There’s so much hype surrounding Christmas. It is difficult for someone with no close family to spread joy and well-being throughout the land when it is so hard to feel it inside. When I hear about conflicts in the families of some of my friends, I am sometimes grateful to be alone since I hate conflict so much. I guess because I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it, I have a Hallmark Norman Rockwell Christmas in mind as the ideal Christmas occurence that I yearn for. I know that that Christmas probably doesn’t exist.
I saw my son over Thanksgiving. I delivered Christmas presents to him and Yoko when I arrived on November 21. He deducted some money from what I owed him for train fares and hotel accommodations and we called it Christmas.
He and Yoko will be spending Christmas in the Philipines this year. At least I think it will be safer than when he was in Thailand a couple of years ago during a military take-over of the government. He called me and since I was out walking Ri-Leigh he left the message, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m fine. I’m not in the part of the city that is being bombed.” I heard nothing more for four anxiety ridden days until he was back at his school again.
Perhaps it’s because what is left of my family is in Illinois that I start feeling lonely. Christmas carries a lot of baggage for me that I’ve been trying to rid myself of for a long time. At some time during “the season” the thoughts surface once again.
The year my first fiance and I got engaged, he came home on leave from Quantico. He surprised me by showing up on my doorstep. I had no idea what to give a guy who was in the Marines and would, within a matter of months, be heading off for Viet Nam. I hadn’t bought him a present yet.
I lived with my aunt, but she was on a trip so I was home alone. I got into the Christmas wrappings and found a big red bow. She had two negligees in her dresser that she had never worn. I put on one of them and draped the red ribbon over my shoulder and wore the negligee and the ribbon downstairs where my boyfriend was waiting and sat down under the Christmas tree.
He didn’t get home until the following morning and we had a wonderful pre-Christmas night. Three days later I got my ring. Four months later he decided he didn’t want to possibly make me a war widow and broke the engagement the day I came home from ordering the flowers for the wedding in June.
I had suspicions for quite some time that my ex was in the process of moving on. There were many tell-tale signs that were becoming more frequent. I’ll not go into that story now. He asked me to go with him to a Christmas party in Mineral Wells. On the way there I started asking questions. He stopped the car and told me if I said anything else he’d throw me out on the highway and leave me there. There’s a lot of middle of nowhere between Fort Worth and Mineral Wells and it was a very cold night. I shut up and pretended things were ok between the two of us while we were at this business party given by one of his clients. The restaurant was a small one that had local artists’ pictures on the wall. I saw this snow scene with a lone cabin. It was all in tones of grays and off-whites. I stood there gazing at it. My ex asked if I liked it. I said it looked as cold as I felt. He must not have gotten my message because he gave it to me for Christmas. He left, but it hung in the hallway for years. I finally had my son deliver it to him several years later with some other prints he had bought during our marriage. It made me just as cold as that night every time I looked at it.
That night when we were home he finally told me what was going on and moved out the next day. It was December 20. He came back on December 25 to give our son his gifts and to play the new video games with him. I could hardly tolerate the music of the repetitive sound of the smurf as my son played that game for the next year. After a couple hours he left permanently and the divorce proceedings began.
When I was growing up, Christmas was always more of a stress than a joy. My father never recovered from the death of my mother. I don’t remember a single Christmas morning of gift giving that had any laughter associated with it. It was just something to get done and over with. There was one morning when I was still in elementary school that I said something like, “Is that everything?” simply meaning, “Have all the presents been opened?” I did not mean it like I wanted more. I really didn’t. I just meant, “Are we finished opening the presents?” My father didn’t take it that way. He started yelling about how greedy I was…and nothing was ever enough. That was exactly the opposite of what I meant, but that is what he chose to hear. I thought that was a strange thing to say about a daughter who silently asked for forgiveness for being alive every day. A fact that he never seemed to acknowledge.
It was never really a pleasant occasion opening presents, and I was somewhat eager to get on with the morning. There was always an underlying current that made me feel uneasy. It was the only time of the year other than at our silent dinners that we were all gathered in the same room. It was hard to take.
I really am trying to do more to celebrate each year and get the Christmas spirit, but it’s not easy. For the past four years I’ve participated in the Angel Tree project at church. We wrap presents bought by members of the congregation and then hand them out when the parents come to get them. We serve the children of families affected by aids. These are often the only presents their children get. For the last couple of years I’ve revved up my giving to a couple of charities. Nothing really gives me that Christmas spirit that lasts very long.
I know there is a world of people around who have far worse tales to tell. I only think of these things when I’m alone. Today is Sunday and I’ll be in church in a little while. That always raises my spirits. There’s always hope that some time Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be truly a Norman Rockwell Hallmark day.
PS (added after church) I realized today during the service that I AM experiencing just exactly what I want. The friends I have made during the past almost five years are a perfect extended family for me. We accept each other as we are. We share our joys and our sorrows with each other. The music of the choir during this time is fantastic. I’ll be with them Christmas Eve. It’s a Norman Rockwell Hallmark Christmas the whole month of December, and I am grateful. Namaste. Attic Annie