I arrive at my parents' house soon after waking. As I enter, two violent orange-and-green monsters fly at me, forsaking the comfort and safety of their perches so they can try their best to make my hair bleed, despite ample prior failed experiments at attacking it. I crouch to cover my vital areas, in the process slamming my teeth and upper lip into the cradle holding a new dolly for my niece Alyssah. Perhaps this was their cunning plan after all and, seeing as it is Christmas, I should gift them with a pinhead of carnage so they can be satisfied demons for another year.
"Why are the birds out?" I demand of my father, sucking my top lip as punctuation.
"You weren't here," he answers simply.
"But you knew I was coming!"
"But you weren't here yet," he repeats and I decide, given the festive mood and the superficiality of the wound (it only makes me crave lip balm for the rest of the day rather than hurting), to concede the point and head toward the kitchen.
I was only arrived this early, hours before my older brother and his family, owing to my mother's tempting me with the bribe of a real breakfast on Christmas morning, something she never delivers. I am unsurprised that she has already left to tend to my grandmother and thus reheat a couple of pieces of pizza from last night's festivity once my lip stops bleeding. The important part, as I see it, is to have no set expectations beyond the obvious. That way, I cannot be disappointed. So far, so good.
Christmases with my family, as with many, are known for their traumas and eccentricities more than their Rockwellian picturesqueness. Last year was the first I remember that I helped ruin the holidays by going through a gradual breakup for almost the whole of the season - from Emily breaking off our engagement a week before my birthday to dumping me entirely a few days after Christmas. In prior years, my younger brother has run out of the house in nothing but his sandals and underwear or my father has driven off and vanished for hours because my mother couldn't contain her cattiness toward him for the duration of present-opening. One year, I needed to be rushed to the emergency room on Christmas Eve because I happened to be sitting in an empty box my hammer wielding younger brother thought was his. If we can get by with just a single jende conure attack, we are indeed blessed.
This is the first time I am experiencing Christmas without my partner at my side since 2001. But, on the other hand, this is the last time any holiday is happening for the first time since Emily and that is indeed a cause for celebration. I have completed the cycle. I promise you, it irritates me as much as it likely does you that I have to invoke her name as a means of comparison, some bittersweet to a dish already flavorful enough. But I've made it a year, though some apparently thought I'd crumble. Just because I'd only ever lived with her in my adult life does not suggest I hadn't learned how to pay bills or wash dishes. I even managed a passable job of wrapping presents on Christmas Eve (one must wait until Christmas Eve because that adds excitement). A week ago, my mother mentioned that my brothers and father went to the annual Christmas meet for Ham radio and how she was reminded of Emily breaking off our engagement just before that event last year. How much she hated getting that call from me, the barely contained agony in my voice that someone I loved could do this to me, my inability to just force Emily to commit to her decision because I clung to hope over evidence. (I was actually surprised that it still affects her like this even a year later, though I suppose I shouldn't be. She is my mother and certainly cares deeply - and with a sense of unresolved vengeance - what I've been through.) All the same, I am worn out having this break-up be something that defines me, though I am not opposed to plumbing it for amusing anecdotes or suggestions that I might be a little more three-dimensional than my blithe randomness might sometime imply.
For weeks, I have been feeling an odd compulsion to repeat as many actions as I can remember of last year - a Christmas Eve lunch at the same restaurant, a night in a hotel now walking distance from my apartment - as if this can recontextualize them and make them mine alone. I fight and triumph over these because, in a sense, it would only serve to laminate a memory I made with someone already shifting herself to being the star of someone else's mind. I don't need to further affix her anywhere. Besides, it wouldn't be proper or necessary given that I would simply be recasting Hannah or Melissa in Emily's ill-fitting role. You cannot step in the same river twice, as they say, especially not a river of tinsel and eggnog.
My mother comes home from my grandmother's, weak and with a killer headache. My father pretends he doesn't notice, even as she outright says it and lunges for whatever painkillers she can find. My niece Ayannah whines until told that we will not open a single present as long as she persists in her attitude. A good capitalist, she shoves aside her complaints when there is a material reward to be had. I managed not to bring up the "E" name any more than is strictly required for anecdotal purposes and make it through the proceedings with nothing more than my wounded lip and a cold in my throat that last lasts long after we are done compacting the wrapping paper. My older brother is pleasantly shocked that, despite his selflessly refusing a Wii so his wife Becky can have a nice camera, Santa manages to fit both in his sack. No one runs out in the snow. No one leaves in a huff. No one is further bruised or broken. I win $21 on the lottery scratch-offs in my stocking. I consider this Christmas a win.
Soon in Xenology: Independence. Drive. Knowing people. Engagement. New Years Eve.