We’re off topic now, aren’t we? If only I could do that in real life. Unfortunately, I tend to answer honestly. Call it a character flaw. The most succinct response I’ve used is “Nothing. How about you?” The person is then only too relieved to have the opportunity to fill the awkward moment with as long a ramble as possible about Aunt Claire flying in from Edmonton, a new plum pudding recipe that calls for double the liquor and some sort of snorkel exchange on a dock that’s a five-mile trek through a swamp and up a mountain. Or down a crevasse. It’s my turn to tune out.
I used to adore Christmas. In fact, there was a time I wanted to make Christmas my life. As a youngster, I knew there was no more noble purpose than making toys for kids. Yes, I decided I’d become an elf. Seriously. (This was the start of my lifelong path of career confusion.) The plan was to stay awake on Christmas Eve and wait until my parents turned off the living room lights. Then I’d sneak out of bed, curl up by the fireplace and wait for Big Red. “Take me with you, Santa. I’m ready to serve.” Sadly, back then I wasn’t the light sleeper I am now. To this day, I look back and wonder what could have been. I’d have been happy at The Pole. Hermey the dentist and I would have fallen in love. We’d have brought marriage equality to the Far North.
But, alas, Christmas lost its luster. My last memorable Yuletide was in 1998 when my grandfather and I agreed to meet at my parents’ place in Texas. He flew from Ottawa while I made the trip from Vancouver. As he was an avid sports fan whose bald head showed an increasing number of scars from skin cancer treatments, I bought him a whole series of baseball caps representing his favorite teams. He gamely “modeled” each one as I snapped pictures of his own fashion show. It turned out to be his last Christmas.
The talk about a “merry” Christmas can feel overwhelming. Suffocating. It’s the expectation. Feel it or fake it. (That’s what egg nog is for. And that double-liquored plum pudding.) But I’m authentic. Call it another character flaw. I don’t feel it, I don’t fake it. This has been the darkest year of my life and a batch of shortbread is not the cure.
A couple of weeks ago, I got the notion to put on my own Christmas celebration. It took me two days to put up a single string of lights along the front of the house and then the Yule yearning faded. In the ‘90s, I built up a nice collection of treasured ornaments for the tree. They’ve remained boxed up at least since 2007. Unfortunately, all the trees disappeared at my supermarket after the weekend and I balked at spending seventy bucks at the local nursery. For just me? Not worth it. There was a time when I’d sent out eighty holiday cards for Hanukkah and Christmas. This year I’ve written two. Now if I can only get myself to slap a couple of stamps on them. Instead of feeling merrier, I feel worse. From eighty to two. It’s a starkly representative piece of evidence of how my life took a wrong turn and still hasn't gotten back on course.
My parents invited me to Texas. This time, it wasn’t a last-minute gesture. For the first time, my aunt and uncle invited me to Ontario as well. These things happen after you’ve had a stint of being committed. The relatives feel a twinge of guilt and morbidity. This could be his last. I don’t want to go to Texas and fake merry alongside my homophobic brother and sister-in-law. And because, I’ve turned down that invite, I cannot go to Ontario. Family politics. A friend in Vancouver is going with his curling buddies to a Christmas Day buffet at a casino. I think that would only make me more depressed.
The reality is I’m not going anywhere. And the house is chillingly empty. This is the first time in fifteen years that I don’t have a schnauzer to keep me company. It’s down to surviving Christmas. There are those who gleefully make it a six-week spectacle. For me, I have to do everything I can to make it just a day. Come Boxing Day, things will be better again. I’ll get a temporary boost dropping a few hundred dollars at a conservatively hip clothing store in the stodgy Kerrisdale area of Vancouver. I’ll order the Challah French Toast at my favorite Jewish bakery and see if my casino friend feels like a walk to work off the two trips too many at the buffet. I’ll yank down that strand of lights and get back to trying to navigate the ordinary days. At this point, that’s plenty for me.
And so there it is. This season, I’m counting the days to Boxing Day.