A couple of last minute plan changes and it turns out I’m not going home for Christmas.
I can’t begin to express the heartbreak. I can’t even begin to touch on the depth of sadness I feel about not being there, in the Philadelphia area, this year.
It’s compounded by the fact that my daughter is at her mom’s in Tennessee and this is the first time in probably seven or eight years that I won’t be celebrating with her.
It’s barely Christmas without her as it is, but to not be going home makes it insufferable.
I was driving last night, working my second job, and the heaviness of all this weighed me down terribly. I miss my daughter. She’s been in Tennessee since the weekend before Thanksgiving and won’t be back here until New Years. I was thinking about our dozens and dozens of trips back to Philadelphia / Wilmington DE where we typically spend our Holidays and where we most often refer to as home.
I was thinking last night, and again this morning, about my life and how very different it turned out from what I’d hoped for. Christmas, especially, is a very emotional, introspective time for me. I realized some things about my own Christmases that caused a lot of tears this morning. My heart is still heavy and its hard writing these words but they desperately need to come out and this blog has become a refuge and my one and only venue.
It occurred to me this morning that I have never had my own Christmas.
Christmas was always made infinitely better by the presence of others. Now, most people would say this is universally true, but not in the way I mean it.
Christmas, growing up, was the one and only time when there was any peace in our house. It was the only time when there felt like anything that resembled love was expressed from one person to another. We never went on vacations, never did “family” things. Family “Game Nights” typically became tense and uneasy because we honestly didn’t like each other. The healthy competitiveness that can come from simple game playing, was only a microcosm of the competition we all had with each other just to find some air to breathe and a ray of sunlight in that house. We clawed and scratched at each other to find our way to the top of the pile and hopefully catch just a scrap of the affection that every kid wants. It transferred itself into those game nights in the form of hurt feelings, increasingly acerbic comments, and the overbearing, overwhelming domination of the “head of the household” who deigned to give us 30 minutes once in a while, stifled our childish expressions, and then ran out on the game so he could return to his place of isolation in front of the TV, purposefully watching something that none of us had any interest in, so we would leave him the hell alone.
But Christmas was that one, two-week- period when the façade was erected, and it was so beautiful and such a breath of fresh air, and it was so close to what my heart always hoped for from family and Christmas that we never minded the falsehoods. We ate our sawdust hot dogs and wore our plastic jewelry and played the roles. Even fraudulent happiness is better than the other fifty weeks of brood and darkness.
But it really wasn’t the façade that made it Christmas…it was the others.
Christmas was the only time we consistently saw friends and family. Outside of the occasional cookout we were not entertainers. But Christmas was different. Christmas Eve there was, for the last 10 years or so that I lived at home, an open house. I couldn’t wait for the first guests to arrive because they brought with them the greatest gift of all…life.
Our house seemed to burst with life when my Aunt Donna and Uncle Jack arrived with my cousin Stephanie. Then my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ed and their girls. Then the neighbors and their families. As I got older and my friends had licenses and cars, they would stop too. People we didn’t see all year, (and nobody ever wondered why) would come around for Christmas Eve and stay, and talk, and the house felt like a Currier and Ive’s picture.
I also made a point to visit the open house of another family whose son was one of my best friends. I spent an hour or two with the Winward’s before returning home to finish the night with our guests.
Christmas day was more family, either them coming to us or us going to them. The week between Christmas and New Years was spent outside with my friends or in my room reading or doing whatever. Another week and it was back to school and back to the normal way of life we knew. Five people (briefly six when my youngest brother was born, just a few years before I moved out) who coexisted under one roof but who neither knew, loved, or even liked each other.
It was this fertile soil that made me dream –from an early age- of creating my own home one day and having the Christmases I wanted. Where we weren’t faking it but we were actually just expressing the love and joy and fondness for each other that had been building all year. I took that image into marriage, and sadly only had two Christmases with which to try to create that picture. Then came the divorce. Then came the next fifteen years. Fifteen years. Fifteen Christmases come and gone, and all of them with me trying desperately to give something to my daughter that I never had, and failing at it. The years when I was successful and we had a home of our own, Morgan and I decorated and celebrated. But oddly enough…when she was with me for Christmas we never stayed in Nashville. We went home.
Because, once again, we needed someone else’s Christmas.
We had a wonderful set of traditions, my daughter and I. but instinctively we knew something was missing and we couldn’t recreate it alone. Our Christmas at home needed the other half of our family and she was never going to be there. You want to know another reason God hates divorce? It’s this. Christmas can never, ever be what it would be if you remain together.
And so Morgan and I took a journey almost every year, back to where I grew up, and other people’s Christmas became our Christmas. Just like when I was a kid.
I think this is what was breaking my heart last night, and again this morning.
I seem to need Christmas more each year and this year especially. And now I won’t be going home. The last seven years I have spent Christmas Eve with my Cousin Toni and her husband and his family and Toni’s dad, my Uncle Franny. They taught me about the family I missed being a part of, and about the traditions I needed to learn. They taught me about “Feast of Seven Fishes” and what it means to have someone love you, simply because you are family.
Something I longed for my whole life.
I can’t share my family’s Christmas this year.
I can’t stop in on the Winward’s this year –something I’ve been doing for over thirty years. Being so far away these last 17 years, this was the only time all year I would see everyone under one roof.
I can’t share the Winward’s Christmas this year.
I wanted to spend the week reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in a while. Even going on one long overdue (about 30 years) date. I can’t merge my frail dreams of Christmas with those of people I love and feel something of their joy.
And share their Christmas.
This morning it tore me apart. I am Fifty-one. It’s not that I will be alone at Christmas… It’s that I have always been alone at Christmas. But before this year I was always able to immerse myself in the company of friends and families (even if they weren’t the one I lived with) and it felt like Christmas anyway.
I didn’t stay single these last fifteen years on purpose. It just sort of happened. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have given it another shot. Maybe this Christmas, and a few prior, would have been better. I can’t say. And I can’t go back now.
But I do know that if I could just get home, at least this Christmas would feel right.
But that isn’t going to happen and it isn’t going to feel like Christmas at all.
There has never been a question about how much I love my real family and friends. The enormous pain I’m feeling about not seeing them this year is all the proof I need.