by Elizabeth Stainton Walker
The first time I brought my boyfriend home for Christmas, my brother’s wife had just left him. Drew and I were the first to arrive at my parents’ house. My mother and father looked back and forth at each other, unsure of how much to reveal. “She keeps telling him she’s broken,” my mom said. “What does that even mean?”
Drew and I sat at the kitchen counter and shook our heads. I remembered Kip and Natalie’s wedding four years earlier. She had worn blue ostrich cowboy boots under her wedding gown.
My mom told us Natalie was staying with a friend and probably would not be joining us for Christmas. “Kip said he would forgive her anything, but she just keeps saying she’s broken.” My mother held out her hands in front of her, palms up, in an effort to demonstrate: “‘Kip, I’m broken.’”
“There are only so many times you can say a thing before you have to explain it,” said Drew.
The rest of us nodded.
“I hate to say this…” I ventured.
My mom finished my thought. “You think she has someone else?”
I remembered sitting with Natalie in her parents’ motor home while she braided her hair into two blond pigtails. It was the evening of the rehearsal dinner. I was nineteen and dating two guys while at college. “I was like you,” Natalie told me. “One man was never enough for me, until I met Kip.” The conversation had taken on new significance now.
We heard Kip’s truck pull up in the driveway and the door slam. He did not talk to us until the next morning, when my mother tells him we are opening presents. My gift to Kip and Natalie was supposed to be a framed photo of their dog – really Natalie’s dog – Lena. Kip opened the shiny wrapping paper and cried.
When it was time to say the prayer before Christmas dinner, my mother volunteered. She was grateful for the blessings of the year, for my meeting Drew, for my dad’s surviving bypass surgery. “But, God,” she prayed. “We sure do miss Natalie.” At that point, all of us were bawling, except Drew, who had never met Natalie. I worried what he would think of my messed-up family, unable to make it through one holiday without dissolving, and especially of my brother, who by this time had excused himself and headed down the hall to be alone.
The remaining four of us ate shrimp and grits at the dining room table. Drew went to the kitchen to refill his drink. As my parents and I sat, picking at our food and suggesting possible divorce attorneys, I began to worry that Drew had become overwhelmed with our dysfunction and slipped out the back door. I walked into the kitchen and found Drew standing by the sink, his arms folded around Kip, who was weeping into my boyfriend’s collar. “I know,” Drew said to my sobbing brother. “I know.”