It was all done so rotely. Amy imagined not just for her family, but families across America as the pressure to “celebrate” and “feel festive” mounted. Part of doing so, of course, was decorating. Adding flourishes all over the house in some Yates-ian bid to somehow make the sacrifices of the mind that came with being middle-class feel “worth it.” Because, after all, wasn’t all that mind-numbing work spent in the office “advantageous” if it meant one could afford the money pit of a Christmas tree and the associated tinsel and trimmings thereof? Amy’s parents had always seemed to think as much. And she had merely followed their lead all of her life, foolishly realizing too late that she had been brainwashed.
As was the case for most who grew up in a small town, it took moving to “the big city” to finally be awakened. Even if the self-superior cunts in New York wouldn’t go so far as to call San Francisco “the big city.” But to Amy (and many others), it was. She had chosen to come up there from her sequestered perch in Julian, CA. Sure, she might have chosen to go into “mainland San Diego” or Los Angeles as her metropolis of choice, but she opted for SF instead. It was farther, and more “unusual” than what she had grown up around. Even if she had scarcely ever seen outside the barely eight square miles of the town’s jurisdiction. She figured that because it was a tourist town, she got all the sense of the “real world” that she needed. And from what she could tell, it was a very horrifying place indeed–filled with ghouls and fools. Not to mention no shortage of people willing to sacrifice their dignity. This much was manifest in how none of the tourists minded bothering her for a photo each time she walked past the trailer park that allowed travelers to feel “rustic” by renting an Airstream to live out their rugged dreams.
It was whilst ambling toward the Bluejay Bed and Breakfast (where she worked as both housekeeper and concierge) that she would be accosted in this manner with requests. As though it was “kitschy” to stay in a trailer when, in fact, many people had no choice but to live that way. Amy wanted to scream that someone’s socioeconomic status was not a novelty for them to share on their social media accounts, but she somehow managed to consistently bite her tongue. She didn’t want it to somehow get back to Agatha at the Bluejay and lead to her being fired before she saved up enough cash to make her escape to San Francisco. What with job availabilities being extremely cutthroat in Julian, she absolutely could not risk jeopardizing her so-called profession. To boot, she would never hear the end of it from her parents. Or rather, feel the end of it, as both Mother and Father were highly gifted in the art of Radiating Disappointment. Something they made evident that first Christmas when Amy informed them she wouldn’t be able to “make it.” She figured it was her younger brother’s turn to bear the brunt of her parents’ constant disillusionment. But they would be less disillusioned with Trent at their side instead of Amy, for the former had yet to flee the scene and try at all costs never to return. He would soon learn. Until then, his oppressed sixteen-year-old self would simply have to suffer for both of them.
When two more Christmases passed and Amy still hadn’t returned to Julian, citing her workplace’s need for her presence, she was pretty sure she might end up giving one or both of them a heart attack–as if it wasn’t bad enough when she told them she had no intention of going to college. What was worse, she didn’t even have a job. She had been fired two months earlier from her post at the Christian Dior makeup counter in Bloomingdale’s after showing up to work one too many times looking “unkempt” (read: not wearing enough makeup to resemble a trollop). Yet the thought of trying to go home to save a bit of cash and sublet or Airbnb her apartment seemed untenable. She didn’t want to leave San Francisco. She was afraid if she did, the city would find a way to excommunicate her. All cities had a way of doing that once a small-town person tried to leave “briefly,” turning that brevity into an exile. No, what Amy needed to do, she figured, was just ride it out and take any smattering of bullshit jobs she could find to make the rent. The problem was, it looked as though everyone else had snapped up all the jobs at this time of year. The competition being particularly fierce in such a “micro-city.” This prompted her to take the gamble on dipping into her reserve of savings in the belief that things would improve in January. Though that was a naive view, as things so rarely improve in January. But, as most are aware, we tell ourselves lies in order to live.
So yes, Amy had skipped out on three Christmases since leaving. She supposed she couldn’t get away with a fourth. Yet she wondered if the offer still actually stood for her to come. What’s more, she hadn’t told anyone, not even Trent, that she had been living on the street for the past year. Maybe that was the real cliche about San Francisco: you’re bound to become homeless sometime. But she did what she could to “put on the ritz” for her return to Julian. After all, her parents were expecting her to be some kind of “high-powered” person now (ostensibly ignoring the fact that she had taken them up on their offer to buy her a plane ticket to San Diego). So she went to the Goodwill and pulled together a skirt suit ensemble for her arrival. Because the stereotype about “successful” women wearing skirt suits never dies. For the rest of her days in Julian, she would have to rely on whatever other ragged garments she had left behind in her old room as a means of dressing. Surely, it was only the first impression that mattered anyway.
Yet, in the end, it turned out to be the impression Julian left on her, once again, that mattered most as she was driven through the main street by Trent, catching sight of all the old haunts, from the cider house to the apple pie shop. Julian, in case you didn’t know, prides itself on its apples and apple pie. She shuddered at the quaintness, wondering how she could live all those years in a place frequently featured as a “great day trip” option by various Southern California rags. At best, it was a great half-day trip.
Pulling up to their deluxe, Christmas-decked cabin, Amy knew that perhaps she ought to have been grateful to be in such a thematically-appropriate place for the holidays… and yet, she felt something like a panic attack coming on.
Inside the house, she was met with the largely stoic greetings of her parents. She knew their reaction would be tame thanks to their WASP heritage, but shit, this was more underwhelming than she could have imagined. They seemed, instead, more preoccupied with Trent and the girlfriend he had brought home from college. Her name was Sarah, and she was a quintessential East Coast cunt. Taking every opportunity she could to mention how “in New York” this and “in New York” that. It was enough to make Amy want to vomit all over Sarah’s Yves St. Laurent sweater. She probably bought it from The Real Real but told people it was purchased during one of her many trips to Paris. East Coast people were just so “well-traveled” that way, Sarah said off-handedly. Amy was starting to wonder why she had shown up at all. It was clear this was the surrogate daughter her parents had been looking for. If Trent didn’t propose to her, they would. Worse still, they were all slated to decorate the tree together. The most tedious, banal task of all. Amy gleaned no joy from it, though most pretended that it was a “magical” part of Christmas to look at each ornament and reflect upon its significance. In the Dillingers’ case, there was no significance to any of them. Every ornament had been bought in a set, likely from the Williams-Sonoma or West Elm website. In other words, every ornament was impersonal. Any of the ones that Amy and Trent might have made while in school were buried somewhere in the attic. Their sentimental value had no place in this designer lodge and its according Christmas decor.
As the evermore cringeworthy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” played (“I love this song!” Sarah commented, apparently not East Coast intellectual enough to be offended by it), all Amy could think about was asking her parents for money. Practicing over and over in her head the speech she would give about how it was “just a little” to “get back on her feet.” Yet every time she intuited an opportunity to speak with one or both of them, she couldn’t do it. The looks on their faces would simply be too simultaneously satisfied and disappointed. And if she wasn’t here to ask for money, then what the hell was she here for? It certainly wasn’t “Christmas cheer” or “a sense of family.” She felt neither. In fact, she could’ve had a greater sense of the Christmas spirit hanging out with her homeless brethren near Union Square. And that, she realized, was where she would rather be.
Skulking out of the house in the middle of the night, Trent caught her on his way to the refrigerator. She had forgotten about his tendency to seek out “midnight snacks.” He looked at her inquisitively and asked, “Where are you going?”
“I have to get out of here,” she replied matter-of-factly.
Not questioning her further, he said, “Let me drive you.”
Parked in front of the airport, Trent demanded only one other thing: “Do you need money?”
She nodded bashfully, shamed by not being able to make the capitalist system work for her despite coming from privilege. Trent took out his wallet and handed her a credit card. “There’s a 5k max on it, and I expect you to mail it to me when you get back.”
“What will you tell them?”
“Do you really care?”
She rubbed her hands against her arms as a shiver ran up her spine. “No.”
“Whatever happens, you can reach out to me. Even if you don’t end up coming back here again.”
Amy embraced her brother gratefully, knowing that this was the last time she would ever likely speak to him. She had to close the door on all this. The charade of family, and how it always tried to “pull at your heartstrings” around Christmas. In her future, there would be no Christmas. She would live without acknowledging it, only reminded by the time of year when she deigned to set foot outside of her newly acquired abode.