I’ve had five robotic Christmases without my father. I say robotic because, quite frankly, that’s what I was. I went through the motions – the decorating of the faux tree (my mother has an aversion to real ones), the hours spent shopping for the perfect gift, the jubilant singing of those Carols that just make your spirit want to pop out and make a snow angel on the front lawn.
And just like a robot, I had no heart. For five long years.
Well, this year, my heart is pumping, both physically and metaphorically. Yet there’s one slight problem. It’s somewhat scared of the impending green-and-red day of jolly goodness. What happens when the most wonderful time of the year makes you feel more wounded than wonderful? What do you do when a sugary candy cane can no longer heal those wounds and put all the pieces of the puzzle back in their rightful place?
Maybe I was a robot for the last five years because I was avoiding my feelings, ignoring the fact that something so near and dear to me was missing and thinking if I didn’t acknowledge that white elephant that he’d eventually leave the room. I could conveniently, like I’d done so many other times, pretend that it didn’t exist, that my life was indeed the same as if nothing had ever happened at all.
But something had happened, and this year, I’m finally admitting it to myself. I’m sad. This is the first year I can’t hide it, especially from my mother and sister, who have noticed it; honestly, I think they noticed it before I could truthfully admit it (thanks, you two!). The holiday songs don’t have that same happy tune. The holiday treats don’t pack that same sweetness they once did. And biggest of all, I suppose, my family won’t be traveling to Dixieland, instead staying home. My hometown. My life’s watershed of memories is bound to catch up with me.
MORE JUICE AFTER THE JUMP…
And in the last few weeks, this sadness has morphed into a distinct longing for the past.
I’m a bit sad every time I gaze upon our proudly lit (faux, remember) Christmas tree; it reminds me of the winter the four of us marched in the cold through a field of real trees looking for the perfect one. My father must have carried me around for a good 45 minutes until we found one that was just right.
I’m a bit sad every time I look under the tree and see the electric train my parents bought and my father spent hours setting up, as giddy as a schoolboy. Also under that tree, I see a custom-made hut constructed by my father, a hut that houses my mother’s nativity scene from her childhood. He built it just for her.
I’m even a bit sad when I see fathers walking (sometimes skipping) hand-in-hand with their little girls down the Barbie aisle, helping them decide which doll is most worthy of making it on that list for Santa Claus.
And thinking ahead, I’m sure I’ll be a bit sad come Christmas morning when my mother cooks the famous breakfasts we used to have every year: scrambled eggs, bacon and her famous muffins. As I eat that breakfast, I may even be a little sad as we watch the parade and open those presents that will be under that tree. No one enjoyed Christmas morning – or presents for that matter – quite like my father.
People talk of the holidays as a time for a new beginning, but people never, or at least are reluctant to, talk about those people for which a new beginning isn’t exactly a Polar Express ride to the North Pole. The holidays have a way of magnifying old wounds you thought were long healed, as I’m slowing – and perhaps, finally – realizing.
See, the past has a way of staying with you even years later. The past is never really gone, is it? Although I’m no longer in my childhood home, the past – my past –has moved with me. And I’m thankful my mother and sister will be with me during these next few days. I’m sure we’ll have a nice, quiet Christmas (Frasier included), and for the first time in five years, I won’t feel bad or guilty or weak if I’m sad. I may even cry, but that’s OK too.
Maybe I’ll give those candy canes one more try too. In memory of my father.