The holidays approach and I increase my dose of Paxil. It’s not anything personal to anyone at the moment, more of a Holiday ritual. It’s not that I hate the Holidays… wait a minute. Really, I kind of do hate the holidays.
Not the days in themselves, I don’t have any recollection of the Spirit of Christmas assaulting me with boughs of holly. If anything, said spirit was distinctly not in attendance and therefore has a pretty solid alibi. Neither has Father Time or Baby New Year anything to worry from a line-up. The turkey at the end, never saw the guy and he never laid a feather on me. Nope the embodiments of these holidays were not in the area at the time. Hit them with neglect if you have to, but I say, “give ’em a break. It is, after all, the holidays.”
For me, nearly five decades of ‘bad holidays’ are hopefully coming to a close. I’m staying home this year. No travel for me. Thank you Universe. People look to the Holidays as a time to joyously be with family. The tissue commercials, the coffee commercials, the beer commercials, the articles on how to slaughter and roast your ‘perfect’ 20 lb. bird, the table decorations, the exuberance of the children, all of the parts and people surrounding me turn into this mutual fantasy of ‘the perfect holiday.’ We’ll all be together, we’ll all be happy. Myth.
Everyone comes together in my family for a funeral. That’s it. And actually, now that I think of it, now that Nana and Grandaddy are gone, I wonder what is happening that I don’t know about. Heck, half the family could have died and I wouldn’t have heard about it. Yes, we are a tight Southern Clan.
But Holidays were not the time for the family to gather. They were the time that my parents stuffed us all in the car and off we went off the mountain to my grandparents elegant southern home in our stiff clothes, starched, neat, respectable. When we arrived, we touched nothing, we said virtually nothing, and we didn’t see anyone else. My cousins, of which I have several, had several if the last funeral count still stands, were never in attendance.
We were the segregated part of the family. Often called hill-billy and rat-tail we were not meant to linger or mingle with the rest of the family. And so we didn’t. I recall one holiday meal with my aunt and uncle and their children. The awkward attempts at conversation, the gaps in even basic knowledge about one another. My brother making his escape early, my cousin and I following along behind the elders like a pair of matched red-headed mutes.
And that visit was an exception to the rule. Most holidays were ride in the car in close proximity to my brother, still, silent, hoping he would ignore me for the whole trip. He wouldn’t, I would protest, and the whole cycle of anger would take off from there. So, I learned not to protest. Suck it up, I can take it. And I could, so I did.
Get to grandparents house, sit for another interminable time, grownups talk, kids remain silent, straight, “don’t muss your clothes”, get off the floor, no you can’t watch TV, we are hear to visit. She wasn’t talking to you.
Nana would offer me a soda, and I would say “No thank you, Nana.” because there would be Hell to pay if I ever dropped a single spec of it on her carpets. Nana wouldn’t really care so much she’d just send mom the bill, but mom would, I’d never hear the end of it, spoiling her perfection. Embarrassing her. We’d go out to eat. Nana didn’t cook, well, not for us. And then the long ride home in tense silence being enthusiastically grateful for our gifts, on cue, and never for too long. Excitement in the car was frowned on.
And so it went year after year. Until my brother started being able to drive on his own, then at least I could sit in silence on the back seat and not have to worry about him hitting me. Then I went to college, and still, I would now drive the long miles across the state to “be together with the family” for the holidays. But, I might have driven in on my own, but once there it was the same, I was part of the scenery, I would only drink water, I was never quite smart enough in my dress, you know, the usual.
Then when my husband and I moved to NY state. Finally, I was free, I thought. But, no. There was still the expectation that I would travel the 13 hours south, to then go ‘a progress’ of the state from west to east to see all the parts of my scattered family, and his family. And it was the same scene played over and over, until we got to his family. Then there was a riot, and clamour, and laughter, and drink, and everything that I was not familiar with that came with a family.
I did that trip, I was dutiful, every year, except one. That one year, we were packed, the car was facing out of the driveway the only thing left was for me to get into the car. And I couldn’t make myself get into the car. I couldn’t face another holiday of masks and pretend and the schism between what we were supposed to be, and what we were.
I couldn’t face another holiday playing out the roles, the ‘happy homecoming’. I had a home, in NY. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be old enough to finally say to my family, “God, no!” I am not going to play out this fantasy, again. It’s a lie. “Merry bloody Christmas.” As you yourself said mom, as I was curling into a ball and Dad was raging and my brother was yelling.
And now, mom asked if we should all ‘get together for the Holiday.’ All our dysfunctional, hateful little clan. Dad’s in a nursing home, brother is … dang I don’t even know but at least he’s not in jail, I know that much. She is still trying to piece together that damn perfect Holiday. That cruel fantasy. No.
Well my husband and I are back below the Mason-Dixon. We moved back south about six years ago to be closer to his family. I have finally started to be able to function with the glorious lunacy that is his family. And I have started to love them each.
And so what did they do. They up and fucking moved to NJ. To be closer to his sister and her children. And now they want me to drive, fucking drive 13 hours to be part of their Holiday.