Road Trip

He turned 36 the week before Christmas.

At 36, he still lives with his mother in his boyhood bedroom. He doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t have friends or a girlfriend or any money. He says he knows he’s a loser and, as every year passes, it only gets worse.

Last year, he said, when his step-sister came to visit for Christmas, her little daughter made it clear how she doesn’t like him.

So this year, before they came to visit for the holiday, he told his mother his gift for his birthday and Christmas could be a road trip. So she gave him some money and the keys to her car so he could retreat for the holiday and their house full of guests. He chose, at random, somewhere down south – an 8 hour drive – just to get away.

He spent a couple of days in a cheap but nice hotel down south. It sounded like one of those tourist trap destinations that probably slashed the price for the holiday since people were celebrating Christmas more than vacationing. He stayed and looked around long enough for his step-sister and her family to come and go. Then he returned back home.

He said it was nice getting away for a few days. He said the hotel was especially nice. He said it was comforting having space to himself, away from his mother and step-father who were always around. He said being alone in a private space allowed him to feel like a real adult for a little while.

He told me about his step-sister’s little girl and how, last year, she’d pronounced before the family how she didn’t like him. He confessed it was hurtful and embarrassing to be told so boldly and unapologetically he was disliked.

This year, he said, before he left on his road trip, the little girl had said nothing about disliking him. I suspect he’d fled the scene before she could say through words or display through her actions or attitude whether her opinion of him had changed.

I know him well. He is smart but possesses very little social or emotional IQ.

I suspect when he’s around that little girl he doesn’t know what to do or say, so I imagine he panics, scampering off from the awkwardness of it to hide out in his room. I suspect in the instances when he’s unable to avoid the little girl, he retreats with nothing more than a weak smile and maybe a “hi”, if that.

I suspect the little girl is accustomed to people being nice and polite. And, when he’s not, she recognizes there’s something wrong. She recognizes there’s something strange about him. She’s probably too young to recognize it as the abject misanthropy it is. But, still, she feels there’s something wrong – something terribly graceless about him – and she doesn’t like whatever it is.

He said when he came back from his road trip down south, his step-sister, her husband and their children were gone.

He said because this year the little girl didn’t say she disliked him, he thought maybe her opinion had changed.

I didn’t say that it seemed like he hadn’t stuck around long enough to find out one way or the other. I didn’t say that it struck me as if he was avoiding it altogether by fleeing the home.

I didn’t say it because I didn’t want to spoil what he’d made of his Christmas. If it made the holiday better to imagine she’d changed her opinion, then why’d I wanna be the Grinch, even though Christmas was over?

Still, I couldn’t imagine much changing for him between 36 and the fast-approaching 37. And it made me wonder where, if anywhere, he might retreat to next Christmas.

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