So… As so many Christmas stories start, I was working at the local bathhouse because I had run away from home to become a homeless meth addict. I know, it’s so cliché, but that really is the setting! Of course legally it’s a “gym” but I had a few very simple jobs. I checked members in, gave them a towel and was supposed to make sure that in all the “lounge areas,” people were doing just that – no funny stuff (after all, this is a Utah bathhouse). The only place anything else was allowed was in the steam room. After it closed at 4 am, I would clean everything including dusting the weights that never got used.
People often asked me, “You’re parents must be awful to where this is the better choice…” And they were! They wanted me to like, get a job and stuff, and not do drugs. I mean, really? Obviously they are boring people with jobs and pay taxes and do stuff like that. That’s not me. I’m a “free spirit.” But as the holidays approached I got a little sentimental watching nothing but Lifetime TV since the bathhouse didn’t have any porn. They just kept the TV’s on Lifetime (seriously – again, this is Utah). I called my mom to ask how things were going. We talked for a while and she asked me if she could spend Christmas with me. I was feeling so happy talking to her I told her I would be happy to and gave her the address to the gym. I hung up and immediately recalculated everything in my head and just realized I told my mom to come pick me up at the bathhouse I was staying at. The job didn’t really pay anything, but I got tips, and I got a free room. I was about to call her back and cancel but then thought, “It’s my mom… From Utah. She won’t even know what a bathhouse is! She’ll pick me up during the day, the place is closed, and it’s not a “dirty” place, no naked pictures, no anything that says ‘seamy,’ except when people are there.”
Christmas day came around and my mom and dad showed up. I was the only one at the gym, so I left the door open. They came in and looked around. “So… This is where you are, uh… now living?” I said, “Yup! It’s great! I can… You know, work out, and stay healthy… Uh… And, you know, they let me live in the back and… Uh… I can, ya know… Get my life together and stuff…” My mom had her nose wrinkled up as she scanned the den of sin that I was so sure revealed nothing of what it really was. It’s funny when you start looking at things through someone else’s eyes, but you can’t prior to them actually seeing it. Yes, it all looked so innocent until my mom was looking at the giant bowl of condoms just below the poster of the twink wrapped in a rainbow flag reminding everyone to “play safe.” I jumped in, “It’s kind of a gay themed gym, but the members are really nice! Shall we go?”
We drove along and I said “Where are we going?” My mom turned around and said, “I thought we could do Christmas like we used to…” She looked like she was going to cry. “…you know, just how we did when you were a kid.” That meant we were going skiing! I actually loved skiing but hadn’t been in years. We drove up and they rented me some skis and boots and we hit the hill. I made some runs by myself; I rode the lift up a few times with my mom, and a few times with my dad. They told me what was going on in their lives, but it was really civil chit-chat. After we were done they wanted to go to dinner. I said, “I don’t think anywhere will be open on Christmas day.” My mom kind of laughed and said, “Were you not paying attention every time we watched, ‘A Christmas Story?’ We go get Chinese!” I couldn’t stop laughing!
We found a small place on State Street that had an open sign in the window. We headed in to this lonely little dive and sat down and my parents ordered a family dinner special. It was served and I thanked them for a wonderful Christmas day. It had been a lot of smiles and fun. Really, the best day I’d had in a while. My mom looked at me seriously and said, “I don’t know what to do.” I kinda knew what was coming but played dumb. “About what?” She said, “Your life… Oh sweetie. You are such a sweet kid! You are smart and talented and I want you back in our lives! But I can’t have you bring your… lifestyle around our home.” I froze. “What!!?? You have a problem with me being gay?” She started laughing through her tears, “Oh honey, no… Never… It’s the drugs. We can’t be around you when you are on drugs. And… And now you work at a bathhouse?” I would have frozen again if I had ever started moving since the last time. “It’s… it’s a gym…” “Jeremy, I know what a bathhouse is, and while this is the first one I’ve seen, I know one when I see it. This cannot be a good environment for you! I want you to be happy, but I want you to be healthy! I DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU!” She was loud and crying and my heart was pounding out of my chest. My dad, always the quiet one just put his arm around me and pulled me in. He was crying too. “I.. I… I’m not… I….” was all I could stammer. My dad said, “We went to Les Misérables. It was beautiful. But when they sang ‘Bring Him Home,’ we held each other and cried. You have such a reckless life! You… You have to take care of yourself! We want to bring you home… But we can’t.” My dad, who I had only ever seen cry one other time was bawling. I lost it. I’m sure we were the most interesting portrait to see for the owners of this little establishment. The family that came in for Christmas dinner, started cry-yelling, and ended up in a big mess of tears. Merry Christmas!
After dinner they drove me back to the gym, we were all quiet. I got out and said, “I love you both. Merry Christmas and thank you again.” My mom jumped out and wrapped her arms around me. And she hissed in my ear, “You be safe. Make good choices. You are my baby…” My face had two perfect streams of ice on my cheeks, getting thicker and thicker because the tears wouldn’t stop. I went inside and locked everything up. I went into one of the lounge rooms and turned on the TV. It was the 24 hours of “A Christmas Story.” I laughed and then started crying again. I curled up on the couch and watched it the last 3 times it was on repeat. That night I gave my parents a Christmas present. The whole day we were out, I kept fiending for the little stash I had in my room, but just kept saying, “That’s your Christmas Present! Don’t open it early! It would suck to get high and then have to try and act ‘not high’ around the fam… Just wait until tonight and then you can just let loose and enjoy it!” That night, my gift to my parents was I didn’t use it. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted it. I just kept thinking about it and there were about 100 times that evening where I almost broke. But I didn’t. I just kept thinking of my parents. They were so sad. They weren’t mad at me, they didn’t hate me. They just… Were so worried. I knew that they left and still worried about me, but I wanted to give them one night. Just one… One night where they had nothing to be worried about. I knew they wouldn’t know about it, but it was the only gift I felt I had.
It took about 2 years after that Christmas, but I finally made that gift permanent.