Remembering and reevaluating the best Christmas I ever had
December 25, 2015 by Thomas Wictor
One of my great pleasures is to write in total freedom, not caring in the least what anybody thinks. Today I’m remembering the best Christmas I ever had: December 25, 1989. I lived in Tokyo at the time, and I was faced with a choice. I don’t regret the outcome.
Regret is an emotion not relevant to my existence. When I interviewed bassist Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath, I asked him about chart success. He laughed.
“We’re so out of the mainstream that things like chart success or radio play don’t mean anything to us,” he said. “What just do our thing off in a little corner of the music world.”
That’s exactly how I view myself, except I do my little thing off in a little corner of the world world. I’m not bound to this place anymore; I’m just a visitor, waiting to go home. But until I do, I enjoy writing without inhibitions. Remembering isn’t painful, because I’m no longer the person who experienced most of what occurred over a span of five decades.
In 1989 I was dating a woman I call the Cardinal Ghost.
“Carmen” is the name she chose for herself when I asked if I could write about her. My book Ghosts and Ballyhoo: Memoirs of a Failed L.A. Music Journalist was published in 2013. I had a lot of hopes for it, but my parents were diagnosed with Stage IV cancer on January 16, 2013. My father died February 23, 2013, and my mother October 13, 2013. During this period I hooked up with two fraudulent book publicists, one after another. By the time I figured out that the second publicist was another con artist, the book was dead. I self-published two more books just because I’d already written them, and then I closed the door on being an author.
To tell the truth, I don’t miss it. Books have to be sold, so you’re required to give interviews and buy ads and associate with totally unsocialized weirdos. The publishing industry has been taken over by angry, bitter women who have horrendous self-esteem issues, which makes it impossible for men to write anything but genre fiction. If I dare to trespass in the field of commercial fiction, I have to make my female characters insufferable feminist caricatures.
Here on my blog, I can write whatever I want. I answer to nobody. It’s a dream come true.
Remembering my best Christmas
My relationship with Carmen the Cardinal Ghost was very rocky in the beginning. We were both unacknowledged alcoholics, and she had a problem with serial infidelity. I knew about her extracurricular activities, but I felt at the time that she and I were destined to be together. When I met her, I remembered her. I thought, There you are! Where the hell have you been? I’ve missed you so much!
Nothing like that had ever happened before or has ever happened since. I was an atheist who never gave even a second’s thought to an afterlife. Religion sickened me. So remembering a perfect stranger—even her smell and how she felt in my arms—was a life-changing event. I couldn’t give her up, despite all our problems.
Here I am the night before I met Carmen.
After Carmen and I had been together a year, a British woman named Lynne was hired at our school. She looked exactly like Naomi Watts.
Though I’ve never been attracted to blondes, I liked Lynne. A lot. She was incredibly smart and as funny as a professional stand-up comic. Her accent was amazing: Mancunian. Manc. She was from Manchester.
Just as an aside, if you want to see the most worthless videos uploaded to YouTube, search “Manc accent” or “Manchester accent.” They’re all too long, and they’re incomprehensibly stupid.
Back when I was on the market, any woman could’ve had me by making me laugh. No matter how banal the topic, Lynne made it funny.
“Give us a chip then, Toom. Nah? Yer well snide, aincha? Yer ‘angin’, our kid. Yer peckin’ me ‘ead. That’s dead mingin’, that is.”
Carmen immediately caught on that I had a crush on Lynne, but she didn’t mention it. She knew that I was aware that she’d been unfaithful to me many times.
Before Carmen went back to California to be with her family for two weeks, she said, “While I’m gone, you’re going to spend all your time with Lynne, aren’t you?”
“Probably,” I said.
There’s no question that if I’d had a fling with Lynne, Carmen would’ve accepted it. My own infidelity would’ve taken the edge off the guilt Carmen felt for cheating on me.
Carmen was right: After she left, I spent every day with Lynne. We had Christmas dinner together at a British pub she found. It was a traditional meal of roast turkey, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, parsnips, bread sauce, chestnut stuffing, pigs in a blanket, bacon, and gravy. With Christmas Pudding doused in flaming brandy for dessert, to ward off evil spirits.
We also had Christmas Crackers, paper tubes twisted at both ends.
When you and your date pull at either end of the tube, they pop and a paper crown, a prize, and a joke written on a piece of paper fall out. Our prizes were a plastic mustache and a toy penguin. Lynne put on her crown and became hotter than ever. I love beautiful women in silly headgear.
On New Year’s Eve, we went to a Japanese club where they rang in 1990 the traditional way, by smashing open a sake barrel with a mallet and splashing everyone nearby. Lynne and I got soaked. As the crowd cheered, she grabbed me, pulled me into her ample chest, and planted a big, wet smacker right on my lips. It was the best kiss ever, no question. We’d reached the point at which I had to make a decision. There was a week left before Carmen came back, and Lynne had made it clear that she wanted more than a friendship.
I didn’t do anything about it. The commitment to Carmen overrode my genuine love for Lynne.
It was the wrong choice. I can admit that now.
Carmen and I went back to California in 1991, and in 1993 she drove me away after I told her about my childhood. We had almost no contact until 2012, when I looked her up on the Internet and asked for permission to write about her in Ghosts and Ballyhoo.
Reconnecting with her was horrific. She had no personality whatsoever, no memories of our time together, and no ability to talk about anything. When I asked for current photos, she sent me images that appeared to show a dead woman. One exactly matched my painting Deep Thoughts of a Pilot, by Leslie Ditto.
The pose and expression were identical. It was as if Ditto had used Carmen as the model.
I had to have that painting the second I laid eyes on it. After the shock of seeing that Carmen’s photo was an exact duplicate of Deep Thoughts of a Pilot—which I’d bought three years before reconnecting with Carmen—I did some research.
The owl symbolizes Anat, a middle-eastern goddess called the Lady of Birth and Death, who represents a simultaneous blessing and a curse. She was fertilized by the blood of sacrifice, war, and murder.
An anathema is a death-curse pronounced over any sacrificial victim, a person who is both holy and accursed. Anat’s owl is a symbol of a blessing that destroys. The goddess herself represents the sacrifice of someone who enters a marriage that results in that person’s destruction. Although the marriage is blessed with children, wealth, and social status, they all come at the cost of the death of the one chosen for that union.
In the Christian gospels, the curse “Anathema Maranatha” means “The bridegroom comes [to his death].” Almost every culture has a tradition of a god or person chosen for a sacred marriage that leads to the cursing of that individual and his or her subsequent death.
Carmen’s life was a complete nightmare on every level, which she blandly described in detail while insisting that everything was great. She must’ve told me sixty times that she was bursting with joy every day.
Two weeks before the deadline for turning in the manuscript for Ghosts and Ballyhoo, she said that she was withdrawing her permission to write about her. When I asked what the problem was, she reverted to the cataclysmic bitch she was in 1993, making the same false accusation that I was trying to control her.
We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years, she’d married one of the wealthiest men on the West Coast and had two children with him, but nothing had changed. It was as if we were still living together in that ramshackle apartment on 8th Avenue in San Francisco. She was absolutely unreachable.
“You’re going to publish this book even though you know that I don’t want you to!” she said over and over. “Why would you do that?”
She couldn’t explain why she’d changed her mind, and then she threatened to call my publisher and demand that the book be killed. So I told her that if she did that, I’d tell the world her secrets. She immediately backed down; she still knew me well enough to realize that I was serious. Her last message to me was the strangest sentence I’ve ever read. I had my brother Tim make it into Dadaist art.
We never spoke again, and the book died soon after my mother did.
A few weeks ago I had a dream in which God gave me a photo album filled with pictures of the life I should’ve had. I’d married Lynne, we’d had three children, and I’d become a college professor. When I died, there were thousands of mourners at my funeral.
It was a just a dream. There’s no way that I could ever have had children, even with Lynne. Though remembering her is nice, she’s actually as remote as Pluto. She always was. Everyone is.
I did choose poorly, but it’s not the end of the world. Long after I’m dust blowing across a desert, the world will still be here.
Somewhere in time, Christmas Day of 1989 still exists. Thomas and Lynne are having dinner together and loving every second of it.
I’m happy for them.
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