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The Cringe Files

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Your one-stop shop for Aunt PJ stories.




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The One in Which Aunt PJ Fakes it 'Til She Makes It

If you’ve read my posts on FJ for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention that I have scoliosis.  I underwent a spinal fusion when I was fourteen, and I’ve had a fourteen-inch titanium rod with screws and hooks holding it into place against my spinal column. As you can imagine, this sometimes gets uncomfortable. Now, from what we can tell now, I inherited the gene from my mother’s side of the family—because guess who also has scoliosis? That’s right, everybody’s favorite, Aunt PJ. To be clear, the difference between my scoliosis (and subsequent surgery) and Aunt PJ’s scoliosis is something like this: Necessary disclaimer: I don’t doubt that Aunt PJ’s scoliosis causes her discomfort—I’m sure it does. But, as you can see, it’s akin to comparing a deep paper cut with someone who just cut their finger off in a cigar cutter. I can't tell you what I wouldn't give for a ten percent curve, even after my surgery. That doesn’t stop Aunt PJ, though, and she wants you to know she’s in horrific. pain. every. day. Of course she does. Given that we have the same diagnosis, it should come as a shock that when I had my surgery (and subsequent lengthy hospital stay and recovery time), Aunt PJ didn’t reach out to me once, either through card or phone call. But that’s Aunt PJ for you—if it’s not about her, it’s not important. After the death of my grandmother, my mother moved back to her home state and moved into the family home to help settle the estate. As I’ve mentioned previously, Aunt PJ also lived there with two of her three children. This was also my first year in college, and I couldn’t come home from school to visit my mother. Why, do you ask? Because there wasn’t a decent bed available to me to sleep in, a requirement in my life post- surgery. That’s right, a woman with scoliosis wanted me to just sleep on a cot. I ended up not visiting my mother for a year, until she moved. Four beds in the house and no one could give one up for a couple of nights so I could sleep and still walk in the morning. Over the years, Aunt PJ’s scoliosis has supposedly gotten worse. She posts frequently about her pain and discomfort on Facebook and in person, eliciting sympathy from kinder-hearted folk than me. She now visits a chiropractor and refuses to sit on soft seating such as sofas and armchairs. Several times, Aunt PJ sat on a dining room chair and explained to me that her scoliosis kept her from sitting on the couch…while I was sitting on the couch. Trust me, Aunt PJ, if my twisty straw of a back can handle it, so can yours.  So each and every visit I have with her, I get to hear about her wretched, pain-filled life (in which she is healthy enough to travel long distances, sit and stand for extended lengths of time, and participate in physical activities like yoga and going to the gym--you know, stuff that is difficult for me to do). And does she ever ask me how I’m managing? Yeah, you have two guesses and the first one doesn’t count.  




The One Where Aunt PJ Proves We Have a Long Way to Go

It should come as a surprise to no one that my aunt PJ, having been born with a giant sucking sound instead of a soul, is also a virulent racist. She is a white woman who grew up in a southern city in the 1950s and 1960s, and there are certain egregious societal buy-ins that unfortunately accompany growing up in that sort of cultural milieu. That said, my mother isn’t racist and was born three years after her and grew up in the same household, so maybe PJ is just a jerk. Never mind, there’s no maybe about it. Now, one of the many issues created by PJ’s racism was the fact that, until recently, she was a teacher a high school that has a predominantly African-American student body. Let’s just pause for a moment to let that sink in. For thirty years, Aunt PJ was responsible for educating thousands of children   Unsurprisingly, given this information, Aunt PJ hated her job with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I imagine it was similar to how I feel about spending an afternoon with her. With this background information, we move on to the heart of our story. PJ’s daughter-in-law, who shall hereafter be known as Saint Sarah, decided to throw a casual get-together in honor of PJ’s daughter and her longtime boyfriend, who had made the trek from an east coast city to visit the family. This was the first time that the boyfriend would experience PJ. The plan was for everyone to bring some good weens, and we’d sit back, chat, stuff our faces, and a good time would be had by all. Alas, this was not to be. Saint Sarah also invited her best friend, Awesome Alice, who several of us knew from previous gatherings. As her name implies, she’s a friendly and hospitable woman who also made some killer weens. It is important to this story for you to know that Alice was a divorcee with two teenage sons, who were not present at this particular debacle. It’s also important to note that Alice’s ex-husband is African American and she is white, and thus her children are multi-racial. Most of us, including PJ, was aware of this fact. (Editor’s note: The children inherited their mother’s awesomeness and are grade-A students involved in multiple extra-curriculars.) Do you remember that simulator in driver’s ed that was essentially a tractor-trailer coming at you head on with no way to escape but pulling the wheel and putting the car in a ditch? That should be about how you feel right now about this story. The day of the shindig arrives and we all load up our plates and sit together in PJ’s over-decorated living room (what is it with PJs and knick-knacks?) The conversation is initially cordial and light-hearted. We all dig in, and my mother, in an effort to keep the conversation going and on a safe topic, brings up how her grandchildren (my niece and nephew) enjoy a local children’s museum. To which PJ replied, and I shit y’all not, “oh, I like that local children’s museum too. There’s never any black kids there.” A pallor fell over the room and everyone stops shoving weens in their mouths. All of us looked at Awesome Alice, who choked on the ween she was eating. PJ’s daughter, having been consummately embarrassed by her mother in front of her boyfriend, ran out of the room crying. Boyfriend followed behind her. Saint Sarah then rebukes PJ, telling her under no uncertain terms that her comment was unacceptable. (Seriously, this woman is just a supernaturally good person--all of us were too stunned to get it out). PJ gets flustered, and, trying to redeem herself in the clumsiest way possible said, “I just work with a lot of black kids at my school and they’re violent.” Several of us had to step outside the room at this point. We tried to get things back on track after that, but the damage had been done. Saint Sarah, Awesome Alice, and I moved out to the back patio in an effort to avoid arrest by putting distance and a door between our fists and PJ’s face. This is also when the beer-a-ritas came out. After a half an hour or so, our stomachs turned in synchronicity as PJ opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside. In later retellings, Saint Sarah said that she had hoped that PJ was coming out to apologize to Awesome Alice for being a shit heel. Saint Sarah is kind and optimistic like that. But alas, no. This is PJ, after all. No, instead of apologizing, PJ started to bemoan that she was frequently excluded from family events. Gee, PJ, I wonder why the hell that would be? And then, the coup de grace: she remarked, “I guess I’m just the family black sheep.” And that is the story of the last large family event that included PJ. Fin.



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