Twelve Drummers Drumming (and One Grieving Husband)

This is the final installment of the short-story series, “The 12 Days of the Tilley-Blandin Coronavirus Christmas.” More stories about the Tilley-Blandin family universe can be found here.

“I feel guilty,” Olympia Tilley-Blandin’s mother told her. “I think maybe you should feel a bit guilty, too.”

After flying across the country on a private jet owned by Olympia’s former sister-in-law’s sister, she and her mother were sitting alone in the living room of what was advertised on Airbnb as “Angelic Paradise Cottage in Pacific Palisades.” It was two days before Christmas. When Olympia’s mother had walked through the door, she said, “Everything feels fake here. I am glad that I’m not going to be staying long.”

The week leading up to Christmas could easily be described as the “Götterdämmerung of the Tilley-Blandin Family,” leaving Olympia Tilley-Blandin’s mother was wracked with guilt and trying to get her older daughter and middle child to share some of the burden.

“It’s not like I feel at all guilty for surprising your father with my decision to divorce him,” he said. “I think that I simply beat him to the announcement. I love the man, but we have reached a point in our lives when we both want to focus on ourselves and our artistic output. I have books to write and he has paintings to paint. Neither of us has the energy left over to figure out what we are going to discuss over dinner every night.”

Olympia’s parents long had demonstrated independent streaks. They had carved out their own lives. They didn’t need each other anymore. The wanting part of the marriage had waned as well. The remaining entanglements – legal and financial – could easily be severed. They could even remain friends and creative collaborators. They could even celebrate Christmas with their children in the future.

“I feel bad that he’s all alone on Christmas. His whole life, he has never been alone on Christmas.”

“Mother, 2020 is the year where all the old traditions get thrown in the dumpster fire,” Olympia responded. “We need to stop trying to pretend that Christmas this year is any different from Tuesday or Saturday. Christmas was stolen from us. If we survive, we can celebrate next year.”

“But at least we have a fake Christmas tree,” she said, sweeping her hand around the living room to acknowledge the tree, the two wreaths, the wall art that had obviously been swapped out for the season, and even the olive-wood Nativity scene.

“Mother, all these decorations are thanks to Reese Witherspoon,” Olympia said. “She is going all out to make you comfortable.”

“That’s very nice of her.”

“No, it’s not,” Olympia said. “It’s business.”

“Business?”

“Mother, I have to confess something,” Olympia said. “Do you remember when I was on the phone all that time when we were flying out here on Heidi’s jet?”

“Yes, I remember,” her mother said. “You were not being friendly in the least. It was remarked upon.”

“I was on the phone with Reese. She was coaching me.”

“Coaching you?”

“Techniques that daughters can use to guilt a mother into getting what they want,” Olympia said. Reese had used as examples: how to get your mother to serve ham on Christmas instead of turkey, how to get your mother to babysit for her grandchildren for more than a week at a time, and how to get your mother to come to your house for Thanksgiving. “She wants you stay in southern California to work on another movie.”

“But you know that I have given all that up, dear,” her mother said dismissively, kind of like Joan Crawford would. “I am going back to writing novels and letting other people adapt them for the screen.”

“Yes, mother, but Reese wants you to work on my Astrid project.”

“You mean, that awful journal filled with lies you concocted about one of your brother Hopper’s former girlfriends?”

“That’s one way to look at it.”

“Give me one good reason why I should do it.”

“Because, mother, if you don’t adapt my project, I will tell Silver that you love Hopper than either one of your daughters.”

“Hardball,” her mother said. “Game respects game.”

“Mother, where did you learn to talk like that?”

“Reading something Edward Norton said on the damn blog,” she answered. “Where else can I got to find out what’s happening with my own children?”

*****

Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Olympia Tilley-Blandin, and Olympia’s mother, the novelist and screenwriter, were eating lunch in the backyard of Reese’s home in Pacific Palisades. It was Christmas Eve. They had a lot to celebrate.

Reese, Charlize, and their respective production companies would collaborate on two films related to the endeavors of the Tilley-Blandin family. “The Living Canvases,” based on the book by Hopper Tilley-Blandin, had been postponed to 2022 at the earliest because of the pandemic. Hopper’s mother had adapted the book for the film. Charlize was set to co-star in the film. With the postponement, the film was in peril. However, Charlize agreed to co-produce and direct. Hello Sunshine and Denver and Delilah Productions had also agreed to co-produce the screen adaptations of a journal Olympia had kept in college. The journal included the accounts of Olympia’s roommate, Astrid, who had been involved with New Jersey mobsters and later became an FBI agent. The journal was fictional, but it had also aroused the ire of the real-life Astrid, an FBI psychologist named Sylvia (who had dated Olympia’s brother Hopper while interning in Chicago). Olympia’s mother had announced her retirement from the movies in order to return to writing novels; however, Olympia had blackmailed her mother to stay in the Tilley-Blandin film endeavor. Also, Charlize’s former personal assistant Chlöe van der Rohe was going to supervise Hello Sunshine’s role. Olympia would become Charlize’s new personal assistant. Olympia’s first assignment was to keep track of this incest.

“Tell me, Reese,” Olympia’s mother asked, “why are you not more involved in this film? You are leaving things to this Chlöe person.”

“Please be assured that Chlöe’s star is rising,” Charlize said. “I think she will have Academy nominations in her future. Right, Reese?”

“Let me tell you a story about a legendary Hollywood agent named Irving ‘Swifty’ Lazar,” Reese said. “Back in the day, when movie stars got around to wanting to write their memoirs or when screenwriters wanted to publish their novels or anyone in the Hollywood sphere wanted to do anything with books, they would call Swifty. He was responsible for countless books being published for millions of readers. However, he never read a single page of even one of those books. He wasn’t interested in the books. He was interested in the discoveries and the deals. That’s me. I am interested in discovering stories and dealing to get them made into films or TV shows. I like the beginning of things and celebrating their successes.”

“You make yourself sound like a Philistine,” Olympia’s mother said.

“In Hollywood, being called a Philistine is just another way to describe winning,” Charlize responded.

“So, here’s to the beginning of things and Philistines,” Olympia said, raising her wine glass.

Her three lunch companions, seated six feet apart from each other, raised their glasses.

“To the beginning of things,” they repeated. “And Philistines.”

“Make sure to follow my Christmas celebration on Instagram,” Reese said.”

*****

Huey Newton Wallace looked at the weather forecast for Washington DC and decided to take his long run to the U.S. Capitol on Christmas Eve, when it could be 30 degrees warmer than Christmas day. He could look at the Capitol Christmas tree, the National Christmas tree behind the White House, and all the Christmas trees and lights that illuminated the District at dusk. He preferred the Capitol tree; the manner in which the White House tree was lit made it look fake. Also – most years – you could walk right up to the Capitol tree.

Usually, Huey would be spending the holidays with his parents in suburban Philadelphia, but his father had put his foot down. “Are you not listening to the ‘Just Say No to Ho Ho Ho’ public service campaigns?” he asked his son. “No one is supposed to go home for Christmas. Dr. Fauci is Zooming with his kids. Good enough for him, good enough for me. You’ll just have to suck it up this year, son. Trump destroyed Christmas.”

Huey was not sure that his father was correct with his political analysis, but he agreed that Christmas was destroyed. His girlfriend Olympia had broken up with him and his best friend had just left Washington DC. He wondered what Christmas would be like next year. Some of the parents of his math student at Sidwell Friends were wondering in online chat rooms if anyone would remember the Christ part after the Democrats took back power in Washington.

Huey planned to spend Christmas mostly celebrating with his students and watching NBA games on ESPN — he had been excited to hear that Kevin Durant had returned from a disastrous injury in a dominating performance. During the months of the pandemic, he and his students had grown closer. Several had invited him to join their family Zooms. Huey also planned to talk to his parents and open the presents they had sent him. They had stopped doing gift exchanges for Christmas years ago, but upon learning that he would be spending the day alone, his mother took pity on him. He was grateful for the pity, because it was something for himself. With the world sharing with each other, he had no one with whom he could share. He wondered what kind of feelings his ex-girlfriend Olympia Tilley-Blandin extended in his direction.

Olympia was not a bitchy ex-girlfriend. He believed that they were close, even after he had learned about some of her racism. Not the run-of-the-mill racism Blacks can expect from their white friends, but thoughts and words that troubled him. And they she suddenly broke up with him. However, they continued to text each other regularly and occasionally Zoomed. Olympia’s brother Hopper, the aforementioned best friend during the pandemic, warned him about keeping things going with Olympia.

“Olympia is like a nuclear reactor,” Hopper insisted. “She is great and amazing when everything is working, but if you get too close to her, the machinery gets hinky, the protective shell will melt away, you will be exposed to a deadly amount of radiation, and you will die.”

Huey passed the Washington Monument, maintaining a good 6:15 pace along the Jefferson Drive side of the National Mall. He ran with earbuds so that he could listen to music; he was listening to George Michael’s “Freedom” when his phone’s ringtone for Olympia broke in with “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Stevie Wonder. Huey had been meaning to change the ringtone to something uplifting by Alanis Morrisette. Without missing a stride, he answered the call.

“I can tell you’re running from your breathing,” Olympia said. “Either that or you’re having sex with another woman.”

“Funny.”

“Just checking in,” she said. “I hope you’re being careful. It must be dark by now. Your skin doesn’t shine brightly at night.”

“Still funny, Olympia,” he said. “I’m the same old same old. Eating, shitting, running. Wearing reflective clothes so some grandma who’s lost doesn’t hit me.”

“How are your students?” she asked.

“They’re fine.”

“Are they talking about me?”

“Oh, that’s what you really wanted to know.”

“Allow me my moment in the narcissistic spotlight.”

Olympia had caused a stir by unexpectedly resigning her position at Sidwell Friends the week before Christmas. She had hopped a private jet to begin a new career and a new life in Los Angeles.

“Yeah, everyone’s mad at you for quitting school suddenly,” he said. “Actually, it’s just the faculty and parents who are upset. You know how hard it is to find a substitute English teacher two weeks before spring semester? However, all your students are excited for you. You went Hollywood. You are actually living their fantasies. They think you are going to be famous.”

“I plan on becoming famous, Huey,” she said. “Seriously.”

Olympia’s plan roughly followed the template of Kim Kardashian, minus the sex tape. Just as Kim had risen in the world on the coattails of Paris Hilton, she would do the same on the coattails of Charlize.

“What else is going on in the Tilley-Blandin sphere of influence?”

“Hopper’s out here, too, trying to make something happen with Charlize.” Olympia’s brother Hopper was romantically involved with her new boss.

“I had lunch with her, Reese Witherspoon, and my mother today. Charlize and my family are going to be entwined through two movie productions.” Olympia’s plan to become famous had her being a regular subject on TMZ by the middle of 2022.

“You are already name-dropping like a pro,” Huey said.

“Huey, you know I learned how to do that by the time I was 14,” she said. “Remember that I have famous parents.”

“Must be nice for you, Olympia,” he responded. “Leaving a job molding young minds for one that will corrupt young minds.”

“Don’t be like that, Huey.”

“Like what?”

“All pouty and woe is me and jealous as hell.”

“I’m entitled,” he said. “I could claim that you are engaged in the classic break-up-and-move-on-to-become-famous-but-continue-to-stalk-your-non-celebrity-ex routine.”

“I will admit to being shallow,” Olympia said. “It works for me, but do you really want to re-litigate our relationship, Huey?”

“No,” he answered. “But…”

“But, what?”

“Olympia, I forgive you for being a racist,” he said.

“Fuck, Huey, we definitely litigated that subject already. All white people have racism bred into them. Me included,” she said. “I got nothing to come back at you with, other than I’m trying harder.”

“Words. Words. Words.”

“Huey, what do you want from me?”

“Action, girl. Olympia, you are in the movies now,” Huey said. “You are working in the epicenter of American culture, power, and influence. Get your white woke ass to work in the movies.”

“You mean like making a movie about Black Santa Claus?”

“I hate you,” he said. “JK.”

His stride was feeling loose. The weather was not too cold. He decided to keep running along East Capitol Street to the DC Armory and admire the quirky Christmas decorations on the town houses along the way.

“Merry Christmas, Huey,” Olympia said. “Not JK.”

*****

Silver Tilley-Blandin and her boyfriend Louis Guidry woke up on Christmas morning in a strikingly quiet Washington DC and agreed before breakfast that they both felt as though the world was ignoring them. Silver was used to waking in her parents’ vacation home in the Poconos, which the family called the Tilley-Blandin Fortress. She was used to her family ignoring her on Christmas morning while they went about their Christmas rituals. Her mother would make coffee for everyone and then go sit in her office and shout instructions on cooking, gifts, and decorations. The instructions were tossed into the ether, hoping that one of her children would hear and abide by the instructions. For years, her brother Hopper would bring his wife, Ingrid, and their sons Alexis and Max. He would be their service robot until all the presents were open and brunch was ingested. Then he and their father would settle in front of the television, watching professional basketball games, and drink themselves into a stupor. Since his divorce, Hopper came by himself and shuffled around the house pathetically asking if there was anything he could do to help. Then he and his father would settle in front of the television to watch professional basketball games and he would go on an improvised rant about Ingrid. Her sister Olympia took over the kitchen for the preparation of their Christmas brunch. Olympia was game in the kitchen, but not distinguished. However, she kept her expectations in check and did not disappoint. Olympia was very solid in the brunch department. Silver was the stealthy DJ for the party, working hard to find the right song so that no one noticed that she was the one to select it. She also selected the holiday movie that she, Olympia, and their mother would watch while the men watched their basketball game. Last year they had watched the 1945 version of “Christmas in Connecticut” with Barbara Stanwyck (“You cannot go wrong with Barbara Stanwyck,” her mother asserted). Prior to gift opening and brunch, Silver’s father would pester everyone with Christmas dad jokes: “What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney? Claustrophobia!” Her father believed that he was a funny man. He was not. Silver had never met a man who could make her laugh – until she met Louis.

Louis usually woke up early on Christmas morning in his parents’ home in New Orleans. He and three of his high-school friends from Isidore Newman formed the Garden District Christmas Band. They rehearsed once a year, the day after Thanksgiving, and played once a year, for two hours on Christmas morning in his parents’ front yard. Louis played his parents’ upright piano, his friend Chucky played drums, Denis played the sousaphone, and Oscar played banjo and sang. Any money tossed into Oscar’s banjo case went to a local charity that helped families in the Ninth Ward still feeling the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Louis’s band could count on raising between $4,000 and $5,000 in cash donations. His mother stood guard over the banjo case, emptying it every $500 or so.

When Silver woke up this Christmas morning, Louis, who had risen a few minutes earlier and made coffer for her, asked, “Do you hear that?”

Silver concentrated for a moment, then said, “There’s nothing. It’s like the world has resolved its existential crisis.”

“So, what better time to tell you that I read in the blog what you were thinking,” he said. “About Joni Mitchell, relationships, me, marriage.”

“That’s supposed to be private,” she said.

“Nothing involving your family – or anyone associated with them – is private anymore,” Louis said. “The blog is a cosmic joke foisted upon all of us.”

“So, what are your takeaways from my private thoughts?”

“I’m curious,” he said. “about what you prepared to say to me if I asked you to marry me.”

“Curious?” Silver said. “Curious?”

“I am curious because I think this is a perfect morning for me to ask for your hand in marriage,” Louis said. “No families, no distractions, no classes for me, a half-day of work for you. A situation perfect for clear-headed thinking. A situation rife with possibilities. A Christmas morning, when we celebrate the advent of humanity’s redemption from original sin, our fall from grace. The COVID vaccine is being injected into Americans across the country. We have glimmers of hope to be done with this pandemic. Less than four weeks left and then a return of competence and a semblance of integrity to our nation’s leadership. What better foundation on which to build our marriage? What better story to tell our children about how our very own family came to be?”

Silver sat in bed silently.

Louis waited a beat and asked, “Silver Tilley-Blandin, will you marry me?”

Silver continued to sit in bed silently. Louis sat on the edge of the bed, patiently sipping coffee. They sat there in silence for five, maybe ten, minutes.

Silver finally responded. “Of course, I will marry you Louis, on one condition.”

She whispered in his ear.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think we could do that.”

*****

Hopper Tilley-Blandin was finally able to get Charlize Theron’s attention. Last night she seemed distracted following her lunch yesterday with Reese Witherspoon, his sister Olympia, and his mother. He, Charlize, and her two children [Redacted 1] and [Redacted 2] had arrived at her home in West Hollywood after a tumultuous week, culminating in a cross-country flight on a private jet that felt like a getaway. Hopper had brought all his clothes and was grateful that he had included a swimming suit until he realized that her home did not have a pool.

It had actually been tumultuous months for Hopper, who had moved from his parents’ vacation home in the Poconos to his sister Silver’s duplex in Washington DC to his other sister Olympia’s ex-boyfriend’s apartment across the District to his parents’ apartment in New York to Charlize Theron’s home in southern California. Along the way, he had managed to keep the technology he used for work accounted for and working. He was preparing to remotely teach his spring semester undergraduate sociology classes at the University of Chicago, advise a handful of graduate students, finish proofreading the galleys of his second book, work on the proposal for his third book, and consult on the movie based on his first book (which was being produced by Charlize).

“It’s Christmas morning,” he said, “and I don’t have a present for you.”

“I am not surprised,” she said. “Especially after you bought your ex-wife a very expensive Alexander McQueen dress at Bergdorf Goodman.”

“That’s not fair,” Hopper responded, “and you know it.”

“Get used to it,” Charlize said. “I don’t always play fair.”

“So, what are we going to do?”

“You mean because it’s Christmas and Santa forgot that we moved?” she said. “You think all our presents are back in New York or Washington DC or wherever the fuck your parents are stashed?”

“Well, it’s just that I’m used to a certain, uh, tradition,” he said.

“Get over your family’s wretched traditions, Hopper,” she laughed. “I don’t have a gift for you, either. However, I dragged all my kids’ Christmas presents with me from New York. We are going to have a Christmas gift opening. Oohs and aahs emanating from two young voices will commence in less than an hour.”

“Your kids,” he said. “Not mine.”

“First, that’s not my fault,” Charlize said. “Second, you just have to figure out something different than your family’s wretched traditions. Make new traditions with your sons. They will admire you for it. They will not blame you for Christmas this year being terrible.”

“Fine,” Hopper said. “If I get over my family’s wretched traditions for the sake of this thing between us—”

“Go ahead, say it, Hopper,” she said. “’For the sake of love.’ I won’t sprint out of the room.”

“If I forsake my family’s wretched traditions for the sake of love, what are you prepared to cast aside?”

“Give me a list of my family’s wretched traditions that bother you.”

“I am not so well educated on the foibles that were part of your nurturing,” Hopper said. “You have the advantage of that damn blog that’s been following us around, capturing all of my family members at their worst.”

“You’re right,” Charlize said. “The blog has been an edifying education. You are one fucked up dude.”

“And?”

“You make me laugh,” she said. “Your ex-wife has good things to say about you. Go figure. I read about the two of you in counseling. You’re not a monster. I am willing to give you a shot.”

“A shot at what?”

“Whatever you want. We’re exploring here. Maybe I will be the girl of your dreams. Maybe you will be the man of my dreams, but you should be warned that I have never looked for the man of my dreams. We’re on shaky ground here. Let’s just see how long this string will play out.”

“One rule,” Hopper said. “Always call bullshit.”

“Agreed,” Charlize said. “Always call bullshit. Merry Christmas, Hopper.”

*****

The sisters Heidi, Birgit, and Ingrid Brzezinski raised their glasses of champagne and, smiling their best smiles, wishes each other a loud “Merry Christmas!”

“And congratulations to our sister, Ingrid,” Birgit said. “She’s a real doctor!”

“On behalf of women everywhere, Birgit,” Heidi laughed, “that is officially not funny.”

“And if you ever introduce me to the Bidens,” Ingrid said, “don’t repeat that.”

Heidi and Ingrid were sitting together on a sofa in one of the common areas of her ranch’s main house in Woodside, California. Birgit joined them via Zoom from the atelier of her triplex in one of the awe-inspiring buildings in Manhattan across the street from Carl Schurz Park. With the view of the East River and all. All three of them could hear the strains of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” pour out of Heidi’s sound system.

Ever since Ingrid’s divorce from Hopper Tilley-Blandin, her sisters made an extra effort with her. It had not always been easy. Ingrid was the “whoops” child of the family, nearly 20 years younger than her sisters. Growing up, Ingrid felt more like she had two aunts than two sisters. Two “aunts” who were focused on making their own way in the male-dominated field of finance. Heidi had become independently wealthy as a venture capitalist; Birgit had become independently wealthy as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs. Neither sister had married. Ingrid had chosen her own path, towards medicine and a pediatrics practice in Chicago. She lived in Evanston with her two sons, Alexis and Max. Her ex-husband lived in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago, where he taught sociology.

Since the pandemic, Birgit had been the only sister to escape trials and tribulations. Heidi was set to take over the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Biden Administration when a story in Mother Jones revealed some business practices on her part on a 12-year-old investment deal. Practices deemed unsavory enough to create a distraction for the new administration. Instead of making an offer on a house in Potomac, Maryland, she called the realtor with her apologies and returned home to Woodside to lick her wounds.

Ingrid and her sons had moved in with her. They had been quarantining with Ingrid’s ex-husband’s family in the Poconos. Hopper’s mother had convinced her that it would be a good idea for the boys’ parents and grandparents to be together during the pandemic. Not entirely surprising to the rest of the family, Ingrid and Hopper had started to sleep together again. When it became clear that the situation for her was untenable, Ingrid accepted Heidi’s offer of a private jet to California and a refuge from the confusion of her ex-husband.

Birgit had decided to stay in New York rather than flee to her cottage in Westport, Connecticut. She liked living in the city and, with the mass exodus of wealthy families from the Upper East Side, she looked forward to a quieter lifestyle – at least until an efficacious vaccine had been widely distributed. She drove herself around town.

“I drove from my house to Zabar’s in under 10 minutes!” she told her friends in Connecticut and Long Island.

Fewer people meant fewer dogs which meant fewer dog turds in the park across the street. The streets were cleaner and smelled less offensive. “That New York odor is still present,” she also told her friends, “but more in the background than busting itself up your nose.”

Birgit announced to her sisters that she was seeing a man, or, rather, living with him. Birgit seemed to cycle through men at the rate of about one every two years or so for the past 20 or 30 years. “They are convenient until they’re not,” she concluded. “Men are essentially fungible.”

The new man was named Carlos. Just Carlos. Birgit never shared the last name of any of her men, the better for her sisters to not get emotionally attached or to cyberstalk them. She shared that Carlos was from Argentina and that he was a human rights lawyer. He had been married and had three sons in their late thirties/early forties. The sons all lived in Buenos Aires. “Carlos is copacetic with my wealth,” Birgit once told Heidi. “And I am copacetic with his tongue.” She would never tell Ingrid this kind of story. Birgit was not the cool aunt.

The sisters observed two Christmas traditions unique to them. The first, instituted as soon as the first sister to hit $10 million net worth – Heidi – was that they would buy each other a present that cost less than $20, tax included. It had to be a thing made in the USA. Thing could mean a yo-yo, a chess set, or a music album. However, the sisters scrounged every nook and cranny of the internet to find the most obscure, silliest, odd, crazy notions.

As they put down their champagne flutes, they began to open their presents. Birgit gave her sisters red socks with a photo of her face imprinted on them. She informed them it was a photo taken at a party at Harvard when she was in college. In the photo, she appeared to be passed out and someone had drawn a penis on her cheek. “Nice,” Ingrid remarked. “Classy as always, Birgit.”

“If you can’t be grotesque and uncensored around family,” Birgit responded, “who can you be grotesque and uncensored around?

Heidi had gifted her sisters customized face masks in the shape of a vagina.

“I can’t wait for Mayor DeBlasio to see me walking around the neighborhood,” Birgit remarked.

Ingrid had purchased for her sisters a book containing nothing but photos of men’s feet.

When Heidi opened this present, she drew herself away from Ingrid. “This is the weirdest gift you have ever given me,” she said. “Congratulations. I think liberating yourself from Hopper has freed your mind, too.”

The second Christmas tradition observed by the Brzezinski sisters was to draw up and share a list of regrets. Some years, the list would change; however, over the course of the last 10 years, their regrets seem to have ossified into permanent regrets. Part of the tradition was to spend the time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve reviewing the list and engaging in a Druidic ceremony intended to toss the weight of the regrets into the universe and let them attach themselves to the devils that bewitch and betray humanity. After three more flutes of champagne and impassioned discussion, the Brzezinski sisters decided on the 2020 edition of regrets held by all three of them:

Brzezinski Sisters Top 10 Regrets

  1. Not learning to play a musical instrument as a child
  2. Not paying more attention in school to learning Spanish, German, or Japanese
  3. Underestimating my worth in the dating pool when I was in my twenties
  4. Giving too many fucks at an early age
  5. Following the advice of men who smiled confidently when they talked
  6. Placing too much hope in the dreams and aspirations of other people
  7. Not wearing pantsuits sooner
  8. Taking too long to learn that there is no such a thing as “happily ever after”
  9. High heels
  10. Not investing in Apple because Steve Jobs was an asshole

Regarding #10 on their list, Heidi remarked, “There is always another stock.”

*****

When Silver Tilley-Blandin called her father with the news that she was getting married, she found him in a surly mood. Earlier in the pandemic, he had presided over a collection of eight people in what they called the Tilley-Blandin Fortress, the family’s vacation home near the Delaware Water Gap. He and his wife, two of their children, two grandsons, one boyfriend, and their son’s ex-wife, the mother of the grandsons. Silver had not joined them, remaining in Washington DC, where she was eventually joined by her boyfriend, Louis. Their family friend, the singer Fiona Apple, had joined them with plans to livestream a New Year’s Eve concert from the Fortress’ living room.

On Christmas morning, he found that he was alone in the house. His son Hopper had suddenly left the Fortress after a counseling session with his ex-wife Ingrid. Then Ingrid and her sons decamped to the West Coast. His daughter Olympia broke up with the boyfriend, who moved back to Washington DC. Then Olympia and her mother had announced that they were flying to Los Angeles. At the same time, his wife informed that she was divorcing them.

“Oh, hell no!” Fiona had told him. “I am not staying around this shitstorm with you. I don’t feel like being stuck alone with you in the mountains and becoming your rapey toy.” Fiona had gone back to New York and would perform her New Year’s Eve concert from her own apartment’s living room.

“It’s Christmas and I am all alone,” he said. “You can say that I have only myself to blame, but there it is.”

Silver was not worried about her father. He had a tremendous capacity for self-preservation. As long as he found a way to feed himself and kept toilet paper stocked, he would be fine. A painter of note, he would address the backlog of commissions overdue. He had told everyone at Thanksgiving that the prices for his paintings were going up. Already a wealthy artist, he was assured of becoming a wealthier artist. And though, as his daughter she did not like to ruminate on the subject, Silver was certain that her father would find a replacement for her mother. One who could be younger than Silver and who would not mind her father’s dirty fingernails.

“Have you discussed your mother’s desire for divorce from me with any of your siblings?” he asked.

“Actually, we all were kind of wondering if mom was going to change her last name,” Silver said. “But none of us know whether she will go with Tilley or Blandin. You never told us which one of you was Tilley or Blandin. We thought it was funny that that you wouldn’t tell us.”

Her father laughed. “It’s neither. Your mother and I made up the name. We looked in the phone book and pointed to names we liked and then played rock-paper-scissors to decide the winner. There was a Tilley living on West 23rd Street and a Blandin living on Bleecker Street.”

“So, dad, what’s your real name?”

“Well, Tilley-Blandin is your legal name. We had our names changed. Lawyers and everything.”

“You know what I mean.”

“OK, but only if you promise not to laugh,” he said. “Your mother’s last name was Jones. My last name was Smith.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“No, Silver, it’s true. Sad, but true,” he said. “Just think about how different your lives would have been with the last name of Smith. Or Smith-Jones.”

“I feel really, really conflicted right now,” Silver said. “Dad, please restore equilibrium in the universe and tell me one of your Christmas dad jokes.”

“OK. What’s the best Christmas gift for the person who has everything? A burglar alarm.”

“That’s terrible,” Silver said. “Thank you.”

“What are the chances of me hearing from anyone else I’m related to?” he asked.

“Dad, you can’t think like that,” Silver said. “Christmas has been destroyed for everyone. Next year we get a do-over. You can bring your new girlfriend and make mom jealous.”

Her father laughed.

“I have some news,” she said. “Louis and I are getting married.”

“Congratulations, daughter,” he said. “Did he agree to your one condition?”

“Yep. You will walk me down the aisle accompanied by 12 sousaphone players.”

“That should drive your mother batty,” he laughed. “Your news is the best Christmas present ever. Well, that and predicting me with a hot, new girlfriend next year.”

“I didn’t say hot, dad.”

*****

The husband of the late Washington DC police officer Alexandra Sykes woke up slowly. It was still dark outside. He looked at the clock across the bedroom on his wife’s dresser. 4:13 AM. It took him a moment to realize that he was alone in bed. He could still smell Alexandra on her pillow. He could still feel her curled around him, snoring gently on his chest. He could feel it as if she were still really here instead of in the funeral home.

He dimly remembered hearing on the late-night news that a suspect in his wife’s murder had been arrested in northeast Georgia amidst a multi-state manhunt and an anonymous tip. The tipster had also indicated that the murder weapon had been tossed into the eastern end of Roanoke Rapids Lake, outside of Gaston, North Carolina. The report indicated that police in three states were closing in on other members of the Proud Boys who had participated in the murder of his wife. He remembered more vividly the phone call that had come an hour before the news broadcast from an FBI agent named Walton. Agent Walton had told him the names of all the members of the Proud Boys who were there that night, the cities where they had fled and been located, and how soon they would all be arrested.

His name was Devon, but for days he had been known only as “the husband of slain Metropolitan Police Officer Alexandra Sykes.” It was time to reclaim his own identity. He needed to steel himself to talk to their children. He figured he had about two hours to capture everything he wanted to say. Since they had been born, Devon and Alexandra had worried about bringing Black children into the world. Their children might have it better than them. Maybe their grandchildren would have it better yet. Each succeeding generation might edge closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream. Not in their lifetimes, but this was a struggle. Struggles do not get resolved overnight. Struggles have long arcs. Struggles last decades, centuries, and millennia. He and Alexandra had discussed the murder of George Floyd with their children. He and Alexandra had discussed the murder of Breonna Taylor with their children. By last count, they had discussed with their children the murder of Black men and women and children by police officers 19 times. Each conversation carried the weight of parents, the weight of the Black community where they lived in Prince George’s County, and the weight of their mother, a police officer who had witnessed police violence against people who looked like them. With the Black Lives Matter protests across the country that took place amid the coronavirus pandemic, they began to talk to their children with a different tone. It seemed like white people were finally listening. Some of the conversations included smiles and rays of hope. And then a member of the Proud Boys had shot his wife dead and those smiles and that hope now seemed false. Fooled again, Devon told himself dozens of times a day since he had learned of his wife’s death. Their children looked to him for answers. He could not meet their eyes. He walked out of the room. Their cries of “Daddy!” and “Why?” went unanswered. All their hearts broke into a million pieces. This morning, over breakfast of frozen waffles, he would tell them that their mother might get some justice. The killers would be tried in DC Superior Court. They would not get off. President Trump had been silent on Twitter about the killing of a police officer less than a mile from the White House. No one expected him to call for the death penalty in a case of his supporters murdering a black woman. The cynicism of it all left a bitter taste in Devon’s mouth that he expected would never leave.

He and his children would open their Christmas presents after finishing their waffles. Alexandra had wrapped everyone’s gifts two days before her death. Devon had wrapped her gifts the day before she died. He had purchased her a new Fitbit, which she had requested, and an old-fashioned compass used by travelers. It was supposed to be a surprise. He had had the compass engraved: “I will be at your side wherever in this world you seek.”

He tried to wash the cynicism out of his mouth as he resolved to give the compass to his children to share. It was the only reassurance he could provide them this Christmas.

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