Already out on the parkway, Christmas lights are up. Not as many as there will be when the city gets done, but it’s started.
And yet, that’s not even the beginning. Christmas decorations and other gifts for sale have popped up in the stores, a card display assaulting my eyes a few weeks ago as I simply tried to find my brand of flavored water.
If I say anything negative about the holiday season, which starts early and earlier every year, I’m pooh poohed and called a Scrooge. My real friends, close friends, know why I am the way I am. They don’t say anything.
For everyone else, I’m left with a dilemma I’ve had for the last 12 years. How do I try and explain it to people, or do I even try? Mostly I don’t say anything. Let them think what they want.
What I really want to do is say, “Look, my dad died on Christmas Eve, so the fact that anniversary is “celebrated” every year, starting in freakin’ SEPTEMBER, is more than frustrating. Picking out caskets on Christmas Day sort of takes the joy out of the season.”
If I really wanted to make someone feel bad, I could throw in the stuff about how my family slowly disintegrated after the death of its patriarch, to the point where I don’t even feel like I have a real family anymore.
Or, as I suggested to a friend, I could simply don a shirt that said, “Ho Ho Hell. Fuck off.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure if I had kids, it’d be different. I wouldn’t deprive my kids of the “magic of the season,” whatever “magic” may be en vogue that year. But for whatever reasons, that’s just not worked out. Since dad’s death it’s been just me and two consecutive dogs.
And look, I’m as big a dog person as anyone, but I don’t do that “Let’s include the dogs in the Christmas celebration!” bullshit. My dogs were adopted from a breed rescue and my local shelter, respectively. Let’s face it, once I granted them their freedom, every day has been Christmas.
I didn’t even think about hanging up a Christmas decoration until 2003, five years after he died, and that was only because friends brought me a tree and all the trimmings. Now it’s a year-by-year decision if I decorate or not, although I did manage to salvage the family Christmas ornaments from being sold to strangers when my mom had an auction after selling our childhood home. Somewhere, deep down or maybe not so deep at all, that stuff still means something.
Despite my growing hatred for the holiday season, I’m at least not stupid enough to attempt to spend the holiday alone. I always make sure I have plans down in advance, so I don’t have one more thing to get depressed about. Luckily, I live in the South, where squeezing one more random person into the festivities is usually the norm. One family in particular – the kind where just anyone can show up, you don’t even have to knock – has adopted me as one of its own. I even get a new pair of pajamas every year, just like everyone else in the family.
I am forever grateful for their inclusion of me, and for every other family or group that’s counted me in their flock over the years since I moved to North Carolina, then to Georgia. But every year, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving or some other holiday, there comes a time when I become acutely aware it’s not my family I’m with. That’s the moment I take my leave and leave my friends to their memories.
I’ve even tried going home to my “real” family, at least for the first few years. It didn’t work. On the first anniversary of dad’s death, aided greatly by the inclusion of alcohol by the way, I arrived home to find the same gifts sitting on the table that had been there the year before when I flew home that Christmas Eve night. Last year’s gifts were even still wrapped.
Yet once we got those out of the way (thank God for alcohol), mom insisted on celebrating the holiday the same way we’d done every year before. I didn’t see the point of this and still don’t, since things obviously will never be the same ever again.
In the next few years, the visits home for the holidays just got stranger and stranger and definitely not any easier. Not to mention my cousin and unofficial bartender wasn’t around. When I made a particularly painful holiday trip home just before moving to Georgia, I said that trip would be my last. Not that I wouldn’t ever come home again, although it was almost three full years before I did again, for that auction. My visits just wouldn’t be during the holidays. Too much stress. Too many expectations. Too damn cold. God managed to thumb the eye of my hatred of cold and snow when I had to drive home in February about three years ago for my grandma’s funeral. That’s the last time I saw Illinois. It’s just better that way.
Last year, Mom and I were barely on speaking terms. We’d gotten into a fight in November, on my birthday. We really didn’t start talking again regularly until April of this year in a peace accord brokered haphazardly by my brother with whom I’ve also had a diminished relationship in the years since Dad died.
This fall during a recent phone call, Mom mentioned some of her holiday plans, which didn’t appear to include me. As much as I know that’s for the best, really, it still stings. When I thought about it more, I realized I couldn’t visit mom if I wanted to. I’m not even sure where she is. She’s somewhere in Florida with my aunt and uncle, who have stepped in like troopers since dad died and made her part of their lives.
The best Christmas I’ve had in the last 12 years came four years ago when I told everyone not to get me anything. I said I wasn’t going to get anyone anything and instead, take whatever money that would amount to and head back to North Carolina and its restorative beaches for a week. It was a little “road trip down memory lane” and I didn’t spend a night in a motel. I flopped on the couches, spare beds and in the spare rooms of all the friends I’d left behind in 2003. I spent an afternoon on the quiet shore, sticking my toes in the cold sand and wishing I’d never left or at least lived closer to water. (The lake is not the same.) When I got back to town, just a day or so before Christmas, I was rested, restored and spent a quiet holiday with friends. It was lovely.
Unfortunately this year (and for the past few years) taking such a trip again is not financially in the cards. So I’m white-knuckling it here in Georgia. But I do at least know where I’ll be welcome Christmas Day and my second mom says she’ll have my new pajamas ready for me.
What I really wish is I could just find a nice hole to crawl into and stay there until sometime in January.