Chapter 01: “I love Christmas, don’t you?”

FRIDAY, 25TH DECEMBER, 2009

Christmas morning. I was on my bedroom floor, sitting in front of the television. In my lap was a tin of Danish butter cookies, with one solitary confection remaining in the first layer of fluted paper cups. I picked it up, and examined it. It was rectangular, with small diamonds of sugar on the top. I popped it in my mouth and washed it down with some non-alcoholic eggnog. Delicious.

I had spent all night awake, not waiting for Santa Claus, but watching a marathon of Brent Everett movies. For those of you not in the know, Brent is a Canadian gay porn actor who looks like Taylor Lautner from the Twilight movies. I fucking hate Twilight. I don’t see anything worthwhile about vampire fiction. And Taylor Lautner isn’t even that cute. But Brent… in my opinion, he’s right up there with Celine Dion, Pamela Anderson, Wayne Gretzky, and Sarah McLachlan (among others) as contemporary Canadian royalty.

Britney, my cat, got out of her bed and nuzzled against my leg. I picked her up, and she gently purred as I stroked her fur. I got up from the floor and carried her to my bedroom window. Outside, dawn had broken, and a layer of snow draped my view of Little Norway Park and Queens Quay West. Lake Ontario stretched out in front of me, a mix of black and blue water against a grey sky.

“I love Christmas, don’t you?” I whispered to Britney. She meowed quietly. I don’t speak the language of cats, whatever that is, but Britney understands everything that I say to her. Even when I got her five years earlier, she understood me. Not once did she judge me, and not once did she hire someone to kill me.

I set her on my bed and started tidying up the room. Swivel Sweeper in tow, I made the crumbs and other stuff on the floor disappear. I followed that up with a quick fix of the bed, and a spray of Febreze. I put the Danish butter cookie tin on my dresser, and slid the Brent Everett DVDs back into the media cabinet. You’ll be glad to know that my Brent collection is made up of films that he did AFTER he starred in bareback porn. All the movies in my porn stash are condom-only. I once turned down a one-night stand with a really hot guy because he wanted to do it bareback. And seriously, he was FINE as hell. But I value my health and self-respect, and if that means not getting plowed by an Adonis, so be it.

After the room had received its Christmas cleaning, I took a shower. My muscles were still aching from the night before, so the shower massage did a world of good. After that, I picked out my Christmas ensemble: long johns underneath, followed by a red sweater and black jeans, all made of the finest cotton. I even put on a green tie, one with hollies and bells on it. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but Christmas is made for cheesy things.

As I got dressed, I played my favourite Christmas album on my iPod: The Kinsey Sicks’ Oy Vey in a Manger. I enjoy the irreverent side of the holidays, and nothing says “irreverent side of the holidays” more than a barbershop drag quartet (as they call themselves) singing naughty holiday tunes.

I began to think about Christmases gone by. And they were terrible memories. Well, not all of them. Growing up, I would sneak out of my house in Corso Italia at the break of dawn, and just walk around for two to three hours. Me, alone, but enjoying whatever came my way: the fresh snow on the sidewalk, exchanging holiday greetings with neighbours in Italian and English, and particularly, the smell of fresh-baked panettone resting on Signorina Tiziana Cannavale’s windowsill. She lived on the corner of Via Italia and Rosemount Avenue, just across from the park. She always spotted me and invited me in for a slice of feathery panettone, studded with bits of apricot and even chocolate, and a $20 bill. She didn’t have kids, and her English, while improving over the years, was thick enough that I barely understood her, but she always counted me as one of her own. Signorina Cannavale is no longer with us. She passed on from cancer in 2004. The smell of panettone from her windowsill no longer exists.

My morning ritual would be the highlight of Christmas for me. Because when I got home, it was hell. Joseph and Nadine, my parents, did not give me any presents at all. While my siblings Ryan and Charlotte were spoiled beyond belief, especially on the holidays, I got squat. It fell upon my grandparents to give me gifts. Initially, Nadine intercepted them and gave them to charity, “for those who really deserve it”, as she would say with eggnog on her breath. After I reached adolescence, my grandparents got better at sneaking presents in. But Christmas was still a terrible time. I was forbidden from joining the family in the festivities, and instead was confined to my room, crying my eyes out as everyone else took part in singing carols and feasting on Christmas turkey. I was only able to eat when everyone else had either left, passed out or was asleep.

Around 9 a.m., after watching the morning news, I left my bedroom and saw Brandon Gutensohn, my roommate, sleeping on the couch. The Christmas tree, which we decorated together, was already off. I bent down and rubbed Brandon’s right shoulder.

“Good morning, Graz,” he drowsily said, awaking. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Brandon. I’m going to the cemetery.”

Brandon grabbed my hand. “Are you sure?”

I gave him a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll be okay. No one’s going to hurt me.”

Brandon nodded in agreement. “Okay.”

I stood back up and left the apartment. On the ground floor of 600 Queens Quay West, I wished the security guard a Merry Christmas. He smiled and replied back in kind. As I exited the building, snowflakes and a windy chill greeted me. I let out a yawn, because I couldn’t stay up all night without feeling the least bit tired, and headed for my car. In the driver’s seat, I looked in the mirror and saw a young man, 28 years and 80 days old, beaten and bruised over time, but by the grace of God or Goddess, alive and happy.

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