Molly Collins Grogan

am truly not a peeping tom. If ever asked, I would completely deny my actions at this time. I'm just taking a walk. The wind-chill factor brings the temperature down into the teens, but I always enjoy a little bitter cold air in the morning. Like I said, I'm simply wandering the streets for fun. In all honesty, I just meant to get out of the house for a few minutes. It gets tiresome sitting alone, knowing that almost everyone else is celebrating this big important holiday, and I'm not a part of that tradition (not that I'm bitter or anything). My wife left for work at the hospital, so I simply wanted to occupy myself for a little while. And now here I stand--staring through my neighbors' bay window into the sanctuary of their family life. I don't know how long I have been standing like this. My feet have long since turned to popsicles in the icy water that seeped through my cheap, pseudo-L.L. Bean rubber boots. This tweed hat with the snap-brim is doing nothing as my body warmth basically flies right through my head and into the arctic air. As I stand here in the blustering snow, I wish I could make myself go home, but these people are just so damn intoxicating (or should I say intoxicated).

It's so easy to be swallowed up by this world of theirs, like driving past a car crash--happy not to be truly involved but curious enough to gawk as I pass. I count twelve, no fourteen, bottles of champagne strewn around the room. And right there on the gargantuan tree, smothered in lights and baubles and trinkets and tinsel, I catch a glimpse of the Celtic cross. Even if I wanted to dispel the stereotypes of drunken Irishmen, no one can deny that these neighbors of mine fulfill that myth quite well. Dad plays the silent overseer; he just sits back, dressed in an oh-so-jolly plaid vest, with a drink in hand and watches his swarming brood. Here comes Mom with a glittering (perhaps a tad tipsy) shine in her eyes. Did her extravagant brunch turn out perfectly--yet again--or is she just so overwhelmed with the love in the air? I can't even fathom being in a room with this many people, even if they weren't drunk, loud, and dressed in garish colors. Yet they all seem so overjoyed, as if Norman Rockwell should come in at any moment to paint their portrait. The youngest child, the only girl, the princess, still passes out presents, even though the noise and her inebriated brothers are starting to aggravate her. The three middle boys--I'll call them Sean, Brendan, and Patrick, (isn't there always a Patrick in these Irish Catholic families?)--wrestle on the floor with one another. Their submissive, angelic women sit in a cluster, chatting amongst themselves. And the oldest son opens his gifts dutifully, laughs at the appropriate times, toasts to the dead relatives, and hopes to God he can escape from these hooligans before they start the drunken bear hugs. Most people probably deem this kind of chaos enjoyable, but I am happier to stand in the snow, sober and solitary.

Maybe I am reducing this family to shadows of real people. I suppose that's the pleasure of peeping in on other people's lives--I can shape their lives into whatever I want. Creating lives seems painless compared to honestly knowing these people and then feeling obligated to care about their actual triumphs and trials. My wife and I keep our curtains closed--no neighbors peer in, and I like to think they don't imagine our lives. I am cynical. I am not like my neighbors. I think next year I will go to the movies on Christmas.

Emily Ratzell