On The Bus #21 A Murry Christmas

A lot has happened since my last bus ride in December from my job in the city to my country home.

The biggest thing is that I live in a new home.  My own home!   My first!

I know dumb people and young people buy homes all the time, but for me it was a major accomplishment.  I’ve liked living on the edge for so much of my life.  I mean after I got out of Ohio, I lived in New York City then Los Angeles and then New York again.  Basically, I literally lived on the edge of the country.  When you are a gay, it’s a good idea to have a quick exit if things get ugly and the crowd turns on you.   In New York, it never made sense to me to buy an apartment.  It just didn’t feel real buying something without land.  In LA, houses were expensive and I was poor.

(Bus update:  We are stuck in traffic today behind another bus with a sign in the back window that reads:   Looking for a career?  Drive this bus.   I don’t want to say times are tough in cable but I am tempted to write down the number just in case.  The only hitch is that although I could still call this blog ON THE BUS, it would be almost impossible to write it if I were driving instead of riding it.   I can tell you one thing–My bus would be quiet.   I would be mean and I would scare people and absolutely no one would eat on my bus.  Bus crushes would ride for free.)

My husband Saul and I only had one big blow up during the move.   Unfortunately, it was only minutes after we brought our cats to the new place.    In case you don’t know, cats are not fans of change.    I mean, put yourself in their place.   You wake up thinking you are living your day as usual and then you are picked up and thrown in a box and whisked away to an entirely new and foreign world that might as well be a different planet.  It’s not like they’ve read about the new place or have seen pictures.  I felt bad for them.  I wondered if this was how God felt when I was seven and he smote my father out of the blue with a heart attack.   There was just no way to warn or prepare them.

They were already traumatized, but when Saul and I started arguing about something that was very minor but felt quite important on moving day, our loud voices sent our cats into what I can only describe as a waking coma.   The situation wasn’t helped by my bright idea of introducing them to the basement first since that was where their kitty litter was.  Basements are dark and scary and windowless.  The cats were sure they were in the feline version of a Turkish prison.  By the time Saul and I made up (as I like to quote when I officiate weddings:  a good marriage is a union between two good forgivers), we had moved them to the bedroom.  Still one of the cats (Luke) was still in a catatonic state.  (No pun intended?).  He didn’t eat or pee or blink for over 24 hours and  made a constant low grade murring sound like a broken windup toy.

“Our cat is going to die because we argued too loudly,” I announced grimly to Saul.  Saul suggested before I start digging a tiny grave for him in our new backyard that I go spend time with him.

I found Luke in the back of the closet murring (murring is like anxious terrified purring) with his pupils dilated like Puss in Boots in Shrek.

I petted him for an hour and told him it was okay to be scared.   ‘You are just a scardy cat” I told him over and over.  “We all get scared and it’s okay.”   I was Annie Sullivan coaxing that stubborn Helen to say water.  And suddenly just like that obstinate Helen, Luke snapped out of it.     His murr turned into a purr and he leapt out of my arms, ate the tuna I had brought up for him and peed for about an hour straight in the litter box.  Then he walked around the house like he owned it.  He tried laying claim to the property by lifting his tail and spraying everything but luckily, he has been neutered so he was harmless and actually quite foolish looking.

I learned at an early age how to work with animals from my big brother Paul.  He always had a soft spot for stray animals. Paul loves animals so much that when I had two dogs that were fighting each other on a regular basis in a tiny New York apartment six years ago, he offered to take one of them to live with him and still has her today.

Paul and I are close.   You can’t get through a death of a sister and then deal with a grieving mother and then go through her death together and not be close.   I guess you can, but we had a bond from early that only strengthened through our shared tragedy.

I am writing a book about my relationship with my brother.   That’s how close we are.  Hopefully when he reads it he won’t sue.  That would definitely but a crimp in our closeness.

Paul and his partner Donna were coming to visit us six days after we moved.  We had planned their visit way before Saul and I realized we would have to move at the height of the holiday…I mean…Christmas season (Thank you President Trump for letting me write the word Christmas again).

Paul and Donna are the nicest people in the world.  But still I realized the visit was going to be easier for me than for Saul because it was my family.   In-laws come attached to your spouse.  I read enough Dear Abby columns as a child to know that telling your husband you hate a sibling or parent gets you nowhere.

Luckily neither of us hate the other’s siblings or parent, but even so, it is an odd dynamic especially in the first few years when the person you are the most intimate with has these relationships with long histories that you were not part of.  So, when Paul comes in and does all the repairs in our house and fixes all my doorknobs because for my entire life I always had a list of repairs for him to do whenever he came visit, I have to realize that I need to check with Saul first.  He may not want door knobs shaped like bird heads (but really who wouldn’t?)

The visit was great and on the last day we went into New York City to see the Stephen Sondheim play, Sweeny Todd for Paul’s birthday.  Paul hates his birthday.  Anyone who has a birthday during the week between Christmas and New Year’s understands why.    No one in the world cares about that person’s birthday.  Not even their mother.  You just don’t feel like buying another present or celebrating another day during that week.  In fact, you kind of resent that person who is forcing you to.

So, Paul has a little chip on his shoulder about his birthday, and this year I was determined to do it right.   After the play, we were going to a Chinese restaurant Saul suggested that serves authentic Chinese cuisine.    The morning of Paul’s birthday, Saul mentioned to his sister and husband and two kids that we were eating in the city and invited them to join us.    They said yes and we were thrilled but then suddenly nervous.  Our families had never been together for any extended amount of time.

What if they don’t get along?

What if they throw bowls of Birds Nest Soup at each other?   What if they are like the Montagues and Capulets and then Saul has to fake his own suicide but I don’t know it’s fake and then I drink poison and he wakes up in a tomb next to me and kisses my poison lips and dies?  (Saul and I have active imaginations which is a blessing and a curse.)

On the way to the restaurant Saul was very nervous.   “I’m going to ask if they can do something special for Paul’s birthday” I whispered to him.

“DON’T EVER DO THAT FOR ME! I WOULD HATE IT!”  he snapped back.

“Okay…I said.   I wasn’t doing this for you.  Are you maybe a little nervous about this dinner?”

“WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I’M NERVOUS!”  he replied full of rage.

Okay, maybe not full of rage but I sensed tension in his voice.

We arrived before Saul’s family and I started to get a little nervous myself.  Saul’s family lived in the upper west side of Manhattan and Paul and Donna were from the heart of Indiana.  Would these two worlds mix?   Luckily no one supported Trump so we had that as a unifying bond.

At a certain point you have to kind of let go.  That point for me is way later than it should be.   My death is when I plan to finally let most things go.

But when Saul’s family arrived the dinner went amazingly well.  No food was thrown and no poison kisses were exchanged.    When the waiter came out with a birthday dessert the entire large table (which also included three of our friends) broke into singing Happy Birthday. 

At the end of the night as I licked the sauce out of the bottom of the bowl the dessert came in (we took two weeks off of Weight Watchers and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty–elephants consume less in a week than we consumed in a mere hour), it was clear to me that everyone had a grand time.

And on the way home Paul told me with genuine feeling that this was the best birthday he had ever had.   “I can’t remember the last time a large group sang Happy birthday to me.”

I was touched and moved.   It got me thinking…My brother and I have a strong bond built though a life time of pain and joy, and Saul and I are building our bond the very same way.

Every time he and I move together or buy a house or deal with murring cats or try to commit homicide upon one another but decide against it, that bond alchemizes into something stronger.   It may not be as long or as old as it is with my brother but it is as strong because it is a chosen bond forged by a series of choices.   We weren’t born into it, we chose it and we we continue to choose it every night we go to sleep together.

And in the end, being part of these relationships with their fights and make-ups and murring cats and good and bad birthdays bring out my humanity.   Those connections are what I suspect I will remember and treasure on my death bed.  Well…those connections and the delicious million-point dessert I ate on my brother’s birthday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Keith Hoffman is battling a recent weight gain.


Published by


Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s