Dear Mr. Grinch,
I get it after all.
Why you, why some people simply hate Christmas. It all makes sense now.
I’ve never been one of you. I may have been an elf in a former life, or a Who at least. I love the lights, ornaments, carefully picking out presents, writing Christmas cards, hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows. If it was up to me, I’d be celebrating Christmas all year.
Not just because of these little things I just listed of course, also because – most importantly – Christmas is about spending time with people you love. And I suppose that’s where it gets complicated, unbearable even, for some of us.
This had never occurred to me until one particular conversation with a colleague some time ago.
Me: Aren’t you looking forward to Christmas, too? It’s my favorite time of the year!
Me: … oh … how come?
Her: My father passed away on Christmas.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry … then that’s understandable of course …
The thing is, though, I didn’t really get it. I just thought I did. Besides, it was the only reply I could think of that made a little sense when someone tells you something awful like this.
Two days ago I got a phone call. It was my dad. I’d just sent him a picture of the heap of Christmas cookies I’d been making with my roommates. There’s no way on earth I could have seen it coming.
His voice gave him away immediately, though: shaky and sort of muffled. I felt my heart sink, right past my stomach, down to the very tip of my toes. Your dad isn’t supposed to call you in a shaky and muffled voice. If anyone, it should be your mom. My dad doesn’t give hugs unless he’s forced to. He’s a practical man down to his very core. When my sister told him she was pregnant (sort of a little too young, sort of not at the right time), he just shrugged and said: Things happen. He doesn’t f***ing talk like this unless something’s really wrong. And it was.
A death in the family or within your closest group of friends always feels like a smack in the face. This one felt like being punched with a crowbar. I sat down and mumbled something along the lines of I can’t believe it, this is terrible, I don’t know what to say. Then my mom took over the phone because, clearly, my dad was in no shape to continue this conversation; especially with me being the eloquent dialog partner that I was at this very moment.
I spent the rest of the night sorting through all sorts of emotions, fairly unsuccessful. I was trying to come up with a brilliant message to send to my sister, because this terrible piece of news hit much closer to her home. I didn’t want to call her because if I could’t come up with a couple of words in writing, how was I supposed to say something remotely resembling a sentence. It took me hours and the words still felt inadequate and silly and unhelpful. I sent the message anyways because I wanted her to know that I was thinking about her. Because I was, all night.
I still am. I’m thinking about her and her husband who’ve been through so much already. I’m thinking about my two wonderful nephews, in particular the older one of the two, who’s already had so many losses to claim in his short life that it’s breaking my heart whenever I think about it. I’m thinking about my dad’s voice. I’m thinking and thinking and it all seems so horrifying that at times I catch myself wondering whether none of this has actually happened and it’s all just a terrible nightmare.
I’m thinking and thinking –
and I get it.
At the same time, I don’t feel like it. I still love Christmas. I’m dreading this year’s holidays but I’m hoping they’re going to be like a little break from the days filled with grief, confusion and anger that are lying ahead.
This is not an anti-Christmas manifesto. If anything, I hope it’s a reminder for all of you to be grateful for your family and friends, a reminder to let them know how much you care (more often, we should tell each other every single day), a reminder to be there for each other, especially during the hard times.
Have a wonderful Christmas filled with laughter and love
Sometimes life gets so busy, you have to take a moment and recapitulate just so you don’t outpace yourself. And I don’t even mean busy in a spectacular I-just-shot-a-critically-acclaimed-motion-picture-and-now-I’m-having-Spielberg-over-for-dinner kind of way. Because sometimes you’re busy with things that are not that interesting, even though they matter a lot to you personally (like studying, work, cleaning the house or calling your mom). The past weeks, I’ve been jumping back and forth between class and work, trying to (finally!) finish my thesis somewhere in between. I have no idea how people can have a job, get a degree and have kids. The thought alone simply blows my mind. I have two plants (they’re doing fine, no worries), my apartment isn’t a mess and I manage to feed myself and every now and then some friends but that’s about it. So kudos to you guys, you are amazing.
But I digress. This wasn’t actually my point. I was talking about recapitulating, because that’s what I meant to do. So here we go: I’ve had to take cold showers for more than a week because I couldn’t reach the plumber and when I managed to reach him, he forgot about me in the course of his busy day (maybe he should have paused and recapitulated as well). He did come by today, though, and fixed what needed to be fixed – let me tell you: I’ve never been happier about the blessing of running, hot water! So that’s that. I’ve also spent the afternoon with my grandma who just moved into a nursing home. I don’t know about you, but I find the thought alone really depressing. Sleek linoleum covered floors, each and every wall painted in light yellow (because of the soothing effect … yeah, right), people moving around equipped with their emergency medication and wheeled walker. All of this may not be that interesting to you, but to me personally, it matters a lot. Sometimes it’s nice to share something even though it may not be the most earth-shattering of things. Because they are still things that have shaped your reality and maybe they’ve even changed bits and pieces of you as a human being while you weren’t paying attention because you were so busy.
Now, something else entirely! I’ve also written another piece that belongs to my last past, technically. At least, they’re part of one and the same overarching idea, even though it may not yet be apparent. Anyway, I still wanted to share it in its early stages, if anyone has any thoughts they want to share – please do! Enough of my Monday rambles, though. Here goes the next part of the story.
Transatlanticism, pt. II
He was saying that he knew where to go but, of course, I didn’t trust him until we were there. Because I never trusted anyone and also because Nathan’s sense of direction was worse than my own; and my own was already pretty bad.
“Are you sure it’s on Huntington?”
“Yeah, it’s just down the street – I double-checked. I won’t lead you around in circles again, I promise.” He smiled and I could feel that tense muscle in my neck relax a bit.
I smiled back. “At least now I do know my way around Providence.” Okay, armistice.
Not that he could really blame me and my skepticism. When he took me out to dinner the week before, we first ended up getting lost on our way back to the car and then he took the wrong exit which resulted in a two-hour long detour. Not that I minded terribly. I also learnt more about cranberry bogs that night than I thought there was to know about them, ever. You never know when knowledge like that might come in handy, though; especially when you’re a teacher (that’s what I like to tell myself anyways). When he finally rolled into my driveway it was already two in the morning and he felt so bad that he didn’t even kiss me goodnight. I minded that a little bit.
In the end we found the Museum of Fine Arts right away and I tried my best to hide my surprise. I was also still busy trying to figure out why he’d insisted on taking me to a museum, of all places. He didn’t strike me as the type who’d willingly spend his weekends wandering up and down museum halls, eager to learn, looking for inspiration or whatever it is that brings people to museums. That is, unless it had something to do with cars, motorbikes, maybe planes if the design was cool enough.
When we looked at an exhibit of different paintings and drawings, it turned out I already knew him well enough after all.
“Okay, so this just looks like a bunch of shit if you ask me” he snorted.
“Okay, so we should have just gone to see a movie if you ask me” I should have said.
Of course, I didn’t. Because I was the type who would willingly spend her weekends wandering up and down the halls of a museum, getting lost in the wild dabs of blue and green of an impressionist painting; reading about the origins and background of a collection of historical artifacts and other things I’d just forget as soon as I would leave the building. Maybe he’d taken me there because he knew me well enough, too.
I’d realized that we had absolutely nothing in common on our first date already, but I liked his cynicism and his light blue eyes. I also liked that he took me out on real dates and that he openly announced them as such. He always picked me up at home and called me beautiful (and it always seemed like he actually meant it) and so I didn’t really mind that he had a terrible taste in music, movies and that he was rooting for the wrong team. I also didn’t mind that he was constantly complaining about the state and possible decline of America as a hegemon in the world and about the American people as such, even though he was such an all-American guy himself, with his beige khaki slacks and his degree in business and finance. I didn’t mind a lot of things simply because of the way he treated me. I’m sure we’d have had beautiful children. I’m also sure we’d messed them up terribly (then again, who doesn’t?).
The last night I saw him was Valentine’s Day. He came over to give me a single red rose; to say goodbye or maybe I’m sorry or both. Not because he’d also figured out that we didn’t really have anything in common. He simply had to fly all across the Atlantic for work. He seemed to feel just as bad as the night we took the 2-hour detour but at least he did kiss me, his beard rubbing against my chin until it was red and warm. I took his hand and pulled him out of the doorway; gently pushed him into the apartment. Later I took his hand and pulled it out from underneath my shirt; gently pushed it under my skin. There was nothing else left to do.
Whenever I think about it, it almost makes me laugh (one of those stories that doesn’t hurt anymore, you might as well turn it into an anecdote – maybe not for dinner party’s; maybe for drunk and confessional nights out): I watched him climb into his old and way too spotless BMW one last time; I didn’t wave, I just stood on the porch, staring at the tail lights disappearing around the corner.
Sometimes nothing is said and yet: you still know it’s over – despite the promises (“Of course, I’ll call as soon as I get out of the plane”), despite the exchanging of e-mail addresses; even despite the fear of loss, lonely nights and the possibility of falling back into old habits (too many drunk nights in a row and never enough Advil in the medicine drawer to fix all that needs fixing, dear God).
I thought of his eyes and hands one last time and I thought that just couple of hours later he would be able to visit my family as easily as he’d been coming by my apartment for the past months.
Sometimes it’s really hard to beat the irony of life.
I have been so busy lately (and still am) and who-or whatever’s responsible for the weather seems to suffer from manic-depression: within the past couple of weeks, we’ve first had a period of non-stop rain, then a subsequent flood (millennial aka a helllottawater) and the most recent gem: a heat wave. From the highs into the lows and back and whatnot.
So for these past weeks, I didn’t really have time to write, but I’ve been very tempted to write something about highs and lows in general – I mean, go figure, right? Yet, now that I do have some time on my hands: I’ve decided against it; I’m going to stick with the highs. I’ll give you high temperatures and enthusiasm – because after a miserable spring it’s summer (finally). And just because I want to.
This Monday was my dad’s birthday and because my family is a little weird (as I imagine all families are if you look closely) and my mom’s always been a very practical woman, they decided they were going to have a birthday B-B-Q the Sunday before – just because schedule-wise it worked out better than celebrating his actual birthday or throwing a party the weekend after (like most people would have done – just sayin’, guys).
So I packed my present (an exquisite selection of different beers to maintain my dad’s perfectly shaped beer belly – you’re welcome, Mom) and got myself on the bus, while my sister packed her three boys (one husband, two sons) and got into the car. My sister’s eight years older – which, I think, doesn’t make that much of a difference when you’re 24 and 32, yet: if my parents had decided to set up a grown-up and a separate kids table, they’d probably put me on the latter.
Of course, I wouldn’t have minded. At all.
My nephews are adorable. B., the older one’s in fifth grade: thankfully he hasn’t hit puberty yet (knock on wood); last Christmas he whispered a very indecent joke into my ear while the entire family sat gathered around the table for lunch and I almost knocked my food right off the table – a minute later I discovered that he’d just learned it from a girl at school (of course, I immediately told him that she was bad influence and he better stay away from her) and that he wasn’t entirely sure what he’d just told me (Thank God). His most impressive quality: he is able to eat seven really huge pancakes if he’s a very hungry caterpillar; to my dismay: English is his least favorite subject and he couldn’t care less about the fact that his aunt (almost) is an English teacher herself (luckily, he also doesn’t care when his aunt tries to sneak in books or other English-related goodies along with the actual birthday or Christmas present – he just frowns and puts it aside when he thinks no one’s looking).
D., the younger one, is a little straggler – he isn’t even a year old yet. He has my sister’s huge blue eyes (her very romantic husband lovingly refers to them as fish’s pop eyes) and also wouldn’t mind stuffing seven pancakes into his little mouth, if only my sister would let him. Because she doesn’t, however, he has to content himself with stuffing one of his socks into his sticky, smudgy baby face – or his foot, if the sock’s already soaked and my sister slipped it off his chubby foot. Whenever I get a chance, I pick him up to carry him around. I tell him incoherent stories with so many plot twists that in the end, there’s just twists and no plot at all and he doesn’t mind (he’s my most appreciative audience), he just looks around, kicking his feet and rowing his arms as if he was about to take off, a little bird. Eventually he gets tired – that’s my favorite part – and rests his fluff-covered head on my chest: and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate high. It’s even better than – oh my God, I can’t believe I’m saying this – chocolate. I swear.
I haven’t made changes to the previous two parts I posted yet – nevertheless: here comes the final one. Yes, yes – the point is still to get someone’s opinion but it occured to me (last night, right before falling asleep; best time for revelations of all sorts) that I wanted to share the entire
story draft piece with you before making any changes. And then the changes will come, big time. Or whatever. Enough rambling for a Monday morning, though. Time for some prose (okay, there’s some poetry hiding as well; sorry…not).
Part III: Count what’s left.
Emma traced each letter with her index finger as if she wrote them, once more. What she really wanted though: erase them, with the slow rub of her finger tip. Or edit them. Of all the books she’s edited in her life, this was the one she desperately needed to re-write.
She leaned back in her chair, staring at the letters in front of her: each one stiff as dead body (unchangeable). She blinked once: they twitched (maybe?). She blinked a second time: they were as motionless as ever (dead still).
She was overcome by the sudden urge to rip out every single page. She wanted to rip out page by page and crumple the paper. Or tear it to shreds. Burn everything. She pulled the secret lighter out of her secret cigarette pack. The flame went on, off. On, off, on, off. She put it back, closed the pack. She pulled it out again (on, off, on, off). This would leave her, once more, with nothing. Then again: after spending all these hours reading; hours full of words she didn’t understand. She hated them. They meant nothing. So really, she was left with nothing already. After a little while (on, off, on, off) the lighter ran out of gas: off.
She couldn’t remember the last time words hadn’t been a shelter, comfort, an escape. But now, they had let her down. His words had let her down. She’d thought they would help her. She’d thought if she’d get to know them, she’d know it all. Now, she knew them – by heart. She could recite them like poetry; poetry in a foreign language. Much like when she was little and sang along to Spanish songs (tried to): she never knew what she was singing and she mostly made up words that sounded like something she’d heard before. A faint echo no one would ever correct.
Liam wasn’t the only one with secrets in the house.
Soon after Dave was gone, Emma started smoking – although she had promised to never touch a cigarette again (she’d promised herself and she’d promised Liam and Lucy). She snuck up the stairs from time to time, hid in Dave’s office and blew cigarette smoke rings out the window, like she and Dave had done it out the bathroom window of his parents’ house when they were sixteen. She thought, like then, it went unnoticed. But, of course, it didn’t. Not then, not now.
She hid her cigarette packs where she thought Liam would never find them but he figured out all her hiding places in no time. She had always been lousy when it came to hiding things. He’d always found his and his sisters Christmas presents, long before the 25th.
After a while, he started hiding the cigarettes from her. He knew if he was serious about it, she would never find them again. And she didn’t. She never even got suspicious. She simply thought it was her – scattered and depressed, desperate; desperately trying to hide everything from her son.
And still, Liam knew. He knew about her little cigarette breaks (he knew all about her sadness).
April 5, 2012 – the last entry. He’d scribbled a few words in sloppy handwriting, she could hardly read it: I might never be able to tell you in any other place or at any other time: don’t let me go. Then (in the same, eerily sloppy handwriting) another poem:
it’s all bombs and white flags –
I’ve been on war,
as long as I can remember
it’s all bombs and white flags
I can’t remember anything else
not even how I was shot
an ache in my chest: the bullet
still moving, stretching
a butterfly’s wings within its cocoon
metal that spreads
cold and hard
against my skin
it’s all bombs and white flags –
a battle that’s
making me sick
got me a gun,
a helmet (a deadhead) –
still I know: it’s nothing but a gamble
weighing options, making the right move:
the one that finally breaks your neck
I’m on on on,
I say no no no:
I say: I quit
no more torn bodies, feelings
limp in the mud
out of the protect dig: out!
out to lie down and rest
and breathe and
rest and breathe and
Emma and Liam
She got up, stepped out in the hallway, closed the door behind her. She stood in front of his room. In front of his red door; his screaming red door.
She’s felt it staring at her the last days (or weeks? Or months? Or something that didn’t have a name yet?), screaming red, screaming his name.
(Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam). Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam.
Tiny stitches. Leaving her full of tiny pinholes.
She wasn’t able to set one foot – one toe, the tip of a toe – in the room, not since she’d found him in there.
She’d found him: a belt around his fragile neck; his body limp, his face pale, almost blue.
There was still a dark spot where she’d vomited on the wooden floor.
She swallowed hard. Her mouth was dry. It was simple after all. How do you make sure no one ever (evereverever, love) leaves you again? Beat them to it. You have to be the first to go.
She pushed the door open and entered. She could still smell him. He was everywhere. She was hurting thinking it was because she’d lost him forever.
Now, she realized that wasn’t it. It wasn’t.
As she stood in the middle of his room, it suddenly struck her: she was hurting because he would never leave (out, out, out).
He would be in his room forever, he would never get out (out, out, out).
First of all: A happy new year to you all! I hope your New Year’s celebrations went well and you didn’t do anything you’ll have to regret the next 12 months – or that at least you don’t remember it. If anyone cares to know: I didn’t and I remember the entire evening perfectly well because I spent it at home with a friend. So judge me. Maybe I’m boring. Maybe I’ve been sick since Christmas and just a little bit boring – all of this, however, is totally beside the point.
So the real deal: here’s the first part to a story (there’s two more, they will follow the next couple of days) I started last year, and somehow haven’t managed to finish just yet.
Not because I lack motivation, or even inspiration (wow, that’s a first!) – maybe I just want to get it right so badly (I mean, obviously, writing something, you always want to get it right – but with some pieces, you just want to get it even righter. At least that’s what this feels like to me).
I just decided to post what I have and hope for some clever posts that may possibly enlighten me! Long story short: Dearest reader, if you have a minute (or two) – feel free to read and comment. Thanks and you’re awesome!
Part I: Count your losses.
She closed the book, placed it on the table and closed her eyes, finally. It was the first time in 24 hours, more or less. That’s what it felt like anyways (although: no; it really felt like 24 days, 24 weeks, 24 of something that didn’t have a name yet).
It was early, merely dawn. The sun wasn’t up yet; it was stumbling across the sky, still half-asleep (that dizzy state right after waking up, when the mind’s still struggling through the scrub of dream and subconsciousness).
She hadn’t slept in days.
She didn’t know what time it was but she didn’t really care either. She’s spent the past hours flipping through pages; running fingers over words.
It was strange to see his words on the thin paper, so delicate, so in order: how could anything he’s left behind be still so delicate, so in order?
His handwriting has always been neat. One day he came home from kindergarten (he was four) with a piece of paper: he’d scribbled his name (Liam) with a crayon for the first time; his eyes were gleaming with excitement and pride. She’d pinned it to the refrigerator that day; it still hung between shopping lists and family pictures.
She took a final look at his diary: twelve years later, each letter still looked carefully drafted, as if it was the first (L).
March 23, 2012 it said in the upper right corner. The next line, starting on the left margin: Liam. L i a m. L I A M. L-I-A-M. L.I.A.M. L. I. am. I am. I am. I am…
Then, he’d copied a poem by one of his favorite writers (John Clarke); some bits were highlighted:
I am: yet what I am none cares or knows.
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys (?),
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
Don’t marry a musician, they’d said. He’ll break your heart, love, they’d said.
And what is it with these artists anyways? I’ll tell you (never mind she didn’t ask): they lack realism. They’re dreamers – their heads in the clouds. They never think. They feel instead (they’d said it as if it was a bad thing). Really, they do all their thinking with the heart. And what are you going to do, married to a feeler? (In Arabic, Dave would always tell her, a poet is called feeler: they use one word to express both. Or maybe they don’t make a difference at all.)
In the end, she didn’t listen. She didn’t listen and people secretly shook their heads at the wedding until Dave said something funny and they couldn’t help but laugh. She didn’t listen and now she was angry. Not because of all the things they’d said (because they were all true and she’d loved him not despite, but because of all that).
She was angry because of what they failed to say: one day, he will take the car down to the grocery store (like every other day – but not quite, love), get into an accident (maybe because he had his head in the clouds or maybe because of someone else’s head in the clouds).
Then, an hour later he’ll die in the hospital, and it will break your heart (and we’re so sorry, love).
That’s what they should have told her. Maybe then, she wouldn’t have married him. But no: of course, she would have married him; because there was no one else she could have ever married and that was really the problem (we’re so sorry, love).
… to be continued …
Post-holiday musings on yellow phone booths (or: How my grandfather didn’t have a phone for a long time).
Christmas has passed, on quick and quiet paws. My parents and I went to see my grandfather for the holidays; I can’t even remember the last time we did this. I usually simply spend Christmas at their house. The last time I’d actually seen my grandfather was a year and a half ago: my grandmother’s funeral. When I was little I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, yet somewhere between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there was only little time left.
Long story short: I was really looking forward to the trip. Because of my grandfather, but also because it meant getting away from everything else for a couple of days: restricted internet and cell phone use, please! Merry Christmas to me. However, the 21st century quickly caught up to me. As much as I’ve been trying not to give in: Santa replaced my
somewhat crappy vintage phone with a brand new smart phone. Gosh, thanks Santa! I kissed my old phone good-bye (and, possibly shed a tear or two) and welcomed the new one into my life. My software’s never felt more updated.
As my dad tried to explain the basics to me, my grandfather seemed somewhat bemused. He looked at the little device and shook his head. When I still worked at the jobsite, it took me half a day just to place a call, he said, only collect calls back then, and there was only a phone at work. He shrugs, worked fine for us. The government had been too distrustful, cheap – or simply too incapable to provide phones for every household, that’s his explanation anyways. And then in the end (when the government didn’t make these decisions anymore but the big companies did, much like anywhere else), I even got a phone before you, my mom smiled.
I remember how we used to walk to the yellow phone booth together to call my grandparents. How I sat huddled between the phone and my mother as she was talking. I don’t remember, though, how, before the yellow phone booth, my mom had to go to the post office to send a telegraph (like that one time when our car broke down and we couldn’t go see my grandparents. Because it was a Saturday, of course, and the one repair shop was already closed). In times of text messages, e-mail, twitter and the like, it’s hard to imagine such a thing.
All of this makes me thankful. I’m thankful than the idea of sending a telegraph somewhere is only familiar to me from books and movies. I’m thankful than I’m able to prevent people from having a heart attack when I don’t show up when and where I’m supposed to in the blink of an eye. I’m more than thankful that I’m able to communicate with people spread out over many countries (continents even) so easily.
Yet, I’m also thankful for some perspective: I put my smartass phone away at once – it’s back to restrictive internet and cell phone use. Because between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there’s too little time anyways, and with the important people right in front of you, for a while, you don’t really need a phone, I guess.