THE 10TH CHRISTMAS
I grasp at the pieces, needing more limbs than my human body gives me. A piece here, there, drifting slowly apart in both deliberate and chaotic fashion. My family a cracked and broken thing and my home a vestige barely visible to the distracted people within its walls. A father was there, but not mentally or emotionally present. A younger sister was there nested in the couch, the television her only constant companion. An older sister was away with her husband and his family. A mother was gone, a memory, a topic carefully avoided. I was there-home from college for Christmas. Trying to keep the cracked broken thing from disintegration, attempting to conjure the vestige into a comfortable refuge, false, but enough for now. Enough to pretend that the holidays were the joyful time they were in my memory.
In my memory, the small living room of our trailer was the most beautiful place in the world with sparkling ornaments, popcorn strings, and joy as my older sister and I danced to the music of our Mickey Mouse band playing Christmas classics on brass instruments. We made up stories about seeing Santa and waited with anticipation for the beautifully wrapped presents carefully selected by our mother and the letters from Santa penned in her handwriting.
Now we had long since moved into a bigger home and grown much further apart, the two events not necessarily related. The same tree and sparkling ornaments were in the living room, but little else was the same. Instead of natural joy, there was the joy I attempted to manufacture for my sister with fun presents, food, and Christmas television specials, all while carefully skirting around the elephant in the room.
Christmas is a complicated time of year for many. For me it became complicated the first year that it was spent without my mother. When I was 15 I learned that my mother was addicted to prescription pain pills. I learned this because she was arrested for forging prescriptions. After a few years of struggling back and forth between, jail, rehab programs, and periods at home, she received a prison sentence. My first year in college was the first Christmas without her. Our family had been falling apart for years, but on this holiday as my father, younger sister, and I awkwardly gathered in the living room to open presents it was difficult to remain in the comfortable denial we had inhabited for so long.
Ten years later as Christmas now approaches once again, I can’t help but feel the history and the weight of that Christmas and all of the other Christmases that followed for my family.
For nine Christmases I worked hard to try to make it all okay. I navigated any obstacle and jumped through any hoop to try to make Christmas a happy time for my family. From my mom going to prison, to my parents’ divorce, to my father remarrying, to a new house with new step-family members, to my mom moving into halfway houses and then subsidized housing. I did a careful dance around all of the hurt feelings, the grudges, and the unspoken guilt. On this 10th year I can’t help but remember the utter exhaustion I felt after each holiday. On this 10th year I can’t help but remember last year when returning to my own home after Christmas I reached a breaking point and decided I was not going to try to hold the pieces together anymore.
On this 10th year, I am determined that Christmas will be different. I will stop. I will breathe. I will thoughtfully stop trying to hold on. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped caring about my family or even that I will stop seeing them during the holidays. It means that I’ve realized that I shouldn’t be controlling the situation anymore. It means that I’ve realized I don’t need to be responsible for anyone else’s happiness at Christmas. It means that this year I will mindfully choose to spend time with certain members of my family in a way that will not take away from my own energy and happiness.
On this 10th year I will be celebrating the holiday instead of performing a duty. And I have much to celebrate this year. This Christmas will be the first time in many years that both of my sisters and I will all be able to be together. This year I will get to spend Christmas morning with them, my husband and my in-laws – who love me like their own. Most of all, this year I will celebrate letting go of the weight I’ve been carrying for 10 Christmases and I will let the pieces fall where they may.
Author: Rebecca Honaker
Author Bio: Rebecca is a big-hearted over-analyzer and seeker of knowledge and peace. She is a sewer of handbags, student of yoga, and aspiring Hufflepuff.
Link to social media or website: http://instagram.com/gailrebecca