“Excuse me—um—Clerk. Shopkeeper. Err, Vest Guy. Yes. I’m sorry, can you help me find a card for my brother?
“No, no. See, I didn’t want to look through the entire quarter acre—that’s why I found you. You’re the expert, the sentiment sommelier, the man who makes change one minute and delves into base emotional levels the next.
“It’s not a birthday, no, absolutely not. Dog Wearing Mariachi Hat fails on absolutely every level here.
“Don’t guess, please. Actually start listening. If I send him Kitten Dressed As A Leprechaun it’s going to feel sarcastic. Like I’m mocking him. Please, just listen, because neither my brother nor I look particularly mature through this whole fiasco. A lot of emotions surfaced, but I’m going to be the bigger person and spend three dollars on a card and fifty-five cents on a stamp so Christmas at his house is palatable.
“‘Palatable’ is in overstatement, what with my sister-in-law’s cooking. How do you mess up stuffing? The only instructions are chop, toss with melted butter, and bake, hers, though, came out tasting dry, sort of like bread jerky. Like one big scab.
“Vest, come on, get off your high horse. How am I going to open up emotionally and find the right card if I’m feeling judged? Don’t act like you’ve never tasted a scab.
“Fine. Okay. This is all going to take longer now, you know? I’m going to need to feel validated and safe to open up so you properly assess and bestow upon me the perfect card.
“Broad strokes won’t do, no. Am I boring you? Is listening to me a disinteresting chore in your otherwise charmed life? Is that red vest not embroidered with ‘Here to Help’? Does your own credo mean nothing to you?
“I’ve already skimmed the apology cards. Fascinating that you would snap to assuming this was my fault. I’m still a touch mad at my brother and starting with ‘I’m sorry’ admits guilt. And the only thing I think I’m guilty of is being the bigger person.
“A blank card? Get out—no, wait, don’t. What I mean is that I could have done that at home. That idea was a complete cop-out, like you would rather help those two customers queued behind me instead of remaining present through my fraternal crisis.
“My brother, okay. Yeah. He loves his McMansion and his two ugly kids. His wife is okay. Compared to the average American woman, I’d say a bit more pan-faced. Not sure if that makes a difference. Maybe not a card with a moon or a Frisbee. Decent manners, though sometimes still serves guests food that tastes scab-like: arguably my biggest non-aesthetic qualm.
“Three people are lined up now; yes, I’m not blind. They can wait. I mean, I can try to force feeling transparent and vulnerable, but we’re going to need to debrief about that later. Really, I don’t think my brother has ever questioned anything. He’s excellent at recognizing financial patterns and retaining information, however, I’ve never seen him commit to any self-audit or critical introversion. His monotheism, his taupe wardrobe, his belief in education, all of it seems transmuted directly from Dad! I feel like he hasn’t lived or examined himself. Easy for me to say, a free spirit, an evolving enigma wrapped in a thrift store hoodie.
“Yeah, all this cold medication isn’t because I’m sick.
“I don’t know, I feel like you’re getting off topic, and I apologize if this might go beyond your vest training, Vest. Like, I really don’t know if my bro has ever questioned the dogma he’s been fed. Even you—no offense—seem to be a bit detached from your stitched on oath. All he does is buy things to make himself happy. Marry and reproduce. Cheer for the Detroit Lions. Is it my responsibility to challenge his worldview and get him to maybe graduate past the horse blinders he was born wearing?
“’My deepest sympathy’? Are you kidding? That sounds so sanctimonious. ‘Terribly sorry you have to live in your hermetic suburban bubble where if you’re subjectively bad or don’t give enough money in the eyes of an invisible entity you’re punished for all of eternity.’ Come on, Vest, use your head.
“I’m seeing ‘Birthday for Her’, ‘Funny Anniversary’; what about ‘Sorry I Kicked You Under the Table and Said Your Thanksgiving Turkey Tasted Like Blistered Foot Skin While Challenging Your Personal Ethos’.
“Don’t look at me like that, Vest. Did I tell you he punched me right after that?
“Wait. No. I punched him.
“Is there a tasteful card that says ‘You’re Welcome’? Doesn’t need anything specific. Or maybe one that says ‘I Do This Because I Love You?’
“Pipe down, Looming Mob, pipe down. I swear, I don’t need a table to kick all of you. Don’t look at them, Vest, look at me. Validate me. Tell me what is so wrong with prioritizing discourse over a convenient, comforting story and fellowship?
“No. You don’t need to help them. Don’t turn away.”
“Fine. I’ll go with Dog Wearing Mariachi Hat. Baby Bro will assume—correctly—that I’m kinda fucked up writing this, but that my heart was somewhere better at some point. Will for sure soften the blow of me crashing there for two to eight weeks after Christmas.”
“Vest. Vest? Are you going to help me with all this cough syrup or do I have to steal it myself?”