This Christmas I gave Shandi an antique store purse. It was creamy yellow leather with white trim, a mod fashion accessory that looked like it came from the sixties, but what do I know. Christmas morning, as she peeled away the lumpy mess of tape and red wrapping paper I had cobbled around it the night before, it occurred to me that I hadn’t looked inside the purse when I bought it at the antique store. There could be anything hidden in there.
Maybe just a snapshot on faded Kodak paper, a picture of boozy celebrity from the Dean Martin age, totally in flagrante.
But as Shandi pulled back the zipper and opened the bag, maybe for the first time in decades, it hit me that there was a far more astounding possibility than any I had imagined. I saw the swimmy metallic glow of miraculously luminescent gold beaming from inside the purse, heard the unmistakable sound of a holy choir fill our basement apartment, felt its bass notes and its wild, heartbreaking crescendo shake the bones in my chest. Trans-Siberian Orchestra my ass! Her hands trembling with holy terror, Shandi rustled the sacred object free of its bed of tissue paper and held it aloft.
Slack-jawed and moon-eyed, we said in astonished TV dialog unison,
The vodka was nice, cold, bitter and smooth, but as it ran down our throats it got heavy with religious symbolism. The phrase, “This is my blood which is poured out for you,” stuck in my head like a bone chillingly horrifying pop melody. The liquid dripped into my stomach and formed a well of absolute sorrow.
Nobody ever sang a song dreaming of an existential Christmas.
I suddenly felt like the world was full of people I loved so much I couldn’t stand to imagine myself without them, and they all treated each other horribly. I thought about some of them blowing each other up in wars, and others profiting from those wars, about some spending their lives in poverty and how others profited from that, too. What I had always taken for granted as the natural order of life became an obscenity too vile even to imagine. I thought about, I saw, I intimately knew all these people worrying about bills, dragging each other down, feeling bad cause they were drunks and couldn’t stop it, cause they were whores and queers and everybody knew it, or cause nobody wanted to do it with them at all, felt their dread as they wondered where the money would come from, felt the emptiness grow as the hourglass sands of their life energy poured into meaningless work, their shudders and their love as they huddled together in the thunder of chopper blades and gunfire, knew their shame, cause, big deal, they were dumb as a box of hammers, or their skin was pocked and ugly and bulging with puss, or they kept making the same mistakes or just kept getting fatter.
My heart broke for them. I wanted to die to save them but couldn’t imagine what good it would do. Shandi and I sat there, holding onto one another, buried in an abyss of hopeless love, our mouths dry with the taste of vodka for who knows how long. The dogs got nervous and impatient.
I’ve never been much of a talker. I may never have spoken again if Shandi hadn’t broken the silence.
“Jesus Christ,” she said, but I don’t think she meant it in a bad way. The concept of taking the Lord’s name in vain meant something different to us now than it ever had before. She said, “Can you even imagine? I mean, to love people so much and then find out you’re God Almighty of the homophobes. They put you on a banner and go conquer other people, turn you into a flaming cross for racial supremacy? But, it’s like…”
Her words were failing her. I saw her grasping, trying to match words to an idea being born in her mind, trying to force it out through the tears. She put the grail to her lips, tilted her head back and drank from it in gigantic, sloppy gulps, the blood of the lamb pouring down her cheeks in rivulets of clear alcohol. She took a bigger drink from the cup of grace than any sane person ever would. A golden glow bathed the room as she shimmered with some holy radioactivity, a waxing abundance of grace that was clearly dangerous to the social if not the physical fabric of this fallen world. She seemed to have trouble catching her breath as she finished the cup and said,