It's Christmastime. The family has been invited, all of them, to spend the night. I, although the party is taking place in the home where I reside, am not welcome.
My presence is tolerated only under the expressed condition that I am to have as minimal interaction with the kids as possible. I am not to play with them, I am not to speak with them, I am not to so much as look kindly in their direction - and they are to have no clue whatsoever as to why uncle Rainbow, their favorite mate, caregiver, and bodyguard on such occasions, is suddenly being shunned.
I helplessly project rage and sorrow as I lie on my bed with the room door shut, aimlessly browsing the web while I listen to happy greetings echo from downstairs and try not to cry.
"_____, where are you going?"
"Come back down here."
"It's not a debate, dear. Do as you're told."
"But I want to see ____."
"_____ ____'s sick, dear. Just leave him be."
"No buts. He's very contagious, ___. We told you that you were to stay away from him - period. Later on in the night, if you see him you can say 'hi', but that's it. We're not asking you to be mean; just do as you're told. Do you understand?"
"But what about my present?"
"End of discussion. We'll figure it out later, okay? Just come back downstairs for now. Maybe we can leave it under the tree for him to open up later, whenever he's feeling up to it...."
I start mulling over all the ways I could potentially manipulate their lie, but in the end I know that would only cause a scene and make everyone else hate me more. If I was going to do that, I might as well just use the 10 seconds of freedom I that I might manage to get to try and disclose the truth to ______.
Later, I decide to leave my room for a cigarette outside - and then I was to go directly back upstairs, as discussed.
As soon as I reach the landing, ______ runs by. She stops when she sees me. "Hi ____! Are you feeling any better? I brought a present for you; maybe we can go up to your room and open it...."
The moment I open my mouth to speak, Grandma and Sister appear in the hallway; without eye-contact they briskly move in, whisking away my Sun Shine. We stare at each other, speechless in her confusion and my heartbreak, until she disappears around the corner.
I fumble in my jacket pocket and realize I must have left my smokes upstairs.
My Dad appears from the room to my left. He has a hardened, yet sympathetic expression.
A mixture of desperate pain and bitter emptiness floods my heart. I turn to go back up the stairs, but he moves to follow me.
"Let me go," I say without looking back.
"Are you okay?" he says, reaching for my shoulder.
"Get the fuck off me!"
I shove out behind me and make contact; he stumbles and slides down a few steps. Sister rushes in to catch him. "Dad!"
She turns to me. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
I fixate my eyes on the top step and keep walking without a word.
Lightheaded, I finally grab the smokes off my bed.
Nobody passes me this time on the way downstairs; it sounds like everyone's busy in the kitchen. I leave through the front door.
"The fuck's my lighter...." - has been added to my list of commonly uttered phrases ever since I started smoking. I manage to find one in the inner pocket of my jacket and, with an exasperated sigh, I light up.
I decide to take a walk around the house just to feel the fresh air. I catch some kids in my periphery having a snowball fight on the opposite sidewalk. On an average day I would have hung around and watched them play, but at the moment I'm too depressed to do so without looking like a creep, so I just cross the driveway and head for the backyard.
There's a full moon in the sky - or close to full, anyway. And the stars are out. I watch wispy winter clouds drift across a black sky.
The voices from inside get louder as I approach the back door. I exhale a few puffs and wander around to the side window. Through the glass I see my family all sitting around the kitchen table; the adults are halfway through a bottle of wine. My Dad sits closest to the window, with my little nephew, ______, pinned affectionately to his arm. A vague smile crosses my lips as I see happy faces and hear laughter, but is quickly replaced by a sad grimace when I realize I'm not a part of it.
My nephew turns around and happens to see me gazing in. Before I can catch myself I instinctively crouch down and smile at him, tapping on the glass, prompting him to point at me and say my name.
"No - ____ - you're having no interaction with (the kids)" - my Dad mouths the words "the kids". I look up at him with a dead expression as he waves his hands and repeats the sentence. The rest of the family quickly joins in, frowning, shaking their heads at me and gesturing for me to go away. Someone reaches over and pulls my nephew into their arms protectively.
I wake up.
I lay on my mattress for a few minutes while feelings of pain wash over me, succeeded by feelings of shame and dread. I manage to pull myself up and stumble outside to have my first smoke of the day.
I stare blankly over the balcony and meditate on what I was dreaming. I feel unloved, unknown, and alone. Like a monster.