The gift of re­jec­tion: a Christ­mas story

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In the early hours of last Christ­mas, as the crowd at Bull­dogs was ex­it­ing onto Peachtree Street and Santa was ap­proach­ing Hawaii, I pro­grammed into my phone the num­ber of a hand­some guy with whom flir­ta­tious glanc­ing had turned into con­ver­sa­tion, and con­ver­sa­tion had turned into danc­ing that paid homage to the concept of im­mac­u­late con­cep­tions.

At a dig­ni­fied hour later that day, I sent him a text mes­sage and re­ceived an auto-re­ply in­di­cat­ing an in­valid num­ber, my hu­mil­i­a­tion con­firmed when I called and reached an er­ror mes­sage. By miles, it was still the best Christ­mas Eve I’ve had in more than 25 years.

Be­ing gay is of­ten con­sid­ered a com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor dur­ing the hol­i­days, with angst over whether to bring a part­ner home, or en­dur­ing the com­pany of fam­ily mem­bers whose relationship with you makes the North Pole feel balmy. As some­one whose es­trange­ment from fam­ily is un­re­lated to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, my ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a sea­sonal life­line.

The dis­tance be­tween me and my fam­ily, most no­tably my mother, is some­thing I usu­ally try not to be­moan. I feel as­sured she knows I love her, and I have never doubted her love for me, but we both rec­og­nize the ben­e­fits of be­ing apart.

It feels like I man­age these emo­tions and voids suf­fi­ciently enough through­out the year that my hol­i­days are not filled with dread and lone­li­ness. But then Christ­mas Eve comes along, and the clos­ing of Kroger at 6 p.m., starts the most dif­fi­cult 24 hours of my year; there’s some­thing about a ‘roundthe-clock gro­cery store be­ing locked and dark­ened that am­pli­fies my soli­tude, and lets me know that I am sup­posed to be, ex­pected to be, else­where and with oth­ers.

Christ­mas Eve used to serve as a de facto fam­ily re­union for the Lees, and re­ceiv­ing presents from rel­a­tives I barely knew em­bod­ied the ma­te­rial lux­ury of my early child­hood. There is a video of one of these gath­er­ings, when I was 10 years old, which is so beloved for its hi­lar­ity that my fam­ily would watch it dur­ing any gath­er­ing un­til we stopped gath­er­ing.

The day af­ter the video was shot, Christ­mas morn­ing, I awoke and saw my mother, for the first time, with a black eye and gashed lip. It is as de­fin­i­tive a date as any to the end of my child­hood, and the Christ­mases that fol­lowed rarely felt less emo­tion­ally bru­tal, pri­mar­ily due to my par­ents’ drug ad­dic­tions.

The Christ­mas tra­di­tions of my ado­les­cence are sit­u­a­tional home­less­ness and, “I’ll take care of you and your sis­ter when I get my tax re­turn.” My adult hol­i­day rit­ual is stock­ing up on sur­vival sup­plies, hun­ker­ing in my apart­ment and hop­ing the next 24 hours pass as fast as Santa races around the globe.

I was about to en­ter this emo­tional fortress last Christ­mas Eve when one of my friends in­vited me to Gar­den Lights at the Botan­i­cal Gar­den, and after­ward we met other friends at Bull­dogs. At­lanta has al­ways felt like a ghost town when Kroger closes, so I was com­forted by how crowded the club was, and grate­ful to be among fam­ily, in the gayest sense of that word.

Meet­ing a guy with whom I shared a mu­tual at­trac­tion had me feel­ing like a kid on Christ­mas morn­ing, and my dis­ap­point­ment when I learned he hadn’t given me the cor­rect num­ber was a nice dis­trac­tion from the melan­choly Santa usu­ally brings. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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