Sometimes the worst memories are also the best.
As a child, my family and I grew up very tight-knit and close. I spent every single December 25th with my parents and siblings from the day I was born till the year I turned twenty.
That year, my mother decided she wanted to go to Guatemala for her birthday, December 24th, and she went with my dad and siblings with her for an extended vacation. She’s a native Californian, and she has no problem with warm-climate Christmas celebrations.
I, however, was born in Seattle and every single one of the warm Christmases I’ve experienced felt “wrong” to me. I can’t explain it, I just want to be snuggled up by a fire, hopefully seeing snowflakes in the air outside, sipping hot cider when that time of year rolls in.
But I was an adult with a job that year, plus I had a serious boyfriend who would be in town. I decided I didn’t need to take time off work to join my family, nor did I want to go through another Christmas that felt weird and “off,” anyway. I chose to stay home.
My boyfriend (now my husband) and I bought a tree and decorated it together at my parents’ house, where I was living. We invited another couple over for Christmas morning where we planned to open presents and eat breakfast together, followed by watching the The Nativity movie.
I was optimistic, busy as ever with present shopping, wrapping, baking cookies, working my job. But when Christmas day was almost upon me, the loneliness tightened. My mom has always told me that my theme song came from Disney’s The Little Mermaid when she sings “I want to be where the people are,” because I absolutely adore being around people, even if they’re not talking to me. And especially if they’re my family.
I missed them. I wanted to be with them, but they’d already left the country and were speaking Spanish, drinking fruit licuados, and walking under colorfully painted buildings in their cotton summerwear.
To intensfiy matters, my girl friend who was going to spend Christmas Eve night at my parent’s house with me, cancelled at the last minute with the promise that she’d come over early Christmas morning.
When I realized I’d be sleeping in a house by myself on Christmas Eve, the depression punched me right in the chest. There are many days in my life that I wish I wasn’t such a people-loving person. This part makes me more dependent and social-butterfly-ish than is convenient in times like these–but I was what I was, and I still am a lot like this. It means I love people in a deep way, so it has an upside.
I told James what had happened and how missed my family like crazy and how I didn’t want to be alone and he offered to come over before bedtime and tuck me in. I changed into my pajamas and climbed into my bed, and he sat on the side of it, stroked my hair, and waited with me while I cried.
Yes, I cried. I didn’t want anything more than to be with the people I loved who knew me best–the decorations, the weather, none of that was as important, I finally realized.
James waited till I calmed down, and then he made up a bedtime story so that I could listen as I started to fall asleep. I think it was a story about a bunny, but what I remember more than the story, was how much James wanted to take care of me, how patient he was with my hysteria, and how much he loved me.
I have thought of that calm-Elise-down-with-a-story bedtime event for every Christmas that followed. The next morning, James and I had sweet time with our friends, and even took a walk together in the snow, but the sweetest moment for me was when I was in tears and he was making up a story for me.
Sometimes, in the middle of loneliness and frustration and fatigue, the sweetest gifts are born.
I want to look for that this Christmas.
Do you have bittersweet memories of the holiday season? An experience where light bloomed in your darkest moment? Your story doesn’t have to be about the holidays. Please share!