Christmas and I generally don’t get along. It’s been a tense but accepted stalemate for the last 20 years or so. I accept it because society won’t let me do otherwise but I don’t tend to enjoy it. The progression is usually the same: For a good chunk of December, I tend to get grumpier and more miserable as the day gets closer. Everyone around me tolerates this but I can feel their frustration. They understand why this time of year bugs me but I can also tell that many wish I would either get over it or at least, try to force at least a bit of a smile throughout it. I still participate in all the yearly rituals with my Mom and the families of the various girlfriends I’ve had but most of those years, I usually wish I could just isolate myself, go to sleep and wake up when this whole bloody thing is over with. For me, this time of year that is happy for so many others tends to just make me sad and angry at the past.
Like most, when I was a young kid Christmas was one of the most awesome times of the year for me. My family was never religious so it had nothing to do with that but it was a time of year when I was hanging around with them, off school and getting presents all at once! Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Christmas morning. I remember one Christmas, I really wanted Faxanadu for the NES. I knew where my parents would hide my presents before Christmas morning. It was in a walk-in closet off the master bedroom of the townhouse we lived in at the time. One day, I snuck in there and managed to cut the tiniest hole in an NES game shaped present, just enough to see the unique and memorable pattern of the Faxanadu box. It turns out that hole wasn’t tiny enough and my parents discovered it. They ended up burying the game inside another big present that was actually for my Mom, enough to make me think they’d returned it and I wouldn’t get it at all. When it was later revealed to me, I was never so happy to have learned a harsh lesson in my life. My Dad said I could hook my NES up to the big TV in the living room (while was a holy grail moment for me) and he (a total and complete non-gamer who never understood what was so cool about them) proceeded to sit and watch me play a classic 8-bit action RPG for the entire morning. It was so incredibly awesome.
My good memories of Christmas like that were stopped cold in 1992.
That Christmas morning, my Mom told me shortly after I got up that there was a change of plans and we were actually going to the house of one of my friends whose parents were her friends as well. This was very sudden and when I pressed for an explanation, I was told that now wasn’t the time and that all would be revealed later. When I came downstairs, I saw my Dad bundled up in a blanket on the couch, staring at the TV but clearly not paying any attention to it. He had a despondent, other worldly look on his face I’d never seen before. I asked if he was coming with us and he didn’t answer. He didn’t even blink or turn his head. My Mom interjected and said he would be staying behind because he wasn’t feeling well. This all seemed very odd to me but I also remember not giving it more than a passing thought. We bundled up the presents (which I didn’t get many of that year because our family was in financial straits that I knew the existence but not the extent of), headed to my friend’s place and had a pretty good morning.
Then my Mom told me we needed to go downstairs for her to tell me something.
It was then I found out that my Dad had been accused of having an affair with a business associate (which I much later confirmed to be true despite his denials, one of the reasons I haven’t spoken to him in 17 years), that he and my Mom were planning to separate and come the new year, we would be moving out of our home and into my Grandma’s place which was only a few minutes away. I still do not know what my Mom’s motivations were in breaking this to me on Christmas morning and why it couldn’t have waited until after the holiday. I was in blissful ignorance of why we were celebrating Christmas at our friend’s place and had she waited until the new year, I probably would have been none the wiser. To this day, she still can’t explain why she needed to tell me then and says she feels guilty because of how it permanently tainted the holiday for me. I love my Mom to death, she comprises pretty much the only family I have and I think she’s one of the most amazing people in the world. But even today, I still hold some resentment toward her for doing that. If there was a single thing in my life I could go back and change, I think it would be taking this news she had to deliver and pushing it forward a month.
The next few Christmases came not only with this baggage but also the reality that we were dirt poor for several years after my parents separated. My Mom had spent most of her career working for my Dad’s various crooked business schemes. She ended up having to go back to school and retrain, living and supporting me and my Grandma off her Canada Pension, students loans and credit cards for a couple of years which didn’t afford much in the way of Christmas presents and cheer. She worked bloody hard, tried her best and made do with very little but still made the holiday harder and my Dad’s latest scummy enterprise starting to fall flat on its face made him an even greater misery to be around than he normally was.
Since then. around the start of December, my holiday depression begins to kick in. Unfortunately, Christmas has for many years just been a reminder of the intense shock and trauma that occurred back in 1992 and with the holiday being the crass, commercial enterprise it is, you can’t set foot anywhere in December without it being shoved in your face. Everything’s decorated, endless variants the same 10 Christmas songs are played ad nauseum everywhere and everyone just expects you to be happy. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard “How can you be sad at this time of year? It’s CHRISTMAS!”, said in a tone that’s soaked to the bone in cheerful snark. It’s a vicious cycle. Every year, I go into December saying that this is the year I’m going to bury the past in the past and embrace how this cherished holiday can often bring out the best in people. But in the end, I get stressed from work, from present shopping and the financial worries that come from that and inevitably, my brain drifts back to memories of 1992 which get intensified and reiterated by the endless reminders of the holiday I see all around me. This depresses me further and ultimately makes me a bit of a grinch. I’ve had several girlfriends over the years (including my current one) who absolutely love Christmas and as you can imagine, being around me at this time can be a buzz kill. More than a few fights have been sparked by this which obviously, does not help my mood any.
I’ve had several health issues over the years but one I’ve never had has been an inability to sleep. Christmas Eve is always an exception, this year as well. I really don’t know how insomniacs handle it because dealing with this even for one night drives me nuts. One year maybe a decade or so ago, I was hanging out with a life-long friend of mine and we decided we just had to do something, anything to shake off our misery. So we grabbed a ton of CDs and coffee, got into my car and just drove around the city. All night long. There is something eerily beautiful about driving around a big city like Ottawa on a holiday night. In this town, there’s always some amount of traffic a buzz going on, even in the middle of the night. When you go out at 11pm on Christmas Eve, there’s nothing anywhere. Everything is shut down, still, quite, at peace. It’s a surreal experience and one that brings a very calming effect with it. We drove from one end of the entire Ottawa Valley to the other, criss-crossing everything in between. We would do this for a whole work day’s worth of hours, talking about anything and everything as we went. The first time out, we ended up at Elgin Street Diner, one of the only food serving places that stayed open that night, sharing bad grub and misery with a restaurant full of equally unhappy, lonely souls. Yet somehow, it made us feel better. When I came home from that trip, I slept like a baby. As the years went by, this became a recurring tradition. Different friends would sometimes tag along, we’d go different places and talk about different things but we always did it on Christmas Eve and I always drove.
Sadly a bunch of drama occurred in 2009 that I won’t repeat here. It made me realise that I needed to re-evaluate my friendships, even the ones I’d had for most of my life. Those friendships have largely crumbled into dust now and as a result, my car now sits motionless on Christmas Eve. I once tried to just do the same kind of drive by myself but it’s just not the same. It’s empty, silent and incredibly lonely. It’s funny how feeling incredibly alone is so much more bearable when you can do it with other people. All that drive ended up doing was making me restless and it didn’t serve to tire me out in the slightest. The thought has occurred of trying to call those people and seeing if they’d like to do it again but how incredibly weird would that be to do? “Hey, I know we don’t talk any more but do you want to go for an all-night drive again just because you know, we used to?” I don’t see it working.
Last year, I spent the late night in my office with my girlfriend asleep in the room beside me playing Rochard and this year, I spend it blogging while listening to Solar Fields. I’ve been up for almost 16 hours, have to be up at in 6 hours to take the puppy out and I’m not tired in the slightest.
For all the bring down I’ve posted above, Christmas is starting to get better for me. The great job I landed 2 years ago has relieved a lot of the financial stresses I was under for several years. I can actually afford to buy nice presents for people and I love giving people things that I know will make them happy. While my amazing girlfriend still has to tolerate a lot of “bah humbug” sentiment from me, her love of Christmas is starting to break through I think. Her parents are amazing and since both our families are so small, we all get together at their place to do Christmas together. We do most of the presents together, we eat a great meal together and we all enjoy each other’s company for the day. It’s really great and makes the day feel like more of a family holiday for me again which I really missed. My Mom and I also still do our Christmas Eve tradition of having cheese fondue at her place (the last meal we had as a family before the events of 1992) and this year, I got to bring our new puppy over to hang out for the evening which made it extra special and fun.
Best of all, I get to do all of this while on a nearly 2 week paid break from work which I desperately need and which I get to fill with relaxing and catching up on the year’s backlog of games.
I have a lot to look forward to in 2013. For as hard as this time of year is for me, I really don’t want it to be and I do hope that I can eventually shove my difficult past aside and learn to look at this time of year for what it should be, not what history keeps wanting to taint it with. Every year it’s a struggle but every year, I also feel like I’m making a bit more progress. It’s a terrible thing to be at war with your own mind but sometimes, you can come out of it the other side with a fresh perspective and ultimately be happier for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow to love this time of year the way so many other people do but maybe I can reach a state where I can at least start looking forward to it rather than dreading it.
I hope everyone reading this has a fantastic holiday and that it’s full of warmth, cheer and loved ones. I have bitched and complained about a lot of people on this blog in 2012 but everyone deserved to be happy on this day. This Solar Fields album is winding down and I suppose I should try to go to bed. Maybe this year’s the one where I can finally get a good night’s sleep before Christmas morning.
My uneasy peace with Christmas continues but at least it’s still peace.