Five Holidays Barney Didn't Celebrate, and One He Does (thanksgiving, easter, mother's day, labor day, valentine's day)
He and James spend their days at school, making little construction paper turkeys using their hands and safety scissors. For all their efforts, though, public school can't step in where family should – the board of directors doesn't understand that Thanksgiving doesn't mean to him what it means to everyone else. He and James just hold hands as Mommy explains that she has to work late tonight (the other kids tell him his mommy's a whore – he just beats them up; but there's only so much fighting you can do and yeah, it's true that he and his brother aren't the same color, but…).
James gives him a knowing look as he smashes his Barbie around her secondhand beach house.
She looks at them, gives them each a kiss on the top of the head, smelling of a Chanel No. 19 knockoff. He doesn't even need to protest that it's a national holiday – they've been there, done that, gotten the t-shirts. They flick on The Price is Right and eat their happy meals. He doesn't feel very happy.
James sets down the Barbie, shuffles over to sit by him.
"Barney?" Silence. "Happy Thanksgiving."
He sighs, gives James a fry. "Happy Thanksgiving."
They hide eggs at school – nice, bright-colored plastic eggs that have little treats inside them, collect them in baskets that have nets of plastic grass. He and James collect the most. The other kids hate them (but they hate them already).
But he knows this isn't what Easter is about. Not bunnies, not egg hunts – his grandfather says it's about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even now, at twelve-years-old, he still doesn't know if he's that religious (as religious as his grandpa wants him to be or as atheistic as his mom wants him to be), but he still sits in church with his grandpa (James sided with mom, always did), but the pew feels a little too stiff for him and he folds his hands in his lap because he doesn't know what else to do with them.
He stares up at the images of saints and martyrs caught along the stained glass and feels unworthy.
He wears a suit.
Later that night, his grandpa takes him to the hospital, tells him that grandma had an accident. He sits by her bedside and prays for her to get better.
He and James sit. Wish and pray.
She dies anyway.
iii. Valentine's Day
Shannon's his first real relationship, and he can't admit to have felt any of these feelings before. It seems clichéd, but it truly does feel like she's his soulmate – they'll be together until the end of time, or something that seems fit to be a lyric of an '80s ballad. Her fingers link with his just right and she echoes all his views and she's beautiful. He's already at that stage where he inadvertently plans details of their wedding in his sleep.
It's a little scary.
So their first Valentine's Day together, he doesn't want to botch it. (He considers buying an engagement ring, but tosses the idea.) He gets her a charm bracelet with a little silver heart with their names etched into it.
The Valentine's Day after that, they break up. Well, she breaks up with him. He finds the sterling silver heart on the floor – the bracelet fell apart.
The Valentine's Day after that, he sleeps with a woman who doesn't think past that - when he finishes his shower, he walks out to find a neat little note set on top of his clothes, unsigned.
He falls apart.
Swears against love. (It doesn't exist. Not here.)
iv. Labor Day
There's something about Labor Day that makes his skin itch, like a wool sweater worn over bare skin that's a size too small. James calls him every year, tells him to take the day off before he kills himself, but he can never bring himself to do it.
He thinks it's something to do with mom. Every year, after James calls him, he calls her, asks her how she's doing.
"Oh," she sighs. He hears her drag off a cigarette and finds himself itching for one. "You don't have to call me every year."
"You're not working tonight, are you?"
"No," she says, quietly. "No, I'm not. Too old to be dancing now anyways."
He exhales, wonders if he would've ended up worse off if James hadn't been there to ground him. He hangs up, goes back to editing contracts with Yugoslavia. He doesn't know why he does this – relives the past like it's something to be changed, to be fixed. He could stop it if he would just take the day off.
But he can't. He never can.
He sighs, leans back in his chair, stares out at the Manhattan skyline. He'll be different. He swears he'll be different.
v. Mother's Day
They make cards at school out of construction paper. He gets glue on his fingers and they stick together. He spends recess sticking and unsticking his fingers, pulling them together and apart, together and apart.
James draws figures in the dirt. (They both get called sissies.)
When they get home, they find a note about TV dinners ("you kids can use the microwave") and a slightly wet lipstick print stuck against the white of the paper ("love you, don't stay up too late"). They throw their cards in the garbage.
He decides to play Barbies with James that night (it's Mother's Day, might as well be Brother's Day).
"Do you think Barbie and Ken have kids, Barney?"
"I don't know. I think so."
"I think Barbie would be a good mommy."
"Mom's a good mommy."
"Yeah, but Barbie's—Barbie's perfect."
They fight each other with Barbie dolls until they call a truce and eat their TV dinners in the blue flickering light of The Price is Right, talking about dad, and whether or not they'll ever see him.
"Do you think he loves us?" Barney asks.
James smiles. "Yeah. He's just really, really busy." Barney nods.
vi. Father's Day
He wakes up to the sound of creaking springs and someone gently and curiously prodding his eyelid open. Robin turns in her sleep, slaps him right in the face with a flyaway hand. He blinks slowly, stares at bright blue eyes that mimic their mother's. "Daddy?"
"What is going on here?" he asks, feigning shock. He picks his daughter up, hangs her upside down, tickles her sides. The giggling wakes Robin up. "Oh, Scherbatsky, look what I caught!"
"What is it?"
"I think it's a bear cub. Don't you have those in Canada?"
"Oh, I don't think it's a Canadian bear cub."
"Mommy! I'm not a bear."
"No, I guess you're not. Let her go, Barney." She takes the girl from his hands, heads toward the bathroom.
"Daddy, do you know what day it is?"
"No. What day is it?"
She runs to her room, fetches a hastily-constructed baby blue card. He takes it, cracks it open. She throws her arms around his neck. "Happy Daddy's Day, Daddy."
He smiles. Robin peeks in. "Going to cook breakfast, daddy-o?"
He rolls his eyes. "Ask the cub."
"Daddy, I told you. I'm not a bear. Bears only live in Canada!" Barney snorts.