A Jacobs Family Hannukah
"It's just one day, it's just one day, it's just one day..." David muttered the phrase like a mantra as he stood on the front porch of his grandmother's adult-community-standard one-story home. Jack, standing next to him, squeezed his hand surreptitiously.
"Calm down, Davey. It's your family. How bad could they possibly be?" he whispered.
"You've never met them."
"David!" Mrs. Jacobs, standing next to her husband in front of the boys, turned her head slightly and glared. David had the good sense to look sheepish as the door swung open.
"Babcia!" Les cried, surging forward to hug his grandmother. The old woman enveloped her grandson in her arms, and Sarah, leaning against the porch railing at the tail-end of the Jacobs family crowd, coughed something that sounded suspiciously like "suck up."
"Hi Mom," Mrs. Jacobs said, smiling, as the family made its way through the door. "Happy Hanukkah."
"Happy Hanukkah, darling. It's so good to see you all." Her eyes scanned the family and landed on Jack. "And you must be David's roommate."
"David's roommate." That was the official story, approved by Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs and refined during the far-too-long bus ride down to the Jersey Shore. Jack's parents were "out of the country on business," and rather than let him try to survive on spaghetti-o's and solitude for three weeks, trapped on campus over winter break, the Jacobs family had invited him to stay with them for the holidays.
It was partially true, anyway. Jack's father had expected him to stay on campus over break, though he was more "in jail" than "out of the country," and David was pretty sure that his parents would have invited him to stay with them even if they hadn't been dating. But it was the dating part that was the problem. David was out to most of his family, but his grandmother was 80 years old, and the shock, his parents had warned him, would kill her. Thus the elaborate lie was born.
But Jack had always been good at performing. Turning up his characteristic charm, he stepped forward and kissed the elderly woman's hand. "Jack, ma'am. It's real nice to meet you. I hope I'm not imposing on you or anything like that."
David's grandmother grinned, a twinkling in her blue eyes (David's eyes, Jack couldn't help noticing). "Not at all, dear. Not at all. Come on, I'll introduce you to the rest of the family."
From the direction of the family room, located on the opposite side of the house, the shrieking sounds of tiny children carried through the halls. Les had gotten a new wooden Kendo sword as one of his gifts, and he was obsessed with the idea of training his twin cousins, Sammy and Simon, in the art of Kendo. Never mind the fact that the twins were 6, and Les, at 13, wielded a sword that was one and a half times the size of each of his protégées. When the boy got an idea in his head, nothing was going to stop him. Meanwhile, David's cousin Melissa, 27 and very pregnant, stood anxiously in the doorway of the room they were in, suggesting ineffectually that Les either take the swordplay outside or teach the boys something more festive and less likely to cause harm to bodies and household objects, like dreidel games.
On the other side of the house, Sarah sat in a corner of the living room, curled up on a couch with a book and her i-Pod, clearly bored out of her skull and trying desperately to avoid any and all contact with her relatives. For the time being, she appeared to be succeeding. David, unfortunately, was not.
For as long as he could remember, David had vowed to disown most of his extended family if given half a chance, and so far they were doing nothing to change his mind. Things had been nice enough at first--everyone gathered together in the living room, introductions were made, and gifts were exchanged. This was (thankfully) the only Hanukkah party his mother's side of the family held, which meant that this was the only time that gifts could be passed around, and the results were slightly chaotic. But it was a normal, functional chaos. David accepted his books and CDs and gift certificates with graciousness and helped his parents pass out the presents they'd brought.
In the time since, however, the party had descended into a version of David's personal hell. In the living room, where David had been sitting on a couch next to his sister, his father and Uncle Mark were watching a football game with Mark's sons Paul and Pete, who seemed to think that jokes involving the words "fairy" or "fruit" were possibly the funniest things in the world. Uncle Mark had the tendency to scream deafeningly at the television whenever his team scored or fumbled or pretty much did anything on the field, causing Sarah to repeatedly cringe and turn up her i-Pod volume.
In an effort to escape that headache, David had made his way into the kitchen, where his mother and her older sister Lily were arguing loudly about everything from illegal immigration to the proper way to raise children, a discussion they'd been having continuously for over two decades. When David appeared, Lily abruptly changed the conversation, bombarding David with questions (and subsequent commentary) about everything from his schoolwork ("I hope you don't major in something useless like English!") to his fashion sense ("Oh, darling, you should let me go shopping for you. That shirt doesn't suit you at all.") to Jack ("You know, honey, he looks like the type who'd cheat in a second, given the opportunity. I hope you're using protection. God only knows where that thing has been.") David made fists with both hands and dug his fingernails into his palms, trying hard not to scream. His mother, to her credit, tried her hardest to deflect Aunt Lily's incessant criticism, but stubbornness was a classic Jacobs family trait, and the attempts only resulted in more arguments, including those that implied that Esther's mothering had been the direct cause of David's homosexuality. David wasn't sure how Aunt Lily got off criticizing anyone's parenting, considering the fact that the two blocks of wood in the living room that she called sons were still living at home at age 33 and 34, respectively, but he chose not to make the situation worse by bringing it up.
All things considered, David was feeling murderous. And, worst of all, Jack was nowhere to be found. David supposed that he should have felt glad--Jack being gone meant he'd managed to strike up a conversation with one of his relatives, which meant the integration of his boyfriend into his family was going smoothly. But that knowledge didn't help to placate his own anxiety at being set adrift in this world of overgrown frat boy cousins and nosy aunts. Also, he couldn't help wondering if Jack's absence actually meant that one of his relatives had decided to roast him on a spit. Or, worse, show him naked baby pictures.
Jack had no idea how he'd managed to trap himself in a room with David's recently-divorced Aunt Ruth, but he was definitely regretting whatever that particular chain of events had been. The woman was, frankly, terrifying; she was the only relative David had specifically warned him about, and he could see why. For one thing, she couldn't shut up. In the last twenty minutes, she'd managed to provide Jack with a detailed Jacobs family history, as well as an account of the time she had tried to convince a 10-year-old David that his parents had once been quail-sacrificing Satanists. But even more disturbingly, she wouldn't stop coming on to him.
At first Jack had thought he was imagining it. Surely the woman was just being friendly when she giggled at every vaguely amusing thing he said and touched his arm whenever she responded to a question. Surely her comment of, "You're far too cute to be gay," accompanied by a flirtatious stroke of his cheek, was merely a joking compliment. But by the time she'd actually pulled her shirt farther down her chest to expose even more of her ample cleavage and stroked his leg with the tip of her toe from her spot on an adjacent couch, he was pretty certain that he needed to find the nearest escape route as soon as possible.
Thankfully, a loud crash from the direction of the family room and a female voice screaming "Sammy, no!" saved the day. Ruth, looking pained, rubbed her forehead and stood up. "I guess I should go find out what my son destroyed this time. I'll be right back." And she winked at Jack before rushing out of the room.
Jack didn't waste a moment. As soon as Ruth was out the door, he exited himself, and immediately pushed his way through the next door he saw.
Unfortunately, the next door he saw happened to be the door to David's grandmother's bedroom.
"Hello, Jack," she greeted him genially from the other side of the room, where she stood sifting through a jewelry box.
"Uh... um... I am so, so sorry." Jack could feel himself turning red. "I'll, uh, just be going now..." He motioned weakly to the door.
"No, no, it's quite all right. I was just changing my earrings. How are you enjoying the party?"
"Oh, your family's great. They've been real nice to me." Recovering from his embarrassment, Jack cranked up his trademark smile once more.
The old woman smiled back. "I'm glad to hear it. And how is David doing? I know you two are very close."
Something about the way she said that last phrase made Jack do a double take. There was a brightness in her eyes, a look of "I know more than you think." But David had said that his grandmother didn't know...
"Oh, he's... he's doing good. His grades are a lot better than mine, at least. And we've got a lot of friends, and he's got his newspaper stuff, and he's pretty happy, I guess. He really loves school."
"And the two of you? You're doing well together?" It was a strange question to ask, and Jack hesitated before responding.
"Well, yeah. Yeah. We don't have any of those problems most roommates have. We argue a little, but we always manage to work it out. And we're basically best friends."
David's grandmother nodded, that strange smile still on her face. "That's great. That's really great. Well, I hope you keep taking good care of my grandson." And she winked.
Jack's eyes widened, but he managed to respond with an "I will. Don't worry" through his incredulity.
"Now, let's get back to the party, shall we?" she said, standing up and leaving the room. Jack followed her, still bewildered.
Wandering through the house, Jack finally spotted David for the first time since the gift-giving, sitting with his mother and aunt in the kitchen. Their eyes met, and David suddenly jumped out of his seat. "Jack! Hey! Uh, you know... I could use some fresh air. Let's take a walk. I'll be back in a few, mom." And before Jack had a chance to react, David had grabbed him by the hem of his sleeve and pulled him out the front door.
"Dave, we can't just leave! It's your family!" Jack protested, as David dragged him bodily down the street.
"If I didn't leave, I was going to kill someone," David replied, continuing to march toward the intersection of Leia Ct. and Rushmore Dr. Finally they rounded the corner, and, with his grandmother's house out of view, David allowed himself to drop heavily onto one of the wooden benches that lined the sidewalk, most likely for the convenience of the easily-tired elderly men and women of the community.
"Where were you, anyway?" he asked, staring down at his toes as he kicked at a rock on the sidewalk.
"Trapped in the den with your Aunt Ruth," Jack replied, sitting down next to him, "She's, uh, a character."
David looked up and rolled his eyes. "She hit on you, didn't she?"
Jack's resulting awkward silence confirmed the suspicion. "I thought so."
"So what happened?" Jack asked, finally, leaning over to massage David's shoulders and attempt to work out some of the tension there.
"They're nuts. All they could do was ask stupid questions about you and pester me about my future plans and criticize my wardrobe and make asinine, offensive jokes and... God, I can't deal with it!"
"Davey, I don't know from experience or anything, but I'm pretty sure that describes every family. Do you run away every time you have to see them?"
"Then what's different today?"
David looked down, playing with the hem of his shirt. "You."
Jack's let his hand drop. "So you don't want me here? You want me to go back to campus, stay away from your family?" He tried to sound sarcastic, but a bit of hurt slipped through in his voice.
David looked up, sharply. "No! No, I didn't mean... they can all screw themselves, for all I care. I'm just... on edge, because you're here, and my grandmother can't know, and she's one of the few relatives I can tolerate, and it just... sucks."
"How do you know your grandmother would react badly, anyway?" Jack asked.
"She's old. She came over on the boat from Poland. She'd barely even understand it, much less accept it."
"Sometimes people can surprise you," Jack replied cryptically. David raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Jack chose not to pursue that line of conversation.
"Look, David, I know this sucks, but it's only a few hours more. Let's just go back there and chill in the room with Les and the twins or something until dinner. I swear I won't disappear again."
David let out a long breath. "All right. But let's just sit here for a few more minutes, ok?"
"Ok." And they sat on the bench in silence, Jack gently stroking the back of David's right hand with his left thumb. Snow began to fall, big, puffy white flakes, and Jack, smiling, leaned in for a quick kiss (or five) before they finally headed back to the house.
The family was assembled at the dinner table, and for once no one was arguing. Chewing had apparently taken precedence over all else, and the only snatches of conversation were to the effect of "Can you pass the applesauce, Paul?" For this David was glad. He sat next to Jack, who was just as busy shoveling food into his mouth as everyone else at the table, and the proximity of their knees brought just enough comfort to stop him from freaking out again.
They'd been eating for awhile before Aunt Lily started in on Sarah. "So, any new boys at college, honey?" David cringed in empathy for his sister, who visibly shrank into her chair.
"Uh... not... really, Aunt Lily. My classes have been really hard this semester, and I've been spending so much time rehearsing with my a capella group... I just haven't had the chance to meet anyone."
But Aunt Lily was never one to take a hint. "What ever happened to that boy you brought here last year? Jeremy or John or whatever his name was?"
"Josh. And we broke up months ago. It, um, wasn't working out."
Aunt Lily looked disappointed, but before she could prod any further David's grandmother cut into the conversation. "Good for you, sweetheart. I didn't like that Josh fellow; he was rude and vulgar to everyone. Not like David's boyfriend. Jack's a good boy."
With the conclusion of that statement, Sarah's jaw fell open, Esther dropped her fork with a loud clang, and David, eyes widened to unimaginable proportions, began to choke on his latke. Jack, concerned, began to pat him helpfully on the back, while the rest of the family stared in awkward silence.
When David had finally managed to swallow the stray bit of potato and blink away his shock, he began to stutter. "We're not... I mean... Babcia, I... I think you're confused."
But his grandmother, normally so full of 80-year-old sweetness, actually rolled her eyes. "Confused? I may be old, darling, but I'm not stupid. You boys couldn't be more obvious if you wore matching sandwich boards announcing the fact." And she winked at Jack, who grinned in return.
David blushed. "So you're... ok with it?"
"Ok with it? Honey, why wouldn't I be?" And she glanced around at the rest of the family, as if daring anyone to challenge the statement. "Now, if I'm not mistaken, I think it's time for some candle-lighting business, hmm?"
As the family collectively left their chairs and headed for the menorah in the living room, still slightly stunned, David felt himself droop, years of pent-up fear fleeing his body. Jack squeezed his hand, giving him a smile that only bore the slightest hint of "I told you so," and kissed him chastely on the cheek. "Happy Hanukkah, David."
Jack, finally escaping from Aunt Ruth, finds himself in a room alone with David's grandmother. He's afraid she'll slip, but instead he finds that she's really cool. She sort of winkingly acknowledges that she knows about him and David, and Jack doesn't exactly deny it. She makes him promise to take care of her grandson. He does.