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
It’s a Wednesday night and I’m in my sweatpants, drinking wine as I’m writing this.
I’d actually planned to go to this after-work-thing to be a little less anti-social with my colleagues but it was cancelled last-minute – thank God! Now I can be anti-social while pretending I’m not: sorry you guys, I would have loved to go out, too bad it’s not happening (did this sound too sarcastic you think?).
Now I’m officially free to do all the fun stuff I would have preferred to do all along and I don’t even have to feel bad about it: wear comfy clothes, eat in front of the TV, listen to any music I like, blog. Cause that’s fun, right?
Or am I getting lame these days? Is this what I should be doing? Shouldn’t I be out partying after all? Meeting interesting people and stuff? Is this why I’m slowly but steadily approaching my mid-twenties, still half (or three-quarters) in school, half (or one quarter) working, single, home alone tonight? Am I missing something? Was my mother right (and what’s her most important advice again – why can’t I remember this)? What am I doing with my life anyways?
Oh dear, is this it now – a quarter-life crisis?
No, I’m not helplessly neurotic – just a tad bit. Here are a couple more of my most recent thoughts on being (almost) 25.
Vocation or occupation or something else entirely?
Six-year-old me wanted to be a writer when she grows up. And seven-year-old-me, too. Eight-year-old me wanted to become a vet until she found out that they don’t just get to pet the animals all day long and decided to stick with writing after all. Now I’ve almost finished grad school, on the best way to become a teacher. What would six-/seven-/eight-year-old me say? Would they kick my stupid grown-up (and maybe too reasonable) butt? What do I really want? Do I even know?
Of course, being a teacher doesn’t mean I have to give up writing; I could always write on the side (like I’m doing now) – that is, if I have enough nerve and time. Or I could become bitter and cynical and just keep telling my future students about the novel I was writing and eventually going to publish, without ever actually writing anything. And then, 24-year-old me thinks, just because we make a certain decision at one point in our life, it doesn’t mean we can’t make another decision some other time.
I think, if six-/seven-/eight-year-old me made a fuss about it, I would probably turn to them and say: do you remember how one year all you ate for breakfast was Coco Puffs and then one day, you decided you wanted to try out Froot Loops because they looked really good? This is kind of like that, too. There would be a brief moment of silence and I would nod wisely and finally agree with myself. Hopefully.
Also .. what about love?
As my Mom loves to (accidentally?) point out whenever my sister brings her husband and two boys over for lunch on Sundays: I’m still single. While people around me seem to be procreating like rabbits (boy, it must have been a very cold winter last year and what’s with this biological clock everyone’s talking about?), I am a rock, I am an island. I’m going to tell you this much, though: it’s not because I just can’t let go of my precious freedom. I do believe in love – the heart-wrenching, earth-shattering kind; this incredible love that you can feel to the tip of your fingers. I’ve felt it. And then it left me.
Maybe it was just a preview, though. Maybe it didn’t mean what I thought it did. Whenever this silly feeling deep in my gut rears its ugly head and wants to tell me to get real, because life’s not a movie or a fairy tale, that there’s no such thing as fate and that, by the way, Santa Clause doesn’t really exist, I decide not to listen to closely. It’s not that I’m a hopeless optimist/romantic – I’ve just decided that if
everything turns to shit life gets rough, nodding your head and mumbling I’ve known it all along doesn’t help you, either. You might as well have a little hope – even if it’s all you’ve got.
So much for my latest random thoughts. You may or may not want to call this a quarter-life crisis; probalby it’s just an almost boring reflection on life the way people like Socrates already did it way back in good old Greece (in the golden days, when they weren’t bankrupt or so much as knew about the concept of bankruptcy yet). And anyways, what’s in a name, as Juliet would say. No matter the label, it still feels the same.
I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes when I haven’t written much in a while, it’s hard to stop or filter what comes out as soon as I sit down –
it’s like written vomit; it’s like
Long story short: here’s another piece I wrote and actually it was meant to belong to the other two story drafts but maybe it doesn’t after all. And maybe there’s something missing to tie them together, I’m not sure yet. Anywho, I wanted to post it anyways because sometimes it helps to put something out unfiltered to get things in order.
Neurons & Electro Chemicals
The words burst in his mouth like overripe fruit and splattered into my face, sticky and foul. I. Love. You.
Most nights after I came home from work I turned the TV on and my thoughts off – 58 civilians die in a terrorist attack try our Tuesday special it’s delicious you’re gonna need a bigger boat all new next week on ABC frankly dear I don’t give a damn – most nights everything eventually blurred together into a cloud of sounds; white noise.
I felt the weight of three beers pulling me down and had trouble standing up straight. I stared at him for about a minute, then opened and closed my mouth a couple of times without saying something like an actual word. Sometimes too many thoughts shot through my brain at the same time; an explosion of neurons and electro chemicals that made my nervous system even more nervous and entirely inoperable: I basically turned into a half-wit in a matter of seconds.
The words burst in his mouth like overripe fruit, sputtered into my ear, sticky and moist. I. Love. You.
Whenever I worked late I just had dinner in front of the TV: a glass of beer and a candy bar. It was usually the time when I started wondering whether it might be time to clean the apartment again. Mostly, however, the soothing buzz of daily news and commercials put me to sleep before I could even get up and clean up the remains of the night before (an empty glass; a candy wrapper) . That’s why it always made me laugh how much money some people were willing to spend on their nightwear. As if anyone except for your cat and the lady at the cash register would ever see it. I usually fell asleep with my clothes on and no one minded since I didn’t have a cat.
Of course there were a million things I could have easily said. Things that had been said before; things that never sounded quite right because there was nothing to say that sounded quite right in the first place. Things I’d read in books and seen in movies (just that I was lacking empirical evidence, but that usually didn’t bother me; usually, I made something up – but now: just neurons and electro chemicals).
I could have tried the obvious: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, I swear. I just don’t wanna ruin our friendship, it’s not you, I promise. Or something less friendly, maybe some of the generic bullshit. I guess I’m just not the relationship type. I’m not ready for something like this. Blahblahblah. I had an entire conversation with him in my head and that’s where it stayed: in my head. The thought alone made me want to cry or punch something.
There were a million other things I needed to tell him but couldn’t. Because often the things you need to say the most are the things that just won’t come out. I already gave my heart to someone else. Someone who, in fact, broke my heart what feels like a second ago because that’s how life plays you sometimes. I’m busy holding my shit together I can’t handle someone else’s. Would it be okay to throw up right now? I didn’t know if I should hug or slap him.
I ended up not saying anything all the way to the train station. He might have said something but I didn’t hear it. I only heard myself think; neurons and electro chemicals. After a while I heard blood rushing through my veins. And car engines. I heard my heart break. I might have heard his heart break in between.
Of all the words running through my head, I chose the only two that felt genuine enough at the end of the night: Good night. I watched him get on the train, watched the door close behind him. I watched the train drive off and disappear. I tried calling a friend but she didn’t answer; it was almost 2 in the morning so I wasn’t surprised. I just took a deep breath instead and threw up right in front of the tracks, then I slowly walked home.
I turned on the TV; I wanted to turn his words off. After 3 hours and 4 episodes of Law & Order I finally fell asleep.
What’s been going on this weekend: It’s incredibly hot. I got a fan! I died my hair (which isn’t nearly as spectacular as it sounds because it doesn’t mean “Hey, I have blue hair now!”, but more something like “Hey, I just died my hair!” – “Really?” – “Yeah, it’s darker now, what do you think?” – “Really?”) and I also just started writing different parts of a longer story I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Okay, this is a weird preface, but here comes the story!
After seven hours on two different planes the city welcomed me with a six hour time difference, the funny smell of a bunch of people who’d been in the same clothes for too long and five different but equally long lines at customs.
I spent about an hour watching the same “welcome-to-America” commercial on a large screen above the official’s booth over and over until it was finally my turn. I was half-expecting him to quiz me on it – he surely could have; I would have aced it, hands down.
Instead, the guy simply looked at my German passport, took my German finger prints and told me that he’d been to Oktoberfest about 11 years ago. He loved the German beer. Of course, everyone does – or so I’ve been told. He was still daydreaming about it whenever he had a Miller lite, quite understandably. I smiled politely which, apparently, was good enough for him; then I left him to his beer-filled memories. There’s nothing better than having your entire cultural heritage reduced to one single stereotype. You travel a lot lighter.
When I stepped outside it was already dark. The fireworks would probably start any minute now and I doubted that I would be able to see anything at all standing just outside of Logan. I quickly got into a cab and gladly paid the heavily overpriced fare when it stopped in front of the hostel just 20 minutes later. I wouldn’t have been surprised to be stuck in traffic or just stuck in front of a barrier for a lot longer this late on a day like this, but even the roads were free on the 4th of July. Go figure.
I quickly got my key and dragged my luggage up to the third floor to be able to at least catch a glimpse of the fireworks above the city. I took some blurry pictures for my mom and enjoyed the warm evening breeze. There’s something about having the ocean right at your fingertips; at the tip of your toes. I took a deep breath because that’s what people always do in books and movies when they want to hold on to that one moment; really live (whatever that means). I’m not sure why, but it does help. Maybe it’s because of all the oxygen that’s suddenly pumped through your system – a sudden and brief high of O2; O2 and fumes.
For quite a while after the fireworks I was so tired I couldn’t sleep. I watched a couple of innings of a Red Sox game rerun in the community room and would have killed for a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, I didn’t know who in the hostel I would have needed to threaten in particular so I decided that the next morning wasn’t too many hours away and that I might as well wait and be civil about it.
I texted Michael to let him know that I’d made it safe and sound. That summer, I fell for this city and for him. Sometimes I wonder whether two summers later the same city was what made it all fall apart. And then I think it probably wasn’t the city. I’m not exactly sure what made me fall for him, but I’m sure he’s loved me for all the wrong reasons; he’s been in love with someone that wasn’t really me and, which may have been worse, never wanted to be.
When he finally did see me (behind all the things he’s imagined me to be), he was so full of disappointment, that there was no room for anything else anymore; let alone something like love. This city, really, never had anything to do with it. It was just the one thing that remained; a road sign that remained and kept me aware of everything that didn’t.
It’s easy to get worked up about love, even if you’re not sure that that’s what it is; it’s easy to get worked up about something you’ve lost, even if you’ve never really had it.