I couldn't tolerate another holiday with my parents so I let Jim talk me into accompanying him to Ohio to see his parents for Christmas. I've never been to Ohio before. In fact, I've never been anywhere in the Midwest. I've been to New York and once to Boston and then DC, but other than that, I've stayed around California. Most people think it's weird that I've traveled so little, but I just don't get that excited about traveling. However, even if I did travel a lot, I don't think Ohio would have been high up there on my list of places to visit.
We flew in together and Jim rented a car, but couldn't get one with hand controls. I get this feeling that they don't make cars with hand controls in Cleveland. (OK, I'm sorry, I'll stop bashing Ohio.) Anyway, don't laugh at me but I've never driven in snow before and I was kind of terrified. At one point, I attempted to stop at a light and the car just kept going. Jim tried to be reassuring, but I think he was nervous too. Thank god we got in really early and there wasn't much traffic.
When we made it to Jim's parents' house alive, we made a pact that we weren't going to drive again for the rest of the trip. We were only going to be there for two days, so we'd just stay at the house, that was all.
The Matchetts' house was huge. Where I live, it would cost a fortune to get a house like that, but around here it was probably pretty reasonable. I don't think they're rich or anything. There was a ramp installed to get to the front door, and there were little white pellets on the ramp which Jim explained to me was salt to melt the ice. I think he thought it was amusing I knew so little about snow. Hey, at least I'd SEEN snow before and I know what it is. I didn’t say to him, “Hey Jim, why are there mashed potatoes all over your parents’ yard?”
Jim's mom Dana looked so incredibly happy to see me. She hugged me and kissed me, and gushed about my outfit, which was nothing special. She asked me if I had lost weight, which I definitely had not. Still, it was nice of her to make me feel so welcome.
The other thing I found interesting is that Jim's dad just led us to "our" room. He didn't ask us if it was okay for us to share or look worried about it... he just assumed we wanted to share a room and he was completely okay with it. I mean, yes, Jim is 32 years old and obviously an adult, but I'm an adult too and my mother would have rather slit her wrists than let the two of us share a room in her house.
"I love your parents," I said to Jim, as we unpacked. "No wonder you're so normal."
"They're weird in their own unique ways," he assured me.
"Not like my mother though."
Jim couldn't say much to that. I never confessed what my mother said to me while he was waiting in the car, but obviously he guessed she didn't approve.
I was kind of amazed by Jim's room. It was his old room from when he was in high school and college, and it was really well preserved. I sort of felt scandalous being in here, like we were two teenagers sneaking around. I walked over to one of the bookcases and fingered some trophies that were perched on top.
"Oh god, please don't look at those," Jim said. "I don't want you to know how big a geek I was in high school."
"Hey, you're the one who has them on display!"
"Do you see how high up they are?" Jim said. "You think I put them there? No, my mother put them there."
I looked at the first one. "Math team, high scorer. Wow, nice job."
"CHESS team, first place. Oh wow, impressive."
Jim was bright red. It was actually really adorable. "So what do you think? Are you too cool to hang out with me now?"
"Oh, I was just as bad."
"I don't know if it gets any worse than chess team, first place."
I looked at the next trophy. "Basketball. Hey, I didn't know you played basketball."
"Not anymore, just in high school. I don't play chess either."
I tried to imagine 16 year old Jim dribbling a basketball down the court. It was hard. "You know, there's wheelchair basketball..."
Jim crossed his arms. "Really? Wheelchair basketball, huh? Tell me more, Tessie. Also, can you tell me more about this thing called the Internet that all the kids have been talking about?"
"You're making fun of me."
"You deserve it. I've been in a wheelchair for 15 years. I know about wheelchair basketball."
"So how come you don't play?"
Jim gave me an exasperated look. "My god, woman. Can't you just let me get fat and out of shape in peace?"
I laughed and kissed him. I don't know why I started nagging him about the basketball thing. I just hated the thought of him giving something up because of his disability, but then again, it wasn't like I was any kind of athlete myself.
We were exhausted from the redeye so we napped together, then woke up to a full house. Jim's younger brother Bill was there with his wife Nina and his older brother Eric was there with his wife Alicia and their two kids. If I ever had doubts about Jim being a good dad, they were totally gone after I saw the way he was with his nephews. Those kids adored Jim, and as their uncle, he obviously spoiled them. I could see Alicia clucking her tongue as Jim whipped out some pre-Christmas presents (toy cars) he'd brought for them.
I always feel a little awkward around kids. I mean, I want to have children of my own, but I feel awkward around other people's kids. Jim introduced me to the boys as his girlfriend, which made me feel a little embarrassed. Then to make matters worse, the older of the kids (I swear I knew his name at the time, but no longer) said, "Where's Molly?"
"Molly and I aren't together anymore," Jim explained.
"Molly was pretty," the younger kid said, right to my face. You can't make this kind of stuff up.
Dana was making a turkey and the entire house smelled amazing. I sat on the couch in the living room, just smiling politely and waiting for dinner to start. Eric and Alicia seemed to be getting along okay and I wondered if the sex drought was over. I also wondered if Eric remembered that night when he got piss drunk right in front of me.
Alicia was very intimidating to me. She was tall and slender, and just had this kind of hard no-nonsense look about her. She looked like she could eat me up. Jim warned me that she was very blunt. "If you gained ten pounds, Alicia would tell you the second you walked in the door," Jim said. That didn't sound appealing to me. I have a lot of flaws and I wasn't excited about having them pointed out.
The kids playing with the cars were making a lot of noise and the stress of everything was giving me a headache. Jim suggested I go sit out on the porch, so I grabbed my jacket. I almost made an about-face when I saw Nina and Alicia smoking cigarettes out on the porch. I don't smoke and I really didn't want to hang out with the two of them. But since I had my jacket on, my intentions were obvious so it would have been awkward to go back inside.
"It's okay," Alicia said to me. "We don't bite." I laughed nervously.
Nina held out her pack of cigarettes to me. "Want one?"
I shook my head. "I don't smoke."
"Neither do I," said Alicia, taking a drag. "I gave it up when I got pregnant for the first time, but I always need a smoke when I'm here for the holidays. Dana stresses me out."
Nina laughed. I didn't feel like I knew any of them well enough to partake in this little joke.
"So you and Jim, huh?" Alicia said. "Eric told me that Jim is crazy about you."
"Um," I said, blushing. I remembered what Jim had said about Alicia's bluntness.
"I hope you know Jim's going to ask you to marry him soon," Alicia said. "Be warned. I wouldn't be surprised if he's already got the ring."
"I... uh, I don't know."
"Right, well, I'm telling you." Alicia blew a ring of smoke. "What do you do again?"
"I'm an actuary," I said, grateful for a question I could answer.
"Whatever that is," Alicia said with a smile. "At least you're not a waitress. I swear to god, Jim and his waitresses..."
Nina laughed at that. "I know."
"They were all so...." Alicia shook her head. "I mean, some of them were okay. But some of them... yeesh. Like that last one, Molly."
Molly. How many times was I going to have to hear about Molly during this trip?
"I didn't like her," Nina said.
"She was here last year, you know," Alicia said. "I knew Jim was going to ask her to marry him and I told him not to do it. I've known Jim since he was, like, twenty, and I knew that was a big mistake. I also knew she was cheating on him. Didn't I tell you, Nina?"
Alicia shrugged. "He didn't listen. He wanted so bad to make that relationship work."
"He... he did?" I stammered.
"Well, she was really pretty," Alicia said. "And she was so dependent on him for everything. I mean, he was pretty much bankrolling her. God, I still get angry thinking about it. That bitch."
Nina nodded in agreement. So far, I don't think I've met one person who liked Molly. Except Jim, of course.
"I thought she was going to agree to marry him," Nina said.
"I thought it was pretty obvious she wasn't," Alicia said.
"Why did she say no?" I asked, feeling very nosy. I’m obsessed with Molly. I can’t help myself.
"Hmm, let's think about this," Alicia said. "Molly is in her early thirties, unemployed, and has no prospects. A good looking guy with a decent job who treats her like gold asks her to marry him. Why oh why might she say no?" I looked at her blankly. "Could it be because he's DISABLED? Because she doesn't want to spend her life with a guy in a wheelchair??"
"Oh," I mumbled.
Alicia blew out smoke, about half of which went right in my face. "Then, of course, she realized she made a huge mistake and wanted him back. I predicted that too, didn't I?"
Alicia smiled. "Don't look so worried, Tessie. Jim was at our house for a few days after she dumped him and believe me, he's not taking her back so fast. He was wrecked by her. I know Jim forever and he holds a hell of a grudge. He would never take her back, unless... oh my god, what is going on over there?"
I followed Alicia's gaze and she was looking at her youngest kid, who was precariously balanced on a stool. "Eric!" she hollered. "Can you please watch our son?!"
I really wanted Alicia to finish that sentence. "He would never take her back, unless..." Unless what? How could she leave me hanging like that?
Unfortunately, Alicia's yelling called attention to the fact that we were all out here and Jim wheeled himself to the porch door, looking worried. "Alicia," he said, "what are you telling Tessie?"
"Nothing but the truth, your honor," Alicia said, stubbing out her cigarette.
Jim shook his head. "The truth? Yikes, please stop it."
Jim dragged me back into the house, and to my dismay, I never got to hear the "unless." And it was driving me completely crazy. Unless what? Jim wouldn't get back together with Molly, unless... she showed up at his door completely naked? Unless she batted her eyes and said "pretty please"? Unless WHAT?
I was distracted about it all through dinner, which was fantastic, by the way. Dana made an amazing turkey. I am shocked all the Matchett men are so thin and don't weight 300 pounds a piece. There was also stuffing, mashed potatoes, like three casseroles. It was crazy. I had one glass of wine and I thought I was going to pass out before I got up from the table. At the very least, I wished I had worn looser pants.
After dinner was over, I set out trying to get Alicia alone, to figure out the end of that sentence. Unless WHAT, dammit?? I couldn't bear the thought of knowing that Alicia (who was apparently always right) thought there was a way that Molly could get Jim back.
Finally, I found Alicia in their guest bedroom, reading a book. I think she was glad to have her in-laws keeping an eye on the kids for a change. I knocked on her door, even though it was open. She gave me a funny look. "Hi, Tessie," she said. "What's up? Did the little monsters break something?"
"No," I said. I came into the room and shut the door behind me. Now Alicia was looking at me really weird. I knew I was being insane, but I couldn't help myself. I was going crazy. "I just wanted to ask you something..."
I coughed. "Well, you said that Jim wouldn't take Molly back, unless... and then you didn't say unless what. So I was just wondering what you thought Molly was going to do to try to get him back."
Alicia just stared at me for a minute, looking confused. Then she started laughing. "Oh my god, Tessie," she said. She wiped a tear from her eye. I didn't think it was THAT funny. "Wow, you really like him, huh?"
"Well, don't worry," she said. "He's not going back to Molly, believe me."
"But you said..."
She shook her head. "You know, Jim was in here half an hour ago, grilling me on what I might have told you? He thought he had to do damage control. Seriously, you two are retarded for each other. Go get married and make my boys some cousins."
I smiled. I was kind of starting to become fond of Alicia.
The next morning was Christmas and PRESENTS. Am I the only 30 year old in the world who gets extremely excited by the idea of presents? It's especially perplexing considering I never get any good presents. But somehow I manage to keep the hope alive.
There were tons of presents under the tree. Jim had bought presents for everyone and just put my name on them, reasoning that I would have no idea what to get anyone. I wished he'd let me chip in, but naturally, he didn't. "They're my family," he said.
What was really touching is that everyone bought presents for me. I mean, it wasn't stuff that was for "Jim and Tessie" but actually just for Jim. There were actual presents under the tree with just my name on them. Bill and Nina got me a really lovely scarf... not the kind that's warm that I would never use in California, but the kind that's silky and pretty. Eric and Alicia got me a gift certificate for Amazon, which they were slightly apologetic about, but Eric said he didn't know what I'd like and he didn't want me to have to lug some heavy statue across the country. And Jim's parents got me this really pretty and expensive-looking book that was to be used as a diary, which sort of spooked me because Jim doesn't know about this journal and for a minute I worried maybe he does know.
Jim didn't leave his present for me under the tree, which of course, was a sign that it was small and expensive. When Jim went to get it, his mother's eyes were shining and she whispered, "I bet it's a ring!" Seriously, she looked more excited than I was.
Alicia said, "It's not a ring, Mom. He's not going to give her a ring in front of everyone."
Alicia, of course, was right. When Jim came back with a wrapped package that was too big to contain a ring, I could see Dana's face fall. Once again, I felt that same mixture of relief and disappointment. The present ended up being a white gold bracelet with diamonds on it that looked so expensive, I was scared my hand would be immediately chopped off by bandits if I wore it on the street.
"I know you don't like jewelry," he said. "But I knew this would look amazing on you. For special occasions, okay?"
Jim's sisters-in-law both looked really jealous as I put the bracelet on my wrist. (He looked like he wanted to put it on me but there’s no way he could have managed that tiny clasp.) I have to admit, I'm not into jewelry, but that bracelet was really beautiful. It made my whole arm look pretty.
It was snowing a lot that day, so everyone stayed inside and we did fun indoor activities. Like roasting marshmallows. I've never roasted marshmallows before. I don't think any marshmallows have ever been roasted in Southern California before.
This morning we headed out early to catch our flight. There was a shitload of snow on the ground and I was terrified about driving. Jim was terrified too. He kept looking quickly from the window to my hands on the steering wheel, like he wasn't sure where his attention was needed most. "You're doing fine, Tessie," he said, not sounding like he believed it.
"This is really hard," I said, as the car skidded into a stoplight.
"Yeah, well, now you know how I broke my neck," he said.
I looked at him in surprise for a second before quickly putting my eyes back on the road. "Is that how it happened? Snow?"
"Yes," he said. "Except a lot more snow, skidding at about eighty miles per hour, and a giant tree."
“Eighty miles per hour?" I gasped. "You could have died!"
"Yeah," he said. "It was touch and go for a while. That's why it's hard to ever get depressed about being in a wheelchair. If it's a choice between being alive and being a quadriplegic, and being dead, well... I'm just glad I'm alive."
When I saw the signs that the airport was close, I felt a sense of intense relief. I managed to make it to the car rental place and Jim had to pretty much pry my fingers off the steering wheel. He joked about it, but he was shaking too. He kissed me on the mouth. "You did great, Tessie," he said. "Now let's never let you drive in the snow again."
I laughed and hugged him. His body felt so warm and comforting in the cold car. It feels like every day, I love him a little bit more.
To be continued...