The holidays – starting with Thanksgiving – have always pitched me into depression. I’ll spend the long stretch until the new year pissed off, envious of the happier people, and generally mourning what I view to be a disastrously wasted 36 years.
In my youth, Thanksgiving and Christmas were terrible affairs. Dinners in dark, overheated dining rooms as the family bickered and insulted each other. Then done, clear the dishes, and retreat to our corners like bloodied, dazed boxers. The bell rings and, round two, Christmas. A mad rush to find a tree on Christmas Eve so we weren’t outdone by the neighbors. Arguments, arm pulling, and screaming in the muddied lot at St. Paul’s as we picked over the scrap trees and discovered that nothing suitably grandiose was left for our Kensington, MD mansion.
Christmas morning was manageable for some only with heavy doses of alcohol and pills, and for others by angrily throwing wrapping paper into the fire. Done by 10am, then back to our corners. Resume for a 5pm dinner with an angst-filled, snarling repeat of Thanksgiving. The unwatered tree would wilt and die, finally being thrown into the backyard through the big bay window a few days later and a year’s worth of needles in the carpet and the corners a source of endless arguments and agitation until, all too soon, another round of holidays begins.
After dad left, the holidays became even worse. I was told that they were being celebrated only for my benefit. I was told that the family suffered so that I could be happy. The family was rotting because I needed normalcy. These things would be whispered as I opened presents, I would stand accused at every dinner. Head down, poking at mashed potatoes, the family table argued about how this wouldn’t be necessary if it wasn’t for me.
Once I hit 18, in 1992, I ran. I dumped everything and forged into life unprepared, unsure of myself, but knowing that I would dissolve into nothingness if I stuck with the family.
Finally entering the real world, I saw other families for the first time. I realized that my childhood was not normal. That people were loved, and they were supported by their families. I thought to myself – why can’t I at least meet my family in the middle? Why can’t we function normally? When the holidays came around, I slaved away at retail and catering jobs. I threw myself against a wall I continue to face – make enough money to get by. Pay the rent, pay the tuition, pay for the car, and realize dreams…
Increasingly feeble attempts at Thanksgiving and Christmas marked the calendar. The family, finally broken with my departure, would meet in closed and very separate camps for the holidays. The varying factions would never make up with each other. Holidays meant angry letters from my mom – pages and pages of tightly printed letters condemning me for my evils and hatred. They also meant mysterious calls from my father’s agents – friends and schoolmates who would call my mother’s parents, or brother, or sister, and never announce themselves. They would just ask if I was doing well, then hangup if too many questions were asked.
We still went through the motions, and while the holidays were no longer about making me happy, that specter still hung in the air. It had evolved into a sort of charade of normal humanity. Everyone else is doing this and, if we wish to appear normal, so must we. It was as if we were invading aliens, undercover, and clumsily trying to ape the holiday spirit according to what we saw on TV or in advertisements.
In 2007, my friends in England finally threw me a life preserver and hauled me in. I left the cloisters of overheated family homes, where the sadness and despair of the past and present reigned over bland suppers, and spent Christmas and New Year’s in the south of England with a fully functional and infinitely happy family. And my heart grew ten times on Christmas morning, Mr Grinch.
I returned to the States with a promise to myself: Enough was enough. The holidays were not about a family that had been shattered and then had imploded. Briefly, in 2008 and 2009, I grappled with an attempt to do what normal people my age do – they have holidays with their own families. But I’m not a family man. I was just born in April of 2007, my head bolted to the hospital bed, and the ICU nurses glaring down at me. I haven’t had the time to make a family. In these few years since I’ve been cured of my chronic nerve condition, I’ve failed to realize – until now – that trying to create a normal holiday was just more of the same evil that I was trying so hard to overcome.
So here we are in 2010. I have an invitation to go to Chincoteague with my wild professor and join her family, though I’ll be just as happy with the four day weekend at home. There are three groups of friends who host an “orphan’s Thanksgiving” for those without family. An option that I’m not sure would be best for me. I’ve tried those in the past and have discovered that those without family are in that position thanks mainly to age or physical distance. No “orphan” is there who, like me, celebrates the death of their parents as a desperate sort of liberation. The prisoner who has strangled his captor with his chains.
Christmas will be spent on my own. A long winter weekend that calls out for homemade cranberry liquor and a Farscape marathon.
Then roll on 2011. May you be filled with happy days.
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