A lot of things were different in 1994. Getting wasted was still fun, most of the time. I weighed about 30 pounds less than I do now - I was barely 18. I had a lot of choices in front of me still to make, although sometimes I feel like in the last 14 years nothing has happened - even though I know a lot has.
And my parents were still alive.
We always had storybook holidays, even well into the past-Santa stages, where we would wake up to presents my parents still took the time to purchase in secret, and hide, and make up stories about not having. To stuffed stockings, overflowing with treats from CVS instead of candies. And those years that we were all smoking, cigarettes, partly as a joke, but still there. Commercial misgivings aside, there was hope, and family, and abundant dinners, and traditions. The same things in the same spots in the house. The homemade potpourri on the stove. The same dishes my mom and aunt got up to make, dishes my grandmother once made.
This year is going to be much, much different.
I came out of a daydream today and I thought that Thanksgiving was next weekend, instead of Halloween in two. I've been writing a letter to Dan Savage in my head, after the article he wrote in the Stranger about his mother dying. About how there was so much denial, and I how I used to think denial was purposeful, the way it was in relationships, instead of a tool almost to help you function through the tragedy of whatever you are slaloming through at that moment, when you look back and wonder how you made it, like a crystal vase that just went across the country in a wooden box. Denial wraps you in bubbles, and blankets, and tapes you up securely so that you survive the ride.
The last Christmas my mother was alive, she knew she was dying and she hadn't told anyone besides my aunt (and not her sister, I'm talking about my father's sister, the strangest choice, like telling someone you did something crazy that's not involved in your life - just because you have to tell someone) and I think about that Christmas morning when I see this ornament I have, it's just the word "hope" all hung on a string, in lowercase, I actually think about a picture I have of her from that morning. Where we're all doing our thing, and she's in the background with a faraway look - she knew it would be her last holiday with us. We knew too, but not really. I often say to myself in my head that she started dying a little bit at a time after my father died. They had pushed through the hard parts and made it work and picked between bread and coffee when they grocery shopped, and had entered into their time. They put off their lives to raise us, because they were supposed to. I've stopped trying to figure out the why of all of it. In those moments, there is all Universe and absolutely nothing, simultaneously. And if I stay on it too long, I'll flatten out under the couch and never come out. There is nothing that brings you back from that, nothing that heals, no treats to lure you out into the sunlight. It just has to change. And change only happens with time. It's like AA, how there's no guarantee that things will get better. They just guarantee that things will get different.
The funny thing is, the person who made me realize how amazing and selfless my mom was was Raf. I just saw her like that, the parents that would have coffee with my friends once I got sober, the surrogate mom, the open door policy, the open arm policy. I'd always say, no, come borrow my parents, they'll drink coffee and like, smoke butts. Because as much as I learned in therapy about damage, I also learned that they did the best they could, and had a lot of hard calls to make - harder than figuring out which vice they could afford, and how sandwiches won over coffee, and how coffee and cigarettes went neck and neck sometimes - and succeeded in raising two daughters in the vein of the American Dream, with dogs and photographs for good measure. With the whole world laid out before them, me and my sister, I mean. And Raf took that an extra step, in an email he wrote to me on the first anniversary of her death last February - how amazing it was, that she just knew how to love, and how much we struggle to just love other people and to learn how to be good to each other - it really was well done. The note. Donna always said people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Raf had an extended season. Kristin's a lifer. Megan said that when you feel shitty, to dress pretty. George had medical advice. And so on, and so on. I'm glad it's all gone the way it has, death and throwing dishes across the room notwithstanding.
Things are going to be different. My sister will undoubtedly make the holiday about her being alone, passive aggressively at that. It would be different if she just called it what it was, but she won't. I don't think she knows how. In the meantime, I'm going to start looking around to try and find where I can volunteer on Thanksgiving. I'm going to take it one holiday at a time. I'm going to. Going. With occasional resting, but mostly going. I always hated it, when people would chronically be "going to" be doing whatever, but aside from some grandiose plans I get into from time to time, what I'm going to do and what I wind up doing seem to coincide more often than not.
Sometimes you have to work on Christmas, sometimes... I am going to actively not participate in the consumption aspect of the holidays this year. I think I'll take some pictures, and like, make stuff - but that's about as far as I can go. The year before last year, I did all of my accessory shopping at the dollar store in East Haven - I found Lamby Banks (instead of Piggy Banks) and votive holders shaped like stars, and votives shaped like stars. Nobody had any idea. I'm sure small children were tortured for the doing so, but still.
Jesus I had a lot of words to get out. I had no idea. I'm fucking exhausted.