I love the holidays. I overdo it, because I come from a celebratory tribe. Mommy loves to entertain and Daddy loves to shop/gift. When I was a toddler, I recall a "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus" party thrown by my parents so that I may know the true meaning of Christmas. Later when we moved to DC, Christmas became an even more elaborate affair. Christmas Eve we'd head over to our aunt's house for one of the premier holiday events of DC's social scene. The next morning, my brothers and I would wake up to find various quadrants of the living room assigned to each of us and draped in everything we asked for. As the eldest, it fell upon me to become Daddy's elf. I was our family's holiday quality control. With me on Team Santa, we always got EXACTLY what we wanted.
Christmas Day always meant brunch of grits, fried oysters and crab claws, scrambled eggs with scallions, biscuits and coffee. Later in the day, we'd put on our Christmas outfit, and drive out to the boondocks for Christmas dinner with family friends aka Thanksgiving pt deux.
I don't really remember what Christmas was like after my parents split up. Traditions were shattered, friends and family divied up, lines in the sand drawn. In undergrad, there were more than a few times that I simply didn't go home. It was easier to pretend that nothing was wrong or that nothing had changed if I just stayed away from home 'cause being there would just be a sore reminder of all the stuff we weren't doing anymore.
When I became grown, I decided that the best way to beat the holiday blues was to create my own traditions, thus, my annual Holiday Party was born. I decorate, buy and cook too much food, too much booze, and fill up my prewar one bedroom with as many people as can show up in the hopes of erasing the years that there was no Christmas for me.
And then I got married.
I was sure this meant a lifetime of traditions we could craft together. A braided family of relatives celebrating and feasting together in a way that would make a Hallmark movie proud. While he was one for putting on airs, he did not appreciate entertaining as I did. He hated having people over to our(my) apartment because he was always embarrassed by it. It wasn't big enough, modern enough, impressive enough, the zipcode wasn't sexy enough for his lifestyle. He thought entertaining was indulgent and a waste of money. "Why should we spend ll that money feeding people when no one ever invites us over to do the same?" This from the man who insisted upon us having a gala of a wedding when I wanted a tiny intimate affair. To me all that mattered was that our apartment was filled with love and felt like a home. Since my traditions were interrupted and we weren't doing anything grand for them, I felt all the ache I'd tried to block out from the holiday season and for the first time, began to have (holiday) seasonal depression. I lost Christmas again, or at least Christmas as I'd grown to know and love it.
When he moved out, I reclaimed my space. Spread everything of mine I'd pushed into closets and corners all over the entire apartment. I painted. I hung photos. I moved furniture in bizarre arrangements just because I could. I was determined to bring back my holiday party. That year more than any, I needed the joy that my party always brought me. A house full of people, and joy, and love would be just what I needed to shake the blues I'd developed being married to the Grinch who stole my house parties. Throwing a soiree on a single salary when I'd grown accustomed to a two income household was a bit of a challenge, but if I'd been able to do it before, surely I could do it again.
One night in early December 2009, Basquiat and I pushed through the cold to the pawn shop I'd found in downtown BK to try and sell my three rings: engagement, wedding, and anniversary to help defray the cost of the party and also to purge the bad juju that holding onto love tokens from someone who no longer loved me would bring. On our way in, we joked about how we'd haggle them to give us the best prices and all the liquor we'd buy for the party with the money we got. As I stood there watching them weigh and appraise my rings, something stood out from the monotonous Christmas music loop that plays from the day after Thanksgiving until midnight on December 26th.
"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away. This year to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special."
Last Christmas, aka Christmas 2008, we said no presents. He was preparing to move into his own apartment under the guise of needing some time to stand on his own. He'd never had his own place. The lie made sense to me. The truth was moving out would allow him the freedom he needed to carry on with his paramour. I bought him several very thoughtful gifts that I thought would win me favor. December 22nd, I handed them to him each one wrapped beautifully. He scowled when I handed him the packages. "I thought we said no gifts?" I could see the guilt on his face as he opened each one and feigned appreciation, then when he finished, put them in the chair by his desk, and left the house for 2 days.
Damn you George Michael.
You and your breathy words and perfectly feathered hair murked me.
I had no one special to give my heart to.
Just that quickly my determination to keep on a happy face and pretend that business was usual dissolved into the ether of the 80's holiday classic. My knees gave way beneath me and my eyes started to burn from the tears I was fighting back. Whatever price they offerred me for one of my rings, I took with no debate. Clutching the much-too-few bills and unsold rings tightly in my hands I rushed out of the shop and let the pain melt down my face. My tears stung in the bitter cold, but as I hadn't let myself cry about what happened, I welcomed the sting. Sitting on the curb of Atlantic Avenue, feeling the cold of the concrete bite through my jeans I let everything I'd been holding back inside of me pour out on my face. I sobbed until I gasped for air and then I cried some more. I certainly wasn't saving any tears on this night. Basquiat stood there and let me cry. He didn't try to console me, he didn't offer generic platitudes to try and rush me through this moment I was having. It was almost as though he knew this moment was coming and that I needed every second of it to feel better.
When my sobs finally stopped, I felt like I'd taken an emotional hot shower; all the stress and hurt I'd held onto about that situation felt like it gushed out of my tear ducts and I felt free. It wasn't the party I needed to get over the hurt I was feeling, though my fete was quite spectacular. I'd needed to admit to and own my sadness in order to be done with it and be able to move on. Until recently, I always thought that accepting and feeling my hurt/sadness was the same as wallowing in it. If you truly want to be happy, you have to face it, endure it, and move through it. You can't ignore the hurt and pain. You can only stifle grief for so long before it comes up and kicks you in the ass, usually at the most inopportune of times.
Every now and again, you just need to listen to George Michael and let yourself be sad for a spell then you can go and enjoy the holidays the way you're supposed to and/or want to. xoxox HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!