Just in Time for Christmas

Bijan Stephen

What can I say about Bijan Stephen? In addition to being the single best-dressed and most attractive person that I've ever seen, he's also awesome. Today in Tabs. N+1. Vanity Fair. Yeah.

Home Is Where the Oboe Is
by Bijan Stephen

Mrs. Braquet is nervous. She always is during this part of the mass, in the rustling quiet of the choir loft before the priest clears his throat to begin. It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, and everyone is made up and beautiful; there’s anticipation in the air, a hint of incense. I’m sitting in front of my favorite kind of music stand, in front of music I’ve never seen before. I hold my oboe the way I was taught a decade ago, feeling the dark wood’s weight on the pads of my thumbs.

When I’m home in Tyler, Texas, playing music at church is one of the things I can’t seem to let go of. I’m not religious and the gig doesn’t pay, but it’s something that’s always heralded the holidays for me, made Christmas’ impending arrival real. I grew up here, amid the good ol’ boys and the abstinence-only sex ed. The days run endlessly and the skies are always blue; everyone here peaks in high school.

To say that I have a conflicted relationship with East Texas is to give the place more credit than it deserves. I hate it here, I’ve always hated it here, and, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to hate it here. The reasons only became painfully obvious after I left. When I look back, I see an unending series of microagressions and aggression-aggressions.

Tyler is a place that ruthlessly punishes difference, and I can’t imagine myself living this kind of painfully circumscribed life. And yet I keep coming back, and I continue to be fascinated—in an anthropological way, I guess?—by how life here is lived. It’s simpler and slower. Sometimes a body just needs rest. These bodies aren't in motion. Or, if they are, it’s imperceptible to me.

We’ve reached the middle of the service. The priest is swinging a gold chain that wouldn’t be out of place on Rick Ross, if Ross had a penchant for bling that emits incense. The cathedral is packed. I know everyone, have known these people my entire life. They’ve seen me fill in the youthful outlines of myself and have loved me for it.

When I left I didn’t really miss anything—not the heat, not the humidity, not the architecturally perfect makeup, not the dashed hopes and burned out dreams, not the sheer newness of things. History is malleable here, and people proudly fly the Confederate stars and bars.

I miss things like the smell of grass after a thunderstorm, fireflies in an abandoned lot, the sight of the full moon rising over endless highway. The blue burning through ochre to black.

I started playing the oboe because my middle school band director told me I should a decade ago. I can’t remember his name now, but I do remember listening to him because we’d been told he had an incurable disease—which one, I  also can’t remember. My oboe is one of the things I’ve brought with me from dorm room to dorm room, through different apartments in the city. I keep it in the back of my closet, hopefully safe from the temperature and humidity changes that would crack the delicate rosewood. These days it’s more of a safety blanket, something that recalls the hot Texan sun.

After the final blessing, the room empties slower than it filled. People catch up with each other—we call that “visiting with” around here—and it reminds me of nothing so much as raindrops on a car window, coming together and streaking down the glass.