Tucson Salvage 

A jaundiced Christmas filled with yearnings and addictions

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The giant Santa that's facing you towers over the roof of the house. He must be 16-feet tall, and because he's lit from the inside and sports a big red nose you imagine that he's a drunk. His ghoulish grin reminds you of that guy Ray, the rotund beer-swill back in Detroit who always fixed your broken-down car and who had three DUIs so he was forced to ride this kid-sized mountain bike to the auto shop where he worked, even when it was six below. There's a candy-cane propeller atop this little green and red helicopter about 15 feet from the giant Santa. It's filled with oversized ribbons and bows and colorfully wrapped packages. Surrounding that are several elves who look strangely sexualized with avocado-colored jumpsuits pulled up so tight their crotches bulge. With blushed faces, puckish smirks and squinted eyes, their faces show absolutely no kindness—not like how you remember Christmas elves from when you were a kid. Their countenances are more like what you see on creepy middle-aged guys visiting all-nude strip bars for the first time after five years of sobriety from sexual addiction.

The front-yard scene is string-lighted in ivy-greens and berry-reds, and it's pretty. But it somehow reminds you of meth-induced visions where you only see primary colors, where your imagination doesn't allow you to see anything of significance, anything that allows you to dream. Meth and alcohol is counter-productive that way. You understand but you can't understand why you're attracted to broken dreamlands, and you invent them as needed.

It's a dark Friday night in December, and, despite the breeze, it's warm out so you don't smell burning smoke from fireplaces. It's like a stupid Indian summer and you're the idiot standing in the middle of the street in short sleeves. The Santa house in front of you is really like any sprawling ranch-style in central Tucson at the moment, one pregnant with Christmas tradition. Surely its owners don't see their lovingly selected and assembled Christmas scene like how you see their Christmas scene. The scene stirs up the most intense feelings of yearning and loss because you're not wired to see it as an act of love; rather, you're fighting to keep from taking a drink, to keep from scoring coke or meth, or to keep from getting strung out on porn or love or sadness or heartbreak or fear. You're struggling to keep whatever it is that's off-center on-center. You don't see or create love when you are like this. There's no creating anything. You're crippled inside. But you understand that you need to persevere because you still think it's better than the option. Like maybe you don't really want to commit suicide, though you still think about that everyday. Because you know that feeling of wanting to kill yourself is a feeling that you've carried around inside of you since third grade at Gale Elementary School. Where the teachers would get mad at you for being in a "curiously withdrawn state," which they would write in notes to your parents. But you were too young in third grade to comprehend any idea of what "curiously withdrawn state" meant, much less the profound melancholy and bottom-of-a-well fear that fell over you each day.

Only you can see the black dogs following you. No one else can. The dogs are the curse, as you understand them, and you nickname them The Mean Reds, even though they're black, because that's what an old drunken author called depression. That old self-medicating hero died relatively young and hideously with a horribly distended belly and gin-blossomed schnozzle. You read him at a tender age and he defined lots of things for you, but you consider yourself lucky to have outgrown his shtick. Or did you?

Return to the giant Santa. You are reminded how Christmas traditions can rise up and take you down like any addiction. They lift on bright new things from bright shiny places—things that get the serotonin flowing and the internal utopias blossoming. It's what coke and meth do to the nervous system. So you know it all crashes hard in the ensuing hours or days and those false joys are displaced with an insane need and greed to reload, to fill up on the sickness to avoid further sicknesses.

It reminds you of your worst Christmas in Tucson when you were down to 120 lbs.—when you were still romanticizing the rock 'n' roll bit of too-much-too-soon—and you hadn't slept in three days and you were still so wired on crystal meth that there was no saliva in your mouth, which made the stuttering sounds coming out of your mouth sound even more like gibberish, on top of the speed-anxiety surging in your gut and coursing up into your limbs and fingers and toes and eyeballs and hair. You remember your hair hurting..

The drugs in your system made you smell horrible, especially in your armpits, which you had just scrubbed in the bathroom sink when you snorted your last bit of meth. But because you did so much speed, your armpits just stank and that's something that you had to live with. You looked in the mirror and you saw a whimpering mongrel immersed in multiple illnesses. The skin on your face now had a curious yellowish tint and it was getting worse by the week and you noticed new decorations in the form of busted capillaries on your cheekbones and nose. That was your liver screaming. To you the busted capillaries looked like Christmas berries.

You knew there was beer in the refrigerator and that you had to down at least four of them quickly to get yourself into that chair at the dinner table. For a second you had no idea how you got to the house in Tucson to spend Christmas with your family. You realized you had your girlfriend's car but not your girlfriend. You arrived penniless with no memory of the previous night, but you do remember the horrible drive on I-10 from Phoenix, into the shrill Christmas-day sun, sweaty hands shivering on the wheel and your screaming.

You wondered if your siblings and parents could tell if you were stuttering, even though you were certain you had it under control, as much as you could've had something like that under control. You lied to your family like you had before, saying that you had the flu on top of a cold on top of insomnia on top of toothaches on top of ... Your family members looked like hallucinations too, heads floating in liquid periphery, but even in your state you recognized them to be the most beautiful people on earth and you were absolutely letting them all down. You were not one of them. You were at best a sticky dirtball outsider.

You are pretty sure your grandmother from Wisconsin was at that family Christmas. Because she was looking at you like how the nuns looked at you when you were an altar boy at St. Francis de Sales, the way they cocked their heads when they regarded you because they could identify your shame, even though you couldn't identify that shame, but you knew that shame was absolute because they thought so, and, therefore, somehow, it was well-deserved.

Your grandmother personified grace in every imaginable way and you were the sticky dirtball who'd just spent three days in bed with a nude dancer watching porn, drinking 40s of King Cobra malt liquor and snorting crystal meth. When your grandmother embraced you all you could do was freeze up and wish for the floor beneath your feet to open up and swallow you whole. You only wanted to die.

Return to the giant Santa. You know that if you were going to kill yourself you would've been dead already. Things were worse before. Even after a million meetings in moldy church basements. Even after myriad unaffordable hours spent on therapist recliners and their prescription happy pills that had created perpetual dial tones in your head. Even after the suspiciously happy nutritionists who forever swore they had foolproof ways to approach the "problem of depression." Even after you stayed for years away from the bitter juice and rocket talcum.

You get home from standing in the street outside of the giant Santa house and you're alone in a room and it doesn't matter that it's empty because even if it were filled with friends you'd still feel like a castaway. It's like the house a few streets over that's been empty for months. Each time you pass it you imagine that it only contains the DNA of long-faded families and someone else's memories, which are feverish and tinged with sadness just like your own. You try to imagine the number of Christmas trees that have passed through its living room over the years, and the dollhouses and twirling little girls and Game Boys and blood-streaked eyes and horrible crimes that nearly happened.

You step outside and in the porch light you observe the weed with the bright yellow buds that's blossoming between your tiny concrete porch and the rocks in your front yard. The little bastard should've died out in October with the others. You don't know shit about weeds, but you noticed weeks ago that all the others like this one had turned 17 shades of brown. This little bastard just grows. Goddamn, it's Christmastime.

More by Brian Smith

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