up their presents, hugged each other, and drove back to their houses. My cousins came into my bedroom one last time to say goodbye. I didn't respond. They were the last to leave. I heard Uncle Walter's big truck pull out of the driveway. Blanche and I were alone in the house now. She came into my room, sat on the end of my bed, and nudged my leg.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked. "Why have you ignored everybody all this time?"

I sat up in bed and wiped my eyes. I looked at her and tried to think of ways that could explain my behavior. Nothing came to mind, so I decided to be honest.

"I'm embarrassed," I said.

"Over what?"

"Saying that cussword in front of you."

"I don't care about that," she said. "I was just mad because you took such an abrasive tone with me and you weren't mature enough to let your uncle watch TV on the one day he visits us all year."

"But I thought you were disappointed in me for cussing!"

"I don't care how people talk," she said. "Fuck it."

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Mike Smith has worn lots of shoes.