Christmas 2018, I spent sleeping on a couch by myself while my family broke crackers filled with confetti and wore festive hats, with laughter shining bright in their eyes. I don’t remember getting a call but maybe I did
That memory is vague, hazy. The only clear thing I can pinpoint is blinking up at the ceiling and wondering if I had ever felt like I belonged anywhere. If the loneliness would eventually tear open my chest and if it did, would the agonizing pain then cease? I wondered if at any point in my life had I ever felt loved or was I just a part of a puzzle, that resembled my family, but never fit exactly into place?
Christmas Eve 2019 was spent packing presents from under my sister’s tree in a black bag as she screamed at her husband so loud that it reverberated against my ears, had my fingers trembling with sweat. She was leaving, she said.
We drove forty-five minutes to get away, I suspect it took less time for them to make up but I wasn’t privy to that conversation. I was asleep. Woken by my sister the next morning stating we were going back to her husband, to his family. I would rather deal with my loneliness like the year before than be with her new family. I was uncomfortable around people on the best of days and the previous night’s screaming match brought out memories I’d prefer left buried.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to go on a holiday celebration where people pretended there wasn’t a festering gaping wound, covered up with a band-aid. My sister pleaded, her husband phoned with desperation in his voice because my sister wouldn’t leave me by myself, so I had to forgive them all and put on a merry face because it was Christmas and Christmas was about family. My voice on any matter had never been heard before, I didn’t think it would be this time. Just discarded to the side as something in the way of an ultimate goal. I caved. I didn’t know I had boundaries to protect and keep close, so, it was an inevitability that I let my family cross them.
Christmas 2020 was…painful. It tore strips off my soul, doused me in fire, and made me reborn into something new. Eventually.
Family that we hadn’t seen for a while were coming to visit and for the first time I had a respectable job — A soul-destroying job — but a job that paid nonetheless. For the first time, I could buy presents for my family. I wasn’t an outcast anymore. I wasn’t signing my name with shame next to another name on a shiny holiday card, all the while we pretended I had actually made a contribution for a gift. I was a functioning member of society, just like they all wanted. Well, functioning was probably stretching it, but if they could ignore the dead look in my eyes, and the smile that didn’t quite reach my mouth, then so could I.
There were two fundamental days that changed how I viewed my place in my family.
The first was Christmas Eve. While I shopped for presents for my family, I bought a dress for myself, something to boost my confidence. Something yellow, not my standard uniform of black, so my father would prehaps say something nice. Maybe, hopefully. It was the season for miracles, I could hope and to help that hope along, I could dress in a way that wouldn’t cause my father to look at me with a mixture of mirth and disappointment.
All it took was a hairband. Black. Cute. Normal, to drown that theory in cement. My father, well, let’s just say he said something cruel, a lot racist, and then laughed it off as a joke, called me too sensitive. I walked away, couldn’t stand to have a fight in front of his new wife and I didn’t want to cause a scene really. I was out of strength to even frown. I sat outside, looked at the open kitchen door, and watched as my family laughed and joked inside. With some inner clarity that crushed my heart, I knew that I never belonged to that world. To that family. I’d always be an outsider. I’d never make my puzzle piece fit. I was, as I had always been, alone.
Christmas day was bad. Terrible. Embarrassing. I had high hopes despite the night before, my sister and I had grown closer in the past year. She said it was tradition for us to spend Christmas day together. I must have had memory loss about the disaster that was the year before. It didn’t matter. She needed me, she wanted a part of her family mixed with her husbands’. She didn’t want to feel lonely amongst them. I could relate, and I never let my family down. It just wasn’t in me. Plus I had a silly crush on someone that would be there. It seemed a perfectly grand idea to sit in the sun, have a drink, laugh, and for once feel like my puzzle piece fit.
Hope was always a hard thing to crush inside of me. I desperately wanted validation from my family, I wanted to feel like I mattered, like I belonged, that I had a place to feel safe.
Problem was, my family liked to pull the rug from under me at every given opportunity.
My sister who needed me to not feel alone didn’t really talk to me that day. She spoke and chuckled with others and I slowly simmered. Wasn’t it enough that I showed support, loyalty, love? Why was it so difficult for them to give some of that back. Why did I always, always, end up alone?
I headed for the alcohol and removed myself from any embarrassment I might cause and laid on the greenest grass, away from the happiness, the joy, the laughter floating down to me, so close I could touch it but somehow knowing it would forever be out of my reach.
I screamed at my sister that night, filled with alcohol swimming in my veins and fury boiling my skin. I slept, woke up ashamed, whatever the provoking, I never wanted to be that person. That person was my mother, my father, and now… me. Of the many version of myself that I hated, drunk and angry was one that disgusted me, turned my stomach. Whispered a legacy I had yet to claim.
Over coffee, we talked. I apologized, told her that I didn’t want to be that person. I tried to stem the tears, not wanting them to be used against me, but I’ve never learned the art of shoving the pain down so deep that it doesn’t come out in physical ways.
“You have a heart filled with hatred.” She said it like she wasn’t going for the jugular. Like she wasn’t keeping her own anger locked inside.
“You need to get your shit together.”
I knew that. I knew that, but I didn’t know how.
Some kind of masochistic urge and maybe a bit of a test to see if she’s cut deeper made me ask, “Do you think he’s out of my league?”
My sister looked at me with tired eyes like I was exasperating, maybe even a bit pitiful to be asking about a man when we were discussing how my life had turned out, “He’s out of everyone’s league.”
It didn’t answer my question but it kind of did.
The car ride was tense. Even though I apologized, even though I told her it was stupid, that I was wrong, I could feel her distancing herself and I didn’t blame her. Who would want to be around someone with hatred in their heart?
I didn’t know it then, I was too wrapped up in self-hatred, afraid that my darkness would consume me and everyone I had loved would flinch in disgust — Ashamed that my blood polluted the waters.
But I know it now. I had reasons for that hatred. Justified reasons.
After the Christmas of 2020, I spent a week away with that family that came from out of town. I drove in the backseat and as the miles stretched on. Far away from my father, my sister. I knew, with crystal-like clarity that to get my shit together, I’d have to break a bone. It would be painful, something I would never imagine doing but something had to break and for the first time in my life, I was determined that it wasn’t going to be me.