Christmas is one of my favorite days of the year, especially now that I have a husband who is even more into it than me. We get a tree that takes up our entire tiny living room, we buy way too many presents even though we swear we won’t, we shop at Whole Foods for supplies to last us days (because we refuse to go anywhere), and then we eat like pigs and watch Christmas movies while the cats chew on the tree or sit in opened boxes. This year my mother sent, along with way too many gifts for Drew and me, some homemade catnip pillows, so they’re all completely stoned and rolling around on the floor with their respective pillows as I write this.
Overlarge tree jammed into tiny apartment:
Stoned and happy cats:
Note that Chocula’s pillow is in festive Christmas fabric. My mother is incredibly indulgent. When I was a kid she baked a cake on my hero Todd Rundgren’s birthday, now she wraps and sends presents for my cats.
I wanted to post a video of Drew doing his Christmas dance in his new Motor jeans and cashmere scarf, but he put the kaibosh on that bit of festivity and retired for a nap.
I am happy today, but I always remember when things were not as cheery, and it keeps me mindful of all of the people in the world who are not equally blessed. My happiness is also comprised of gratitude, because my holidays were not always perfect, so I know as well as some how lonely it can be.
This week I thought about a particularly crappy Christmas past. I know I have posted similar blogs, but I share it because I really want those who are out there and feeling bad (who might read this) to know that things do change, and that the feelings of loneliness or sadness on holidays where you are supposed to be happy, but aren’t, are universal.
I always had great holidays growing up. My parents were very generous and we got a ton of presents on Christmas. My siblings and I got along well enough that the day was a melee of toys and food and leaping on relatives. I wasn’t a happy kid for a few different reasons, but the holidays were happy for me.
When I got to New York, it was a different world. I was broke and dove into the most difficult of situations, the darkest energies sometimes. I fell in love with drug addicts who had nothing to give and usually spent Christmas bartending in dive bars, fighting off alcoholics and the energy suckers that also had nowhere else to go. I had friends, but they were equally young, lost, and alone. When I picture those times in my mind, they are always gray-colored: not the comforting black and white of an old movie, but the dirty gray of one of those winter days that you feel disconnected and adrift in depression.
I bartended one Christmas Eve right after breaking up with my cheating boyfriend, who wouldn’t have gotten me a present anyway. I was heartbroken, and along with pouring for the few people who ventured out, tried to get out of my head by doing a lot of coke with a friend, who conveniently happened to be a coke-dealer. He hung out at my bar all night and we tweaked and drank and talked and tweaked and drank and talked until 6 am. At some point during the frenzied conversation he invited me to go to Christmas dinner with his family the next day, and I agreed, as I had nothing else planned.
I went home and didn’t fall asleep until the sun was well into the sky. Once asleep I dreamed that my apartment was covered in insects, giant beetles the size of your hand, crawling out of the floorboards and cracks in the walls, hiding in the pockets of my clothing, clicking and tapping on every surface in sight, eventually crawling on me, as I panicked and brushed them off. There were so many I couldn’t get them all off of me and I shrieked as they took over the room. I awoke with a start; it was such a vivid and creepy dream, but not too hard to decipher. Bugs = drugs.
My friend, current occupation notwithstanding, was a truly nice person from a nice family, and I knew his parents would be proper and classy. I threw clothing around trying to find something appropriate for a dinner out with them, as they were taking us to a nice restaurant. I finally chose what I thought was a simple black dress.
When I arrived at the restaurant and took my coat off and looked around, I realized how out of touch with reality I had become. The dress was skintight, low-cut, and short. It was a dress made for hanging out in clubs, not for an afternoon Christmas dinner with someone’s family. I desperately wanted to throw my coat back on, but that would have been weird, so I sat down with too much of my chest and bare leg visible to two lovely older people and a restaurant full of strangers, who glanced disapprovingly. Excruciating.
His parents didn’t blink an eye and asked the usual polite questions about my background and history. They were warm and gracious and recommended certain items on the menu and as I looked at it I saw that they would be paying a great deal for this dinner. I ordered the standard turkey holiday dinner, and once it arrived I knew I would be too sick with the coke hangover to eat it.
I took as many bites as I could and felt it coming up almost immediately. I excused myself, feeling even more embarrassed at having to walk across the crowded room in that dress, and moved as quickly as I could to the bathroom. I threw up as soon as I got to the toilet. I could hear the woman in the stall next to me hustling to get out of the room. I wanted to kneel down and sob over the toilet, I felt so cold and ill, and like the lowest piece of trash in the world. I was lost and alone. I wanted to be home with my mommy, in pajamas, feeling warm and safe, not stuck in this big city wearing a cheap dress and trying desperately to appear normal and happy for people whose generosity of spirit only made it more clear to me that I was neither of those things and was indeed completely unworthy of their company.
I cleaned myself up as quickly as possible and went back to the table, praying the absence wasn’t overly long. I apologized profusely for not being able to eat the expensive dinner, and they expressed their concern for my well-being. I white-knuckled it through the rest of the evening and thanked them quietly. When I got home I threw the dress in the hamper, to be left there for months. I cried a little bit and fell into a heavy sleep.
Tonight I will drink wine with my love and cook morels and asparagus in pasta. We dvr-ed “Remember the Night” and we might watch some “Freaks and Geeks” as well. I will not be putting on any kind of dress and will remain in pajamas for the day. In a little while I’ll call my mom and a few friends. I already spoke to my sister, who is thrilled that Drew got her husband a t-shirt featuring Johnny Cash giving the finger. She said, “Great. My son is 6, he hadn’t learned about the finger yet. He can take that back to school after vacation.” You’re welcome, sis.
I have a new video game to play, a pound of my favorite toffee, gorgeous gloves that Drew spent far too much on, an exquisite hand-knitted sweater from mom, Patti Smith’s new book, a bunch of other smaller items, and high-tech running shoes which will surely come in handy after the over-consumption that’s been going on this week. I don’t need these gifts, they’re just stuff, but the thought and love that went into their choice is something that feeds my soul. Life is amazing and I am more grateful than words can say.
That other, foggier Christmas was a lifetime ago, but I bless that experience and many others like it. I wouldn’t enjoy what I have now in the same way if I hadn’t seen the other side. I wouldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t walked through there. So once again I say to those of you out there in the cold, don’t despair. You can change it for yourself. There is a world of happiness that belongs to us all, if we can only get out of our own way and find a path.
Merry Christmas friends and fam!