William Dameron stops at a restaurant with his husband, where a waitress thinks she is brave to say Merry Christmas. They then drive to North Carolina, a state where they don’t even know how to say the word “marriage” correctly.
Missy wants us to know that she is going to say Merry Christmas. Damn the torpedoes. She offers this up like an extra dollop of whip cream snuck from the kitchen for our tutti-frutti breakfast meal. When I pick up the check it is sticky from maple syrup and scribbled across the top is Happy Holidays ya’ll! a smiley face dots the “i”.
“Corporate’ll see that,” She says by way of explanation and grants us an upside down smile. She wipes the sweat off of her brow with the back of her hand to reveal a plump forearm riddled with blue shaded tattoos of roses, snakes and skulls. I wonder if corporate has seen that.
I look across the table at Paul and he can see by the slight shift in my expression that I am about to challenge her, so he cuts me off.
“Good for you, Merry Christmas!” He says enthusiastically and hands her his credit card.
We leave the restaurant and begin the continuation of our drive through rural Virginia to my mother’s house in North Carolina. There are billboards screaming “Choose life!” church signs stating that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and crudely constructed crosses perched atop red clay hills. Mixed among the messages is a sign for a gentleman’s club featuring topless ladies and a bright red hand advertising Miss Gina the palm reader.
“I hope Miss Gina’s first name is Va,” I say to Paul.
There is a long pause before he gets it.
“I don’t mind if someone says Merry Christmas, but why do they have to say it like “fuck you, I’m going to say Merry Christmas? What if we were Jewish?” I ask Paul.
“But we’re not,” he says staring straight ahead.
“She didn’t know that. She didn’t know that we were gay either,” I say and hope that Paul does not try to challenge my fuzzy logic.
“Would you like to go back and tell her this?” Paul asks and then continues “I could lay a big sloppy wet kiss on you in front of her.”
I put a check mark in the naughty list column in front of Paul’s name.
We cross the border from Virginia to North Carolina and my lungs constrict. A list of all of the sanitized terms that will be used to describe the man sitting next to me flicker through my mind like giant black lettered billboards: Partner, boyfriend or simply Paul, like some man who has showed up for a day in my life.
Let Missy pour out her sticky sweet Merry Christmas greetings. The power is not in the reception of the message but in the ability to define and convey your love through a phrase or a word. Turning to the man sitting next to me I place a hand on his knee and say “Merry Christmas Husband.”
William Dameron migrated from North Carolina and lives with his husband in Boston. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Saranac Review and Nerve. His blog, The Authentic Life, is a collection of personal stories about his husband and their blended family of five children. Both startlingly funny and touching, they are a celebration of what he has found: that living authentically is the only way out. One day he will finish his memoir. You can also follow him on Twitter @wcdameron.