Michael Don ~ Your People

Everyone in her fam­i­ly had been toss­ing around the word bal­loon as a verb. I assumed it was a play­ful Christmas tradition.

At a Chinese restau­rant, the eve of the Eve, the aunt stat­ed, “Since I grad­u­at­ed from Wisconsin in nine­ty-five, state tuition has ballooned.”

The next night at the Eve din­ner, over Georgian pork and sweet pota­toes, the broth­er pro­claimed, “By 2020 Texas will be a Democratic state with such a bal­loon­ing Hispanic pop­u­la­tion.” I tried to get in there with a shrewd response, some­thing about vot­er sup­pres­sion, but no one heard me over all the chatter.

On Christmas day, while tear­ing open a small squishy pack­age, the mom said, “I guess the price on these is no longer ballooning.”

Later that night, every­one else in bed, tak­ing up the entire couch, my belt loos­ened, legs kicked out, face flushed red, the nar­ra­tor on Animal Planet kept me from dos­ing off. “The Larvae in rainy sea­son bal­loons up to the sur­face.” I opened my eyes to see jel­ly­fish­like crea­tures float­ing upward, like they were being pulled up by reverse grav­i­ty. I repeat­ed the line to myself so that I would retain it. I didn’t know what was uni­ver­sal Christmas tra­di­tion ver­sus a par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly mode of operation.

The next morn­ing, I announced to the group that I’d like to go to mid­night mass. The mom polite­ly informed me that the mid­night ser­vice had been two nights before, on the Eve. My thigh was squeezed. This was sup­posed to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly make me feel bet­ter and tell me no need to try so hard.

After din­ner, the broth­er escaped to the couch. He made him­self hor­i­zon­tal and held open a Theodore Roosevelt biog­ra­phy. She and I sat with the broth­er while he read and the oth­ers walked over to the vil­lage green to burn some calo­ries and admire the vil­lage tree.

Every so often the broth­er would rest his book on his stom­ach and she and the broth­er would talk about who was get­ting mar­ried and who he’d bumped into in the city and who, in ret­ro­spect, had an espe­cial­ly fucked up childhood.

When the oth­ers got back from their walk, we all gath­ered at the table for dessert. I wasn’t used to three straight days of feast­ing, eat­ing meat with every meal and dessert after, so I respect­ful­ly turned down the rugelach.

Ever since turn­ing twen­ty-sev­en my waist-line has been expand­ing,” I said to every­one. The word expand­ing lin­gered on my tongue—how could I have not thought of the fam­i­ly verb.

But these are from your peo­ple,” the dad said.

So I took the rugelach and stuffed it down, still dis­ap­point­ed in myself for my word choice. Starting to feel ill, I resigned myself to only lis­ten­ing to the chatter.

When the aunt sug­gest­ed a round of cards, I made a run for the toi­let, where much of the night came out of me while I tried to recall that line about the jel­ly­fish. Whoever they were.


Michael Don is the author of the sto­ry col­lec­tion Partners and Strangers (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2019) and Coeditor of Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature.