Last night I went to Dan & Autumn’s White Elephant Holiday Party. It was great to be back on Leslie Ave., and don’t think I haven’t thought about stealing a street sign more than once. If I win the lottery (it would help if I played), I’m buying that house right from under them (watch your backs, dear hearts……). The only thing that would keep me from doing so, and this is big, is that I love Maryland so much. It’s a bit more liberal without Richmond to deal with…….. but Del Rey is just so damn cool.
Not only is it a funky neighborhood reminiscent of Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon, Dan, Autumn, and my cousins, Nathan and Emily, all live there. It’s nice to have so many people I adore at one Metro stop (Braddock, in case you’re wondering… one past National Airport on the Yellow Line…. as if I will ever get used to calling it “Reagan” instead). I took this picture at about 12:30 AM as I was on my way home, and the lights just spoke to me. I remembered my first day in DC, when Dana and I patched our relationship up just enough that I called her just to laugh about the fact that I’d gotten on the train going the wrong way and ended up at Braddock instead of Ft. Totten, where I generally transfer to the Red Line, even though it’s faster at other stops. This is because I am just lazy enough to want a longer trip on one line…. Don’t make me get up…. I’m playing Zen Koi here, man……. WMATA is changing things up a bit, though. You can’t transfer to the Red Line right now because it’s closed for maintenance from Rhode Island all the way to Silver Spring. You either have to take a shuttle bus, or Uber when you’re running short on time. The shuttle buses take twice to three times as long. By the time I got to Silver Spring station, the bus home had stopped running. I got an Uber, and then my phone died. My driver couldn’t find me, and canceled the trip. I ended up at Dave & Buster’s, where the bar has USB plugs, and after about ten minutes, tried for another ride home. This time, it worked. I didn’t get home until after 2:00, but it was completely worth it.
Here’s a picture of what I brought to the White Elephant party, which got a big response. I picked it out weeks ago, and the excitement was killing me. It was so hard not to just blab all over everywhere what I was taking, but I didn’t until after it was opened. I am generally not very good at keeping secrets. One of the funniest things that happened between Kathleen and me is that when we lived in Alexandria, for our third anniversary I booked us one of those cruises down the Potomac where you can look at all the monuments at night. I kept the secret for three months, and then, the day we were supposed to go, Kathleen asked me if there was anything she needed to bring, having no idea where we were going. I said, well, you might want to bring a jacket. It’s going to be cold on the boat. I clapped my hand over my mouth and we both fell out laughing. Since that particular dumbass attack, I have had to try a lot harder to hide my nefarious-yet-generous activities, because it just slipped out. I didn’t mean to spoil the surprise, I was just on the “think it, say it” plan, which often leads to very heavy face palms. Although I did spill to my dad and Lindsay, because there was no way it would make it back to DC. Friends and family that are so far away come in handy.
So, I open the present I picked, and tears came to my eyes. From the moment I opened it, I knew it was the perfect present for me. I valiantly tried to stay neutral because the reality was that it could have gotten stolen at any point. I did, however, hide the bag behind my back, hoping that everyone would forget it was there. I don’t know whether it was the tears that did it, or whether my plan worked, but after the gift exchange I told the people who brought the gift why it meant so much to me. Busboys & Poets is my favorite restaurant here, and one of the last meals I shared with my mother was at the Takoma Park location, where I am fairly sure the gift was bought because that’s where they live. In addition, the restaurant gets its name from one of the most famous writers in American history, Langston Hughes, who was the busboy poet.
As you can see, not only is the gift a coffee mug with the logo, it came with a Langston Hughes finger puppet with a magnet in his hat so you can hang it on the refrigerator, or in my case, the mirror above my dresser. My stepsister, Caitlin, will be happy to know that it holds much less coffee than the Doctor Who tankard she gave me a couple of years ago. I told her that I loved that mug because it holds four cups of coffee at once, and she said, isn’t that a bit much? Well, probably, but between the depression and ADHD, coffee acts as the right amount of stimulant to get me out into the world and give me some modicum of concentration without having to resort to Ritalin, Adderall, Stratera, et al. If I accidentally drink too much, too late, I just take a Tylenol PM. However, I rarely have to resort to that, because in a person with ADHD, stimulants have the opposite effect. They actually make me calmer…. well, as long as it’s just plain cups of coffee and not a Starbucks monstrosity of shots. I don’t need those kinds of highs and lows…. I just have to keep the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference just aged me). It does not, however, stop the stream-of-consciousness in my head where tangents lead to tangents which lead to tangents and possibly the loss of the original point… but I’ll get back there eventually.
With presents like this, it feels like the universe is telling me that my mother is still right here, with her own nefarious generosity. Who knew that a White Elephant gift would tap into my emotions so deeply? I went to the party expecting to surprise everyone else, but the real surprise was mine alone.
But one more surprise before I go. Dan’s birthday is coming up, and I asked for a minute alone with her to give her a present. When it happened, before I took out the gift, I said, because you travel a lot, I’m giving you jewelry appropriate for a friend. I figure that wherever you go, when you look at it, you’ll think about where you got it and smile… and for that moment, I’ll be with you on your journey. If that sounds too practiced to be off the cuff, it’s because I made the exact same speech to Argo years ago, because was also one of my “dames on a plane.” But just because it was the same speech, that doesn’t mean that the sentiment was any less heartfelt. I don’t know if Argo still wears hers because of our blowouts, but I’d like to think so. I won’t tell you what hers was, only because it might identify her in some way. But I will tell you that Dan’s is a beaded bracelet that looks too fancy for an old school “friendship bracelet,” but it’s the same idea. They’re Tibetan prayer beads, which, to me, represented prayers without wax…. and as I joked with her, “no homo.”
In Michelangelo’s day, sculptors who made mistakes often filled them with wax to cover the impurities. A complete sculpture without doing so were called “sin cera,” Latin for without wax. It is the origin of the word sincere. “Prayers without wax” is code for the deeply felt message of thanks for being that friend who understands me the most since we’ve both lost our mothers, which are different conversations than the ones I have with people who haven’t. It has been amazing to have someone who knows how to catch me when I pitch forward in the haze of loss.
It is just as miraculous to have a gift I will look at every day in order to smile through pain… a sign to me that God moments happen in the most unexpected places.
A surprise, as it were.