Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cliff/Tori: A Christmas Story

Sometimes I worry it's hard to keep up with all the characters in this blog. I mean, I never thought of myself as a "character," or any of the people in my life... they're real people to me. But to you good readers, they're just names on the computer screen and it probably gets confusing. We're just characters to you, not people you're likely to meet. But if you live in Philly and you see a short pretty girl with long dark hair, that might very well be me.

I was thinking about that because I've been reading the diaries and it's a very tough task to keep all the "characters" straight, because she writes about them for herself, and since she already knows all of them, she doesn't have to explain them to herself, which means for people like me, it's awkward... especially when she uses codenames for people she doesn't like, which occasionally she does. Mostly, superficial remarks about people she doesn't know very well, which I find privately amusing considering my condition.

So right now I'm trying to limit the number of characters in my story. A person's life has many minor characters, you know?

Mrs. Pearce and I had pretty much made up by the time Christmas came around. We actually had a very nice moment where, after I decided to stop hiding from her, I went right up to her and I delivered a little speech I spent a long time drafting on in my head (and on my computer,) a plausible explanation for Tori's reluctance to help her do her hair. I kept it vague, basically telling her I've been "going through some things" lately, and that I didn't feel that hairstyling and the like was a part of "who I am" anymore, and that I needed to find something I was more comfortable with.

She seemed to understand. She didn't hide her disappointment, though, and told me "It's a shame it's taken you so long to get to this point. If this is what you mean, I think it's too bad you wasted a lot of time and effort throwing yourself into something that was a dead end, if you're not going to pursue it, if you're not going to use those skills." And that kinda touched a nerve, because it echoes how I felt about my own knowledge of computers, all my male experience, just being packed away until I can get my body back.

I backtracked a bit with a half-hearted attempt to suggest that "I might come back to it later" (after everyone gets their proper bodies back... assuming that even happens, which it bloody well better.) She shrugged at this and simply apologized for making such a big deal, that she only really wanted to save "a few bucks," and really it was all up to me what I do with my life... something I am learning is, and isn't true. After all, right now, it's up to me what I do with Tori's life, that's for sure, but my own fate is not in my hands. I could ignore Tori's wishes for me (and she hasn't made any explicit ones) just as easily as Willy could ignore mine. I'll consider my options, as soon as I get some.

I made it through the holidays with a lot of advice from Tori. I like giving gifts. A lot of the time my friends consider me a cheap guy, but at Christmas and Birthdays, if I really care about someone, I like to give. I definitely wanted to give to Tori's family enough to rest my soul from having been a bit of a burden over the last several months. She gave me some good ideas what kinds of things Mr. & Mrs. P liked (make-up for the mom, gadgets for the dad, the latter of which I was more able to come up with ideas.) She was a little unsure what to do for Mae, and I suspect I am getting to know her better than she ever did, because off the top of my head I could think of four or five albums and DVDs she had expressed interest in. Tori was very explicit what to get for her older brother Ken: a very particular bottle of wine.

I think I've only mentioned Ken once since I've been here. He's a few years older than Tori (I think about 25 or 26) and they apparently have a very warm big brother-little sister relationship, in contrast to her original relationship to her younger sister. Despite this, he's busy with his own life - he lives in New York with his girlfriend - and I haven't tried to talk to him, and he's made a few attempts to talk to me that I've only been able to respond briefly to. When I got back from Thanksgiving, Mrs. Pearce told me that "Ken had missed me." It seemed like he had been genuinely disappointed to miss his sister, which I found sweet. There's a fair bit about him in the diaries, mostly about amusement park trips and movies they go see. Bonding-type things.

For Christmas, we were all going over to Mr. Pearce's brother's place. They have younger kids, so they're deep in the thick of Christmas madness; they're also a lot better off than Tori's family, too, much nicer house, a good space to host a big family gathering. there were way too many relatives there for me to keep track of. I mostly kept to myself, and when Ken arrived, he ended up taking most of my time anyway, thankfully.

When we got there, Ken came and wrapped an arm around me, saying "Hey kiddo." I smiled and hugged him back, even though this was the first time I'd met him. He's one of the consistently positive presences in Tori's diaries, so I felt a weird sort of attachment to him already. He took me down to the basement where there was a pool table. He set up the balls and began to ask about my life.

I told him there wasn't much to tell. Trying to figure out my next step, working a crappy job in the meantime, staying out of "mom and dad's" way.

"Listen, I know it's been a while since we've talked and all," he says, "I guess that's as much my fault as yours... mom told me you're not seeing anyone lately."

"Nope," I say bashfully, "Not lately."

It's not hard to understand why that may have surprised Ken. I've gotten halfway through the tenth grade in Tori's diaries, and she's already on her third boyfriend, not including casual "dates."

Ken looked over at me, approvingly. "Don't take this the wrong way, but it's good to be alone sometimes. It shows you who you really are."

"True," I agreed, lining up my shot, "But I'm starting to get tired to trying to know myself." He laughed as I missed my shot completely.

"Haha, see? you're a totally different person. You used to be a lot better at this."

In my head there's a whole other conversation where I say "Give my a break, my tits are in the way," but I've learned not to comment on anything that, as Cliff, would've been weird in the last few months. Besides, they're not really, I'm just that bad. This all continued, and we kept making conversation. I've long since grown accustomed to people who know "me" better than I know "myself," but Ken seems always to have full access to Tori that nobody else did. I felt weirdly comfortable just hanging out with him. Short of telling him the Inn story, I probably could've told him anything. I haven't felt this secure around anyone except maybe Alia, and even then, there are limitations.

He asked about Mae, saying "I know you guys have never really gotten along." I told him things had gotten a lot better.

That was the other big thing. The night before, after Christmas Eve dinner, Mae went off on her own with her little boyfriend Ed. Nothing unusual about this, as she often steals away to hang out with him in the evening. She came home late, as is usually the case, and I was the only one up, just hanging out watching TV. She was kind of spaced out and she just came and sat next to me on the couch. Without looking over, she said in a hushed voice, "So... I did it. With Ed. It was like, our Christmas gift to each other." Then she turned to me to search my face for a reaction.

I was pretty stone-faced. To be honest, I assumed she had already gone through with it, so my face probably didn't show much surprise. What did surprise me was that she even bothered to tell me right away.

So I asked, "How was it?"

She shrugged, "It was cool, I guess. I dunno if I like him that much anymore though. Maybe I was just using him, or whatever. I guess we'll keep doing it until we get sick of it."

I didn't know what else to say "Sounds like a plan, I guess..."

We sat there for a little while, I wasn't sure how to respond, she wasn't sure what else to say, so she added, "I just needed to say it out loud to someone. I think if I told my friends, they'd make fun of me for being the first to do it. And they don't like Ed, I think. Thanks for listening." And then she went to bed.

"Aw, I didn't need to hear that," he laughed to himself embarrassed. "It's one thing if you talk about your sex life, we grew up together... Mae's just a kid!"

"Well, she's growing up," I smirked, watching him sink another ball.

"Yeah, well, she's still my baby sister," he said, still with a hint of humor,

"And what does that make me?"

He missed his next shot, "You're the one I still have to tell my friends you're off-limits."

I took my shot, finally sinking one, "Always looking out for me, Ken."

"You know it, kiddo." He patted my head and we finished the game. Like I said, I felt the weird ability to be familiar with him, maybe because I was picking up on his way of dealing with his sister. I've gotten really good at interpreting how to act around people I barely know. Six or seven months ago, I would have found it awkward just to talk to strangers, unless I was putting on a lame attempt to hit on a girl.

I like Ken. He seems to genuinely care about his sisters, and he's the first person I've met who isn't either a guy who sees me as a potential sex partner, a girl who sees me as a bitch, or a family member who seems burdened by me. I felt more like myself than I have in a while.

Before we went back upstairs, he told me that when he and his girlfriend got home, he was going to propose, and he hoped I was okay with that. I found it nice he cared about his sister's opinion so much. If I had to guess, I'd think that there was probably some unspoken resentment between her and Tori, because that seems like the pattern that I've kept finding since stepping into Tori's life. I told him "You've gotta do what you've gotta do."

At the end of the night, after dinner and everything else, we parted ways. He hugged me with his big broad arms and shoulders and told me to stay in touch. I told him I'd try. And I meant it.


Anonymous said...

"I mean, I never thought of myself as a 'character'"

You're leaving yourself wide open here, as in "Oh, he's quite a character!", etc. ;-)

Cliff/Tori said...

I never thought of myself as that either!