As a writer you want to face the demons and have a conversation with them about their plans. But, the demons refuse to be so civilized. They just want to toss you back and forth, reach into your body, scrape around the inside and laugh while you try to figure it all out. Sometimes you cry about the pain. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you’re so numb to the barrage of clawing and gnashing you can’t speak or feel. Though the numbness saves you it offers no answers.
I suspect for this subject, the numbness will not arrive swiftly – if at all. And I wouldn’t want it to.
I am 32 years old. It is December 20th. This will be the first year in my entire life that I will not be around my family for the holidays. While I am always surrounded by good people and good friends, the absence of family at this time of year forges a pit in my stomach I have not known until now. The warmth I have come to know around this time of year is missed, and it cannot be replicated. I am left trying to create it in my head. My mind falls short of bringing it here, of course, and the intangibility leaves me a trembling mass. I receive gifts from home, wrapped in the trimmings of the season. The words on the cards I can hear in my head. It is a welcome heartbreak, but one that barely leaves me standing.
It is a trick of the holidays to instill in even the most callous a sense of sentimentality. It goes back to when Christmas was something so exciting – mainly because of presents – that we crapped our pants in anticipation. I remember decorating the tree, the Christamas-themed Loony Tunes characters. The garland. The smell of the house as the sun went down, our living room full of ancient cardboard boxes brimming with equally ancient decorations, and the cool air of the crawl space that let me know that it was time to decorate, indicating what season was creeping in.
Then we got older and teenage cynicism took over. And even armed with such a disparaging outlook we still found it difficult to not feel the warm moments.
Then we got even older and we were able to see our family as people, rather than giants. We found that a new camaraderie with our parents had developed, along with a shared sense of world-weariness and wisdom. Alcohol became a factor. We had drinks together in the kitchen while the kids hung out in the living room playing with whatever they just unwrapped. It became more important to just be there. Getting socks was welcome. Cash in an envelope came as a wink from the giver – because now we had rent to pay and suddenly saw what all the fuss was about all those years.
It all goes back to the earliest memories of Christmas: my sister waking me at 3:30 in the morning. Her curly hair, her pure and happy voice, and the way she said my name to wake me up before wishing me a Merry Christmas. The wrapping paper. The smell of my mother cooking eggs at 6am. StarWars figures. The pink landscape of Barbie toys. The strangely large window at our house on Vernon Avenue, looking out on a street that was still asleep. But, those are memories, and I don’t have to miss them, because they will always be mine. What I miss is to bask in the smells of dinners, my crazy mother collecting the discarded wrappings, my father’s smile when laughing at something one of my uncle’s said, my sister’s infectious laugh and the way she took several hours to open all her presents, the crackle of the fireplaces, the glow of the lights on our grandmother’s mantle while Burl Ives played on the radio, and the din of the grown-ups coming from the kitchen while we played with the toys we got that morning.