This Christmas I think about past Christmases.
I look back to 2014. It was the end of a pattern. Since I was born, Christmas was a big thing: decorations, food and gifts. The house smelled great: pine, turkey and new toys. It was the definition of festive. My Mom fell into the pattern of Matriarch early and as long as I could remember “Christmas” meant “Christmas at my house.” For a budding agoraphobe, that was an additional layer of comfort. Wake up. Enjoy presents. Help make dinner. Relax while turkey filled the air. Eat too much turkey. Sleep.
In 1996, there was a new layer added. My wife. We would round robin through the years: our place, my Mom’s, her Mom’s, and once in a while her brother’s. On the years when I wasn’t at my Mom’s, it felt hollow. On one of those years, my Mom took her grandkids to the movies. That was awesome for them, bitter for her and a little sad for me. I always feared we would get too few Christmases together. Her father died in his fifties. Her healthcare was dodgy. She would get this fearful look now and again. Ever see those movies where the doomed character coughs into a handkerchief, sees the blood and hides the evidence while taking on an ashen look? Lose the props and that was her from time to time. Haunted: like night was coming soon.
By 2013, I had had a few bad financial years. When the money situation fell apart, my marriage fell apart. Lots of carpe diem joy from the wife that contrasted poorly with my desperation to keep our finances from full meltdown. I got to a level of despondency that was only resolved through suicide. I thought myself to be a toxic and dislikeable person. Unbearable. Instead of putting my corpse into a box, I did the next best thing. I killed me. I dropped my name and up-ended all of my concepts and preconceptions. A lot of people didn’t come along for the ride. One friend said “but, I liked MIke.” Well: by 2013, I thought Mike was socially bankrupt. I thought the conscious personality overhaul was a compromise that left my child with a dad; and my wife with husband. Maybe there was a bigger win: what everyone else who ended up in a box could do this instead? I think about all of the people who question gender and transition. This approach was a rough ride and all I did was swap my which given name I was using.
In the Fall of 2014 I got a regular job. The routine and the respect was really comforting. We were still in a financial mess, but things had turned. Self employment gave me latitude. I could cuddle my old cat while I worked. I could see my Mom for lunch. I could fill in my days with little sub-tasks. Working at a job-type-job took those out of the mix. That’s fine: I had routine and that was a welcome change.
On December 23rd, I came home from a lunch out. My old cat Max had a big coughing fit, collapsed and curled into a ball. I thought he was dead. He wasn’t. He bundled him up and rushed him to the nearby pet hospital. They put him into a cage and began to assess his state. He was an old cat but we loved him. When it sounded like it was going to take a lot to save him, I looked to my wife for guidance. I was often tasked with the hard answers for vets. Her eyes welled up. I took that to mean "save our Max." I really meant "let our cat go, but I can't say that." -- I took door #1 and all of our financial capacity went into the cat in the next couple days to keep him alive. We came home crushed with fear. We loved that cat.
The next day, my Mom, my nieces and nephew came over for Christmas Eve. We were sad and tense over the cat. Pets are family. Dying family members are big thing. Christmas Eve was a mess. They left early. I think my Mom said something to the effect of "sorry"-- she was sorry about the cat, but this sorry was for taxing us with her presence. My Mom and I had problems from time to time. When I defended myself and hurt her feelings I crumpled a little inside.
That night, I asked my wife, "What do you want to do about Christmas?" She replied that she wanted Christmas to go away on that year. Beyond downplaying it, she wanted us to change one big feature of our plans. We had invited over close friends of mine to join us for dinner. She wanted me to cancel their invite for Christmas. I did that. They took it in stride, but it really hurt them. It hurt me too. When I am sad, I really people. At the same time, I really need to be left alone. I don't want pity-- but sometimes I need it.
Christmas was the non-event. The next day we got the prognosis from the vet. Max was not getting better-- we could prolong his suffering or let him go. $3200 down this road, we let our loved, sick, old cat die. Happy Boxing Day. Christmas was shot.
Two weeks later, my wife told me she didn't want to be married any more. I was hurt and betrayed. She was keeping secrets. She was enlisting our friends to lie to me to keep her secrets. I reaacted poorly to all of the people who betrayed me. Battle lines were drawn. People flipped out on me. See: there is the narrative you hear and accept. There is the narrative one can build from what they see when their information comes without context. Those self-built pictures are like an optical illusion: is it a bunny or a duck? It depends on how you look at it. I needed to be alone. I also needed people. Instead, they blamed me for what happened. Dozens of friends either stopped talking with me, or they talked with me like I was a recently released mental patient.
In an attempt to do something new, my new partner and I went to Europe with a windfall. I came back to discover that my Mom had cancer. She died shortly after Thanksgiving of 2015. Her absence took the lids off of a lot of simmering problems with our family. The will and the asset distribution poured salt into a lot of those wounds.
Christmas 2015 was very different from the year prior. That feeling of almost tangible love was gone. There was still love for me, but so much went in just one year.
The damage from 2015 meant that my ex-wife and I are no longer on speaking terms: terse fact based emails with necessary action items go back and forth regarding our child management.
My friends are largely gone. Well: many of them are gone in this Flying Dutchman fashion. You can still see the images of them via Facebook, but those are phantom after images. Friends of 45+ years are still connected with me, but we're not going to sit down together or hug or act like friends. I know: I see them on the street and wave them down. They keep walking. Maybe I'm the Flying Dutchman. Those who severed the Facebook ties look through me. In some rare cases, they shoot me the stink-eye because they're still an enemy combatant in a war that is basically over by now.
My Mom was the tie that held my family together. Our relatives back East, up-island and even in Sidney would talk with her and not with me. I saw a second cousin last Christmas. He almost looked through me until I jogged his memory enough for him to feign recognition. We spent so many Christmases together but now he and I don't speak and don't recognize each other on the street.
When I was a kid, I really discounted that the Christmases were finite. The people in those Christmases were going to go-- maybe go just after Christmas; or maybe just discount my role in their life to point that they forget that I exist. Every Christmas could be a last Christmas. I learned that a little late. If you can: understand that before it’s too late for you. Every person is important. Every day is indelible and unique. So is every Christmas.
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