The jet stream plummets and you are shuttled over to stay with your Ice Queen mom. Life isn't too bad there, so long as you dress correctly and are constantly on guard against the barbed comments that strip the flesh from your bones and bring tears to your eyes. Her icy embrace leaves you trembling like a dog staring fixedly at the gleaming tip of a steel-toed boot, and your nose runs so much that you wipe it bloody. The harsh glaring blue of her skies brings no warmth, and is as fleeting as the smile with which she blesses you when she thinks someone may be looking.
Then dad punches out the jet stream as he blows up from some Gulf Coast casino in a backfiring Cadillac convertible that he "borrowed" from his beach whore girl friend, coughing fumes fraught with unfiltered Pall Malls and bottom-shelf blended bourbon from one end while blasting methane laced with last week's gumbo from the other. He is always wringing wet, with alcohol seeping from his moon-crater pores punctuated by delirium tremens-inspired storms of last night's gumbo and stomach acid, slowly abating to mournful dry heave rumblings about something lost.
The only thing worse is the hand-off, when they scream and spit and spew years of pent-up rage fueled by unrequited narcissistic self-loathing, as you cower below, rolled into a tight fetal wad with your hands clamped over your ears moaning for the kind of succor that you read about in a book whose title now eludes you.
And then -- oh so rarely -- that wondrous thing happens, and Grandma and Grandpa come swoop you away ... maybe for an hour, and sometimes for a day or maybe two ... and life is sweet again. Sure, they are the creatures that spawned your abominable parents, and the bloodlines run strong and bloody, but time has worn off the sharp edges of their temperament, making their fury more furry. You would never mistake an afternoon with the grandparents for one of those glorious days with Aunt Summer, but it is enough. In a long schizoid winter that even Chekhov could not have survived, it is these respites that keep us sane.
Well, guess who's coming to visit tomorrow?
For all of you out there, if you can find time to slip away from work, holiday shopping, and family duties: Get on your bike Tuesday. It is the first day of winter, and we're getting what may be the only break we're going to see in a while.
And then, tomorrow night, when you're warming up by the fire and feeling some good pain in your quadriceps, call your grandparents. You owe them one.