We did not celebrate Christmas in the house I lived in as a kid unless my old man was locked up. He was a mean drunk and he was drunk most of the time. If he was around and you were lucky enough to make it through the day without getting your ass kicked that was a gift.
One year he was doing ninety days for some drunken shit he had pulled. On Christmas morning, my mom made pancakes but she got high and burned them. Kenny and I each got two, with no butter and a splash of syrup. Some judge got in the holiday spirit and gave a bunch of prisoners from the county slam early release. My dad walked in later that day, already drunk, and found mom in the sack with his friend Billy Flynn. He carved them up like Christmas turkeys.
Kenny was two years older than me. We went into the foster system. I got lucky, Kenny didn’t. He bounced from one home to another .He went to juvie when he was 13. He spent most of the next twenty years incarcerated.
An amazing couple adopted me. Frank Carson was a doctor and his wife Maureen a stay at home mom to me and two other kids they had taken in. My first Christmas in their home was like something out of a movie. I had a stocking with my name on it above the fireplace. On Christmas morning, much to my delight, I found it stuffed with candy and little toys. Under the tree were new bikes for all of us and a baseball glove for me.
And that’s how my life went. These wonderful people taught me respect, humility and unconditional love. They told me everyone has opportunities in this life. It fell on the individual to take advantage of them. I counted my blessings and thanked God for my good fortune.
They put me through college and like my adopted dad I became a doctor. I married an incredible, beautiful woman who graced me with two wonderful kids. Our lives were close to perfect. We had a circle of friends; we were involved in our children’s lives and found time to volunteer in the community.
Then Kenny came back into my life. I was on my way home from rounds at the hospital when my wife called, asking me to pick something up. Instead of stopping at the super market, I pulled into a convenience store a few miles from home.
It was dusk. In front of the store, a small group of unkempt men all with long, greasy looking hair drank cans of beer concealed in paper bags. When I exited the store, one of them approached me as I reached my Lexus and asked for money. I reached for my wallet and he slugged me, knocking me to the pavement. He grabbed my wallet and ran.
As I unsteadily got to my feet, I saw him returning. This time there was something familiar about him.
He held my wallet, opened to my driver’s license.
“Michael, man is that you? Damn, I’m sorry, I didn’t know”
“Kenny?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s me. Been a long time. Looks like you’ve done okay little brother.”
He hugged me. He reeked of body odor, beer and cigarette smoke.
“What can I do for you Kenny? Are you using?”
He nodded his head.
“Let me get you in rehab,” I offered.
“Nah, I’m good. Guess I got the old man’s genes huh?”
Those words would haunt me.
“You could slip me a twenty if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I could use a fix.”
I gave him two twenty’s and a ten and went home to my comfortable life.
A week later, just after dinner there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, I found Kenny. He looked worse than he had before.
“Swell place you got,” he said as he glanced around. “I’m in a bad way. Can you give me fifty?”
I did and sent him on his way.
Two days later my wife returned from a charity lunch and found our home had been broken into. Jewelry, cash and some other small items were missing. When I got home the police were there. They explained there was a heroin epidemic in the area and burglaries like this were becoming common place. When they left, I drove to the convenience store where I had first encountered Kenny. Sure enough, he was lurking in the shadows with two other men.
I motioned him over.
“Let me get you some help.”
“No man, I don’t think so. I like my fucked up life. Rather live it than that masquerade you take part in every day. You ever think maybe you forgot where you came from?”
“Look, here’s how it’s going to be you won’t get help, don’t come around my house again. Understand?”
He stared at me with a menacing glare that caused me to shiver as I drove away.
Two days before Christmas, I arrived home just after dark. No lights were on, nor was the Christmas tree. The front door was open. The house had been ransacked. Wrapping from gifts were strewn about the tree, a bottle of Scotch tipped over on the carpet.
I went from room to room calling my wife and my children. I didn’t get a response.
I found them in our bedroom, swimming in a sea of blood. My wife’s lifeless body covered my kids. She died trying to protect them.
Shock turned to rage. In the garage I had a shotgun I used for duck hunting. I sped to the store.
Kenny grinned at me. I got out of the car and by the time the gun was empty there wasn’t much left of him. Guess I inherited something from my birth father as well.
Christmas in prison isn’t that bad. Just this morning we had bacon. And pancakes- they weren’t burned and they even came with butter and as much syrup as I wanted.