(I was supposed to post this yesterday. Sorry, David.)
Sometimes Christmas gets me down. I get the winter blues from the dearth of sunlight, and I get stressed out when I want to buy lots of totally sweet presents for everybody but don’t have the money. Most of the time, though, Christmas is pretty okay. I always come away with a pretty good haul, because the people who love me spoil me.
Christmas 2005 was different. It was the worst Noel I’ve known. Earlier that year, my dad was asked to leave the church he had been pastoring for almost 10 years; my brother went in for his second stay at a psych hospital; I graduated college with no job, no prospects, and an apartment to pay for; and I got engaged, which sounds fun and all, but my parents were dead-set against the idea. This was a problem primarily because (a) I was hoping they’d pay for the wedding, and (b) my dad was officiating, so his snarky and sometimes nasty comments about the impending wedding weren’t so conducive. I spent most of that year acting out (anyone remember Junior Ring Week?), smoking Swisher Sweets, and generally trying not to feel feelings.
And then came Christmas. The time of year that’s supposed to be stuffed full of warm fuzzy feelings.
Details of the Big Day itself are a bit blurry in my mind. I remember going to Chris’ family gathering on Christmas Eve, where one of his cousins got wasted just in time to don a Santa suit and hand out presents to the little ones. Why, Santa, why are your cheeks so rosy? I seem to remember doing a quick gift exchange with Chris’ parents and siblings on Christmas morning before hitting the road for Tappahannock, where my parents were living in a tiny studio apartment and trying to hide from the world. The details are obscured, but the downtrodden feel of that day is still clear and still a little heartbreaking. It was a joyless Christmas. There we were, my parents, my brother and I, trying to pretend any of it mattered and that we weren’t all mind-numbingly depressed. I remember my brother got one of those flannel hats that always make me think of the movie Fargo, and he wore it inside all day trying to be goofy. He got a couple of laughs, but my mom was in tears most of the day, and before my brother and I left, I got into another wedding-related spat with my dad. Awesome.
Three years later, some things have changed. Maybe not as much as we could have hoped. But enough. This Christmas, we were very blessed to be able to buy all the presents we wanted for everyone on our list. We dropped some cookies off at the state police and county sheriff’s offices near our house on Christmas morning. No one got wasted at our family gatherings, and some family members who normally don’t even breathe the same air tolerated each other for the day. It was good. Jolly, even. And I’m thankful.