an orphan christmas
Up until a few minutes ago, I was a surly, angry, heartbroken person.
My mood was about as foul as it gets, and I wasn’t fighting it. I resolved a few days ago to let myself be whatever I needed to be today. I guess part of me knew this whole thing was coming. Even though, technically, the anniversary was yesterday. Most people don’t realize that Christmas Eve is my most difficult day. Christmas Day itself just sort of reinforces the feeling.
For the most part, I didn’t feel like I normally do as these days approached. I still operated under some idea that I would be able to just love it. As if it would be easy. Or to at least appreciate it. Or tolerate it. Or just get through the damn day. And then yesterday happened. I think I cried about 8 times, all told–that wailing sort of cry that happens when your Mama loses you in the supermarket. The whole day, midnight to midnight, was held up by fighting. And more fighting in between. Unfair fighting, often–couched with insults and personal attacks. And it was the last thing I wanted, so I kept shutting it down–but I kept getting drug into the mud. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fight back, and I didn’t. I just let the verbal punches hit me. I tried to read between the insults and tried to have compassion–to hear things–to be supportive and kind. And just when I thought I had made it through, another one would come.
It was the anniversary of the very worst day of my entire life. If I lived alone, I would have spent the day in a fetal position. And, to top it off, I was sick–like the worst sick I’ve been in years. And it seemed to be getting worse, minute by minute.
While the words in those fights needed to be said, the timing was terrible. I learned what I needed to about the situation behind those conversations. I tried to go to bed, but couldn’t. I felt worse and worse, physically, and some part of me was just angry. Why can’t people just say what they need and what’s wrong without beating the other person’s heart up? I try so hard to be compassionate, but it never feels like I get anything in return.
I never did sleep. And then, it felt like I was being pummeled by nonsense all day. I compulsively checked email and social networks like I always do when I can’t sleep–only to be subjected to someone stealing my photos (and nothing I could do about it). Then, small things started happening that just bugged the crap out of me. And then the barrage of Christmas joy.
My roommate left somewhere around then, for his holiday back East. I was probably a little less than warm. I was grateful to be alone, finally. I could finally get some sleep. I could finally leave the bathroom door open when I showered. I could eat over the sink or…not eat at all. I could belt out a Mariah Carey song as loud as I wanted and do the Thriller Dance in my living room.
I didn’t do any of those things. But I could have.
Instead, I vowed to stay off social networks, not check my email, or be awake for the rest of the day. I turned off my phone completely. I turned up the heat, and I slept. Not well. But for a little while.
When I woke up, I put on some jammies. Not the Christmas kind. The Bah humbug was strong in me. I made myself some tea. And turned on my phone.
A few minutes after that, someone was calling from the lobby.
I’m an orphan with no living siblings. People don’t call me on Christmas–let alone come to my door.
It was the cops.
They wanted to come up. They didn’t say why.
I immediately thought my ex had stolen my identity again. That’s the only time I’ve had cops at my door in the last two years, and I could feel the anger boiling through again. I was not going to pay the bill this time. This time, he was going to jail.
I muttered that to myself as I prepared to open the door–knowing that, once it was open, a little piece of me that believes in people would be stolen once again. I am pretty sure I looked crazy.
It was the same cop from that time last year. The one who seemed to know that what was happening wasn’t right. The one who, had I not been so embarrassed, I would have genuinely thanked for her compassionate explanation of what she was doing at my door.
But it wasn’t about the ex or anything he’d done.
They were there for me.
For something I hadn’t, apparently, done.
A welfare check.
They asked if I was okay. I nodded. Smiled. Put on my best recruiter face–well, if recruiters wore messy pigtails and pink glitter plaid PJs.
They handed me a phone number. Told me to call my cousin in Fargo.
She was worried.
I stifled a laugh. A bitter one.
I told them I would, and then I did.
She had called the cell number I had two years ago. It was disconnected. She couldn’t find any listing for me anywhere else.
I told her I emailed her and every other member of my remaining extended family several months ago.
I asked her how she had my address since that was included in the email, and I hadn’t ever bothered to email it before.
She said she had it written down in her book.
And then she talked at me for 45 minutes and told me I was a terrible person for not spending Christmas with my family in Fargo. Because I was family, even if no one knew me and everyone hates me. Her words. Not mine.
I was quiet. Mostly because I was seething. And I was just about done with people telling me who I was and who I wasn’t.
So, I asked her: “And why, ___, does everyone hate me?”
She couldn’t seem to find an answer.
So, then, I asked her some more questions:
- What was my most favorite Christmas gift as a kid?
- What did I make every year for Christmas dinner when I was little?
- What color was my hair when I was 9?
- What was the name of my favorite kitten?
- What do I do for a living?
- What’s my undergraduate degree in?
She couldn’t even guess the answer to even one of these questions.
And then I said, “I would rather be hated by strangers who wouldn’t be able to find me in a crowded room than loved by someone like you.”
And then I told her to stop calling and to stop checking on my welfare–because we both knew she never once understood the meaning of it and that my welfare increases every time I avoid a conversation with her.
And I was not sorry I said that.
But I was angry. Of all the Goddamned days for my family to BE MY FAMILY, it had to be today. It had to be on one of the most difficult Christmases since my mother passed.
It’s not enough that I’m alone. It’s not enough that I don’t have parents. It’s not enough that my Mama died on Christmas Eve. Now, I have to deal with cops at my door and some hateful shrew on my phone who calls herself my family as if existing in this world and sharing my questionable blood makes that the truth.
So, I wrote an email to my best friend and ranted on Twitter. Crying the whole time. Had my mother been here, I would have had my head on her lap as I talked.
It didn’t last long.
And then, as I ranted, it somehow became some diatribe about how I was going to show them all. Sort of like when I was little and some teacher gave me a C when I deserved an A because he thought I had potential but wasn’t working hard enough. I told Mama I was going to make him eat that C, and I did. For the rest of my life.
And then, I saw the lesson I needed from that. And though it made me sad and still angry, I was grateful for it. But I still felt like the Grinch. I ate some cookies. Felt worse. And then, I decided to go to the bathroom.
I was sitting in the bathroom–with the door open(!). And I looked into the living room and saw Foggy on her cat tree with little Rilke beside her. It was adorbs. I hadn’t really played with them much today. So, I went over to say hi to them both, and they were full-on grooming each other.
Foggy is kind of obsessed with grooming. All she really does all day is sleep and lick herself. Which is problematic because she has long hair. It was such a sweet moment, and I was petting both of them, when Fogg pukes on Rilke, the cat tree, and the recliner below–along with the boxes my roommate had left sitting on said recliner.
Thankfully, (sorry if TMI) it was more of a hairball rather than normal puke. Except for the stuff that landed on little Rilke. But there was multiple sites of disgusting. I had no idea where the stupid upholstery cleaner was, so I was kinda mad. I decided to go online for a second to cool down. Then, I went searching for the cleaner and grabbed the paper towels.
When I came back, the puke was missing. Like no sign of it. Completely gone.
So was Rilke. All of a sudden, I see a tiny black and white kitten running across the living room with something hanging out of his mouth. He kept dropping it and picking it up.
I chased him for a minute, but I knew this little cat was going to run for all he was worth and would probably take his new toy outside eventually if I kept chasing him. So, I just watched him running around. I made a note to disinfect our entire apartment. I was pretty annoyed and yelling at him to let go of the puke. Fogg yawned, oblivious to the entire insanity, as Cleo watched from the doorway of my bedroom.
I finally was able to grab the little boy, so I stuck him in the bathroom and went to work cleaning the living room.
Rilke howled the whole time.
I gave him a bath and blow-dryed his hair. He was completely happy to splash in the tub–totally oblivious that I was mad at him. We came back to my bedroom only to find Cleo and Fogg–once mortal enemies–curled up in my Ikea chair–feet touching. Cleo snored. Rilked strained to be with his Fogg-friend. Fogg swatted his head and then let him curl up with her.
It was a Christmas puke miracle. These cats have never ever done that. Ever.
It lasted about five minutes.
And then I just started laughing. Hysterically.
I really, really needed to laugh.
And in that moment, I was really grateful for my life. For these three amazing, ridiculous cat-children who I’ve claimed as mine. For their joy and their innocence and their nonchalance and their unconditional everything. And I thought, this is who I am. This is my family.
And it reminded me that–as sad as I was today–as angry as I was–as heartbroken and alone–I can still choose who I am and who I want to be. I can still be joyful and innocent and loving and in this moment. Even if I’m covered in puke.
And I made some promises to myself tonight:
-To let myself be what I need to be, but to always choose the silver lining.
-To rely on the people who are my family–who have been my family–not the ones quick to say they’re mine.
-To be better at loving other people. To tell them because I still have a voice. To tell people when they hurt me and why and let them fix it.
-To actively choose love and not accept what everyone else has as normal. It’s great to be abnormal, and I have to create a new normal for me.
-To fight for the life my Mama wanted for me, and the one I’ve worked so hard to create–even if it means telling people off and letting them go.
-To put myself before others because my cup can’t keep being empty and to be better at recognizing it before it makes me bitter and angry.
-To choose things that bring me back to innocence. If it’s been a long time since I’ve laughed, I need to figure out why and change it.
Funny what some silly animals will teach you. Even if it’s disgusting.