“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
There really is no better way to sum up Christmas 2012. It was everything that I thought it would be and then even more painful than I could have ever imagined. It was also beautiful in a scorching way. In the way that a Northerner may enjoy the sun in excess while on a tropical vacation in November.
I was without my children for nine days (I have never, since the birth of my eldest child, nearly twenty years ago, been without them for more than a week, and certainly never while in my own home).
My estranged one, ( current assignment of title) called half way in to the holiday and asked if he could keep the children longer. I had agreed. They were having such a lovely time. They hardly even missed me ( or at least that was what they said via text on the new phones that their father got them for Christmas). I was happy for them. I was even happy for him. It took no small feat to arrive at those feelings. It took a night of cathartic, involuntary purging, in which I had to give myself over to whatever virus had invaded my body in its moment of weakness. In its moment of breaking.
The week previous to Christmas, I had both commenced and completed the shopping required on my very short list. I was buying only for my children, as both budgetary constraints and weakened energy reserves lent itself to minimalism this year. I had warned my children of this and was eagerly trying to elevate the benefits in their minds of having two Christmases, in which both parents would fill stockings and wrap gifts. My youngest was enthused that Santa would visit both mine and his father’s home. We would make the best of things. We would try to create some new traditions while remaining true to the ones that we had etched out so many years ago.
After I had dropped the kids off at their Dad’s on Christmas afternoon, I was supposed to drive to my Grandmother’s but felt that it was all too much. I needed to be alone. I needed to wallow. I wanted to go home and lay on my kitchen floor wailing; writhing in pain, knees pressed to chest with my arms hugging them in even tighter. I wanted to compress my body into the tiniest point of being.
And so, this is what I did. I included three glasses of wine in the mix, which didn’t go over so well, as I have a very low tolerance owing to my mostly abstinent life as of late. I called my sister, invited her to listen to my pity party over the phone. I spit, and yelled and lamented about my sorrow, my loss, my anguish. She listened mostly, adding in a few , Mmmm’s, Ohh’s, and Ahh’s as a salve perhaps, or maybe just to break up the time and torment that it would take to hear thirty minutes of verbal self pity cut itself across the distance between my kitchen floor and her living room couch nearly 1 1/2 hours outside the city of my home.
If there was a photojournalist able to take a bird’s eye view of this scene, it would’ve appeared as though the woman on the floor was possessed, in need of holy redemption. I think of this now and it will remain in some ways, the image that I hold for Christmas 2012. It will never be worse than this, it will never hurt this much just to make it through another minute of a holiday.
After hanging up the phone, I began to feel worse. I had a sneaking suspicion that the stress and alienation from my self had caused my immune system to go haywire. I had developed five cold sores in the past few days and my eczema had taken over my hands in a way that it had not for many years. I forced myself to crawl up my stairs to my room where I fell asleep. I was sobbing when my eyes relaxed enough to fall open nearly three hours later. I awoke realizing that I had missed Christmas dinner. It was with merciful relief. I then spent the next twelve hours in the midst of a viral firestorm that eventually caused me just to park my pillow next to the porcelain in the bathroom, as the violence in which I was ill, seemed to be endless. I continued to vocalize and cry throughout the night, with my howls ceasing only long enough to allow my body to release and purge. It was with an abandon that I had not experienced in many years. Stomach flu my ass, this was beyond the capabilities of a virus alone. This was some sort of psychophysiological reckoning. I am certain that if the neighbors windows were open (a bit of fresh air to aid in digesting their perfectly seasoned Christmas repast) they would have assumed a wild animal was dying up in my bathroom– a semblance of one was.
I awoke the next morning weak, and yet somehow without any anger. The estranged one had come by on Christmas night in order to drop our oldest child off, as my son had to work in the morning (he had called up to me from the front door inquiring if there was anything that I needed. I had said that there was not). It was not until the next morning that I saw the bag of goodies that he had left for me. I was given a bag filled with a sampler of the Christmas dinner that he had cooked. I was given a watch with a tender note indicating that the gift’s purpose was directly related to the time we had spent in raising our four children and our lives as they were- good, bad, ugly and gorgeous. And then there was a text from him. I did not read it until the 26th. It was sent during the height of my illness, when I had lost all connection to the outside world. It said, “ Sorry to break the wall of unspokeness but it feels as though you have died. The kids and I miss you. If you feel up to it, dinner will be served shortly.”
Truly, I did die.
Or at least a good chunk of my anger did. I know that more may surface. I know that I am hardly through the thick of things two months in. I know that I cannot pretend that I do not love this man. I also know that I cannot live in his illness any longer, as I have my own wounds to heal. I have my own sorrows to address.
The kids returned home a few days ago. They are heading out the door this morning for their first day back to school after winter break. They have all said how much they enjoyed Christmas holidays. My middle son even lamented how quickly the time went by- how fast winter seems to be speeding toward summer. My son is right. Time is speeding by quickly. Ten months from now is not an eternity.
We will survive. Perhaps, we will even thrive.