So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Another year over. And one just begun…
> John Lennon
Last year I cried as I wrapped gifts on Christmas Eve. I knew it would be my last Christmas with all five of us under one roof. I knew it would be my last Christmas in the only home I’d had in Illinois. I knew in a year things would be drastically different. And they are.
The Good Pastor was at church while the boys and I unboxed gifts, fighting with theft-(and parent- and child-)proof packaging and wrestling with neverending twist-ties. I spent a solid 45 minutes building the TMNT secret sewer lair and shoved tears down into the pit of my stomach. If you don’t know me, I hate crying. I’m not a crier. I’m seldom negative-emotional. But at the time, it was hard to keep those feelings at bay. The Good Pastor came back, changed clothes and said,”Ready boys?”
“Yeah!” They cheered. “Mommy?” All three pairs of eyes of varying shades of brown, green and blue gaped at me.
Mommy wasn’t going to Christmas dinner. I told them with a smile I was too tired from building toys. They didn’t need to know I would never be joining them again at their grandparent’s house.
The tree was beautiful. The gift-mess that hid the floor from sight was glorious. But without my children, my house was horrendously silent.
My phone chirped. I had a new text from someone I met online. It had been three weeks since my husband made it clear trying to save our marriage was pointless and we officially labeled ourselves as separated. He gave his blessing to me jumping in the dating pool. I waded in. With waterwings. And a life preserver. I didn’t know how to date but I sure as hell needed the distraction. Anything to keep me from dwelling on being forced to drop out of the graduate program I spent four years getting into. Anyone to take my gaze from my reflection, which disgusted me. Anyone to say anything kind to me.
The text said how’d the kids like their gifts?
No they’re gone. At Christmas dinner to which I’m no longer invited. I’m sitting here watching my tree. Drinking wine.
Well we should drink together! I have an idea. I’ll call you around 9.
Cool, I thought, with no particular enthusiasm. I’m a mom of three and I’m going to go out on a date on Christmas with someone who is not my husband. Whoopdiefreakindoo.
Anything was better than sitting at home alone examining my worth as a human.
And I couldn’t wait til 9. It was too far away. I’d drink myself to sleep. I texted my friend. The only friend I knew that would also be alone on Christmas and might be as depressed as I was.
Come over, she said. I’ll buy you some Knob Creek.
Somehow this was more exciting than the date proposal.
I met her at her boyfriend’s house and we drank and laughed and whined. And then I broke it to her. That my divorce was inevitable and really happening. Her eyes looked down as her eyebrows rose and she gave me that he dun messed up expression. I laughed.
My phone chirped. Date time. My friend wished me luck, told me to have fun, and also said that if I text her PINEAPPLE she will find me and be ready to shank a N*. Noted. Thank you.
I hadn’t been to a club in…at least five years. I hadn’t been out and not worried about how much it was going to cost in…probably fifteen years. I hadn’t done either on the arm of a man…ever. And there we were. In a dark warehouse basement place with green lasers and beats thumping so vigorously, it could realign stalled cardiac impulses. Cajmere was there — you know, the It’s time for the percolator guy. Santa hats were abundant. I couldn’t wait to dance my heartache away.
And dance I did. I hadn’t danced like that in perhaps a decade. People stood back and watched. Whether it was because I was a mass of carefree limbs flailing in sync with the bass or because I was the best damn dancer they had ever seen, I did not know. And I didn’t care. I’d catch a stare. Someone mouthed beautiful. What?! Not me. If he only knew I’d birthed three children, he wouldn’t say that. I’d been told just a few months beforehand by someone very close to me that I’m damaged goods. All those kids — no one will want you. Accept it. I did.
I felt a hand on my back. I looked up without missing a beat. Some stranger. Wow he said. I think he said that. I couldn’t hear. Maybe I imagined it. I didn’t care. He left when he realized he couldn’t keep up if he tried. I was having the deepest therapy session of my life right there on the dance floor.
My date interrupted with a drink. “You look like you needed that,” he yelled into my ear.
I laughed. I did need that.
We started moving to the music together. I forgot what it felt like. I forgot what to do. I put my arms around his neck and our bodies flowed. He leaned into my ear and said, “I want to kiss you so bad right now.”
Yes, it was a good thing Cajmere could restart a myocardial infarction. Because my heart indeed stopped. I was terrified. I held onto his shoulders and ignored his comment. But he went for it. He kissed me.
I hadn’t been kissed like that in ages. I couldn’t even remember the last time The Good Pastor and I kissed, let alone like that. It felt amazing and sickening all at once. For the first time in years – YEARS – I was desired. I was sexy. I was wanted. But I was also torn. Conflicted. Why was this ok? Why was I dancing at a club and letting a man I’d known for three weeks kiss me on Christmas? Why didn’t my husband care that another man wanted me more than he did?
And then I kissed him back.
Maybe I liked it. Maybe I wanted it. Maybe I was just hurting. It was just a kiss, I reasoned. I certainly wasn’t going to do anything else with him. Besides, I knew I had to go back home to the suburbs. Back home to my children. Back home to the couch that had become my bed, in the basement that had become my apartment. Back to the one empty Christmas stocking in a row of five; the other four overflowing with toys and treats. Back home to the daily inquisition of how many jobs I’d applied to and how long until I moved out. Back to feeling homeless. Back to feeling rejected. I angry kissed that man to the tune of DJ Cajmere on Christmas. And somehow I felt victorious.
And I never had to say PINEAPPLE.
I’m not quite where I thought I’d be, but I am glad I’m not in a club this time. I did get a job, although I’ve already left that one and started another. I did get an apartment — a beautiful one that I can barely afford anymore since changing jobs. I still have very sad days, knowing I’d be more than 3/4 of the way done with my MMS in medical research. The same couch is still my bed this year, since mommy dearest financed Christmas — her generosity has many strings, including my bedroom, but I’m grateful. And even though my stocking is empty again, my heart is full. I hate to say it, because I avoid being excessively sappy, but the best gift I could ever receive is being with my children.
And I have it. I’m with my children. I’m with my mini-me’s. I’m with the most precious little souls I could ever have imagined. It quite literally sucks the air out of me when I think too long about how I do not see them all the time. But I see them half the time, and feverishly try to make those moments last forever. And they are here now. We are here together. And we are full.
They don’t understand everything that has happened since last Christmas — and frankly, neither do I. I’m still piecing together my own emotions, thoughts, sanity…life. But today, we are basking in the spoils of Christmas. We made Puppy Chow (AKA Muddy Buddies) and we smashed that delicious pile of sugary-peanut-buttery-chocolatey-coated corn cereal in record time. We sang Christmas songs and we laughed til we cried. This kind of crying I long for. We tuned a guitar and learned a new chord. We danced. We cha-cha-cha-ed through the kitchen. We started a band. We played Super Mario and were in awe with In-the-middle’s skills as Luigi (until we realized Luigi plays automatically and our In-the-middle isn’t actually a video game savant like The Wizard — and then laughed some more until we crumbled to the floor). And it was so incredibly grand.
I thought I’d be fully relovered by now — one year seems like a lot of time — but that type of recovery, I’m learning, could be a neverending road. I’m learning to enjoy the journey. Be patient. I’m taking the scenic route, rediscovering myself and redefining my priorities. I’m learning to appreciate the landscape and never mind the potholes.
The present is the home of my being…today I will release the past and its burden of wounded dreams
> Deepak Chopra
Merry Christmas. I hope you all find the joy that is already surrounding you.