Two days before Christmas Eve, and it all begins.
I have been foggy with another bout of Vertigo. I’ve done the things expected of me: wrapping, baking, cooking, cleaning, yelling, helping, shopping — things I must do because if I seem steady and capable, it calms everyone else. They (my children, my family) know better, of course. I am not a calm person. But as long as I hold it together, everyone will be okay. That’s what I believe anyway.
I woke at 3 a.m., troubled. I may have had a dream. Yes, I can feel it. I can almost remember it, but I know it woke me and the subject was something I did not want to remember. But awake, I began reading articles from my cell phone, “liked” a few things on Facebook, and then what? Sleep would not comfort me now.
I think I am a somewhat reliable person. I hope so. I strive to be real, truthful, honest. I strive to look at what is real around me, to call it what it is. For all the sadness that creeps around me, I know the sadness does not belong here. It is an intruder, but I am not quite sure how to get rid of it, other than to brew a cup of coffee, boot up this machine and try to make some sense of it.
Two nights ago I wept and said out loud: “I’m scared of growing old. I miss being pretty. I miss feeling like I matter. I miss feeling hope.” My husband heard me, said nothing, made love to me anyway as though that would cure-all. Angry, I stomped away as far as the sofa, throwing expletives at his head and feet. In the end, my venomous, but blessed, Italian temper saved me from my melancholy. I don’t often receive comfort or soothing wise words of understanding. Who does? That’s what wine, beer and sleep are for. Tonight (or this morning) I hear the rhythm of my husband’s breathing a few feet away. I hear him sigh. There is a separation between us. Literally, figuratively, mentally, emotionally — all those –lys. There is a separation between us. Usually the distance is of miles since he works so many states away, but this a.m., it’s a folding screen. My marriage teeters on an edge of sweet romance and delusional wishes. Both options could be nice, unless I fall off that edge. But I love him. He is the one I chose and even with all that is wrong, I know what love is.
Right now, my cat Molly purrs in my ear as she sits on my desk, near my left arm as I type. She wants my attention. We bump foreheads together. I admire the way she holds her dainty two front paws together. Such dignity. So feminine. Always gorgeous. My cat is an inspiration. But as I pet her long fur, I feel the matted clumps near her hind end. I’ve tried to brush her. She doesn’t like it much, but I try. Even she, as beautiful as she is, has areas that are not so hot. She’s still beautiful and her matted fur doesn’t seem to detract from all that is right with her.
It is Christmas time. I am one of those people who begins listening to familiar chestnuts of Christmas music before Thanksgiving because it makes me feel warm, young and hopeful. I like the music others complain about. I like listening to Nat King Cole and Andy Williams. I like hearing John and Yoko sing, “So this is Christmas…” My kids and I put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. I bake cookies I shouldn’t eat. I look forward to snow just as much as my kids. During this season, there is always something to look forward to, always something I must do. Like in a box of Cracker Jacks, there is the possibility of a surprise and of something good and unexpected.
Usually the beginning of the Christmas season sends me into a state of despair. The money is always tight, the bills always more than my husband and I can truly pay. I have been perpetually “broke” for as long as I can remember — and yet, somehow I manage to keep going, to keep an illusion awake and fueled for my kids’ sake and for my childish sake. I buy presents for my children because their joy gives me joy. I want them to feel hope and the excitement of wishes fulfilled even if I cannot. On the name tags I write either “from Santa” or “Love Mom and Dad.” Santa doesn’t love them, but I do.
But when Christmas arrives, my mood usually improves. You may not believe it — at times, I don’t — but this season always gives me hope. It’s in the waiting. I wait to hear the first Christmas song, to watch an old Christmas movie, to take the first ornament out of the box. I wait, along with my kids, for the first snow and look forward to the first time I pull on my Sorels, my hat, my gloves. I love to see the evidence of tracks of all the deer, rabbit and raccoons that crept through my yard without me knowing. I love seeing my kids play in the sugary snow and the sound of their stomping boots as they come inside, cold and wanting hot chocolate. It’s in the moment I push the switch and see the tree light up like a giant electric gumdrop. I love crossing the street on a dark snowy night, just to see how pretty the house looks, decorated with a couple of cheap strings of Made-in-China-lights. (I take pictures, but the photos never turn out as lovely and ethereal as my version of reality). I love seeing my children open their presents. Even more, we all love seeing how excited our dog and cats are to open their presents! I love the exhaustion that sets in as I begin collecting bows to use again for next year, the sound of the crunching wrapping paper as we shove it into garbage bags. One child will look under the tree, hoping for one more. Maybe he or she will find one. Things like that happen.
After the melee, the messy house cannot provoke me to clean or to care. Let it be. Let it rot. Enjoy another brandied eggnog. Dressed in my old robe, I will fall asleep on the sofa and let the kids yell, play, make sound effects and destroy the house with all their new STUFF. It’s Christmas, doggone it. This year my father survived a heart attack — nothing can stop the joy that brings me. It’s Christmas. It’s messy. It’s noisy, unorganized and fun.
And if it’s not? If it’s sad? If someone I loved didn’t make it? (Not this year, thank you!). But if my truck broke and died? (It did). If I am too broke to leave the house to go skiing, sledding or to church (I am) or too sorrowful and glum to bake Fattigmand? Then it’s just one of those years I’ll write about later. And when I write about it later I will find something beautiful about it anyway. In spite of all that is wrong, I will find something that is beautiful and brings me hope.
The stories of my faith retell the story of one precious child born in a stable. There were witnesses to the event, I suppose, but perhaps many saw it as ordinary and common. I’m sure His birthplace reeked of animal dung, dirty fur and moldy feed. I imagine it was cold and that the only twinkling lights were the stars above. But the beauty of the event, the hope it inspired is what people (like me) remember. The child, the retelling of His story brought a promise and created a faith that keeps many of us going through all that goes wrong, right, or otherwise, as we wait for yet more promises. Some saw it in a star. Some saw it in a child. Some saw it because they were searching for a prophecy to come to pass. And others, many others, saw nothing at all.
I believe in the promise of Jesus Christ. I believe. Mock it. Belittle it. Jump on it. Laugh at it. Throw sticks and stones. It won’t matter. I feel the truth of it, the hope and beauty yet to come. I feel the truth there, just as I am able to feel that bad dream that woke me a few hours ago. What I dreamed doesn’t matter. What matters is that it woke me and something good, something beyond me made me get up again to write.