"You're spending Christmas alone? Literally all alone?"
The date: Christmastime 2015.
The mood: Heartbroken.
The idea: Make the holiday as depressing as possible.
I was a 50-year-old divorced woman. No kids, family 1,000 miles away. And I'd just ended a torrid relationship, my biggest one since my divorce. Or ever, really.
We'd been living together, this Mr. Torrid and I, and things had gone terribly awry. Fortunately, I hadn't given up my house, so I told my poor renters they had to find a new place and moved back home. Hung pictures up right where I'd had them pre-disaster. Before the torrid tore me apart.
That was a month before Christmas. And you can see from that "torrid tore me apart" line above that I was no stranger to drama. So I decided to forego Christmas that year, to not even try to fake good cheer. I sent presents to my loved ones, did a few charitable acts, but the buck stopped there. No decorations, no parties and no plans on Christmas Day. I was really gonna sink into the muck of sad. I had plans, man ... plans to be despondent. I was gonna spend Christmas alone in my room. Not to sound like the song "Cabaret." Musicals make me more depressed than breakups.
I really don't like Christmas all that much, anyway. Too much pressure to be merry, too many things to buy, traffic is bad all dang month and some yahoo always has a stomach bug just waiting to be caught.
Plus, am I the only person who sees through sugar cookies? The sugar emperor has no clothes, y'all. They just aren't that good. But somehow we all got convinced they are, and we spend inordinate amounts of time cutting dough into weird shapes, frosting them with that white gunk that makes my teeth hurt and getting green sugar all over yonder. I remember my mother had a bunch of metal cookie cutters she got out every Christmas—she probably still has 'em—and one always just sort of looked like Pennsylvania. I never knew what it was really supposed to be. A fireplace? A sleigh? Was it Pennsylvania?
People at work and so on would politely ask what my Christmas plans are. And I'd tell them, leaving out the weird references to Pennsylvania.
"You aren't going to have Christmas?" people would ask me, the way George Bailey asks Mary Hatch about coconut. (OK, I love "It's a Wonderful Life." It's the only good thing about Christmas. I never miss it). "Come to our house. We have plenty of holiday orphans every year."
But if I wanted to participate in Christmas, I'd have just gone home to Michigan and faked it among my own people. Nope. I was gonna make something depressing to eat, watch movies about people whose love lives had gone well (yeah, I have no idea what movie that'd be, either) and basically embrace the awfulness that was my life right then. Maybe I'd even watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and think about how terrible mine was.
Christmas Day dawned, but I didn't because I slept in. No one was pressuring me to get up already; start the festivities, why don't you; make eggs and mimosas, for heaven's sake. I woke up when I wanted to and padded down the hall in my Santa pajamas that my mom sent me years back. Mom loves freaking Christmas: sings every carol, hangs every ornament, wraps every gift eagerly, chews every Pennsylvania cookie.
Although I had no tree, I did have boxes from my aunts and mom waiting for me under the … nothing. I made a leisurely breakfast (Pop-Tarts, just like the Wise Men ate) and commenced to opening.
My aunt had sent me a live arrangement of evergreen branches and berries. Oops, probably shoulda opened that immediately. It was still good, though, and the whole house smelled of Christmas as I set it on the dining room table. I sipped my coffee and opened the next gift.
From another aunt came my great-grandmother's crystal candlesticks and some red candles that fit perfectly. All of a sudden my table was looking awfully … Christmassy.
I laughed and even cried a little at the spot-on gifts people had sent, then showered when I felt like it, wore what I wanted (rebellious Chanukah blue) and made lasagna, because nothing says holidays like lasagna.
Soon, people started calling to make sure I was OK. Because no one was here for me to attend to, I was able to talk to everyone for hours, hear about his or her whole day. When all the chatting was done, I got my lasagna and ate every bite of it, paying attention to how good it was.
The sun was nearly setting when I got the leashes on my dogs for a Christmas walk. It was a pretty day that year, and I shouted "Merry Christmas!" to fellow walkers. I didn't know that would be the last Christmas I'd ever spend with my dog Tallulah, the last year she'd promenade down our familiar road with her sexy pit-bull-mix strut. I'm sort of grateful I didn't make her wear the snowman collar that year. Kept her dignity.
I was just eyeing up the Santa pajamas, ready to call it a night when my phone rang one more time. It was Mr. Torrid. He'd spent the day with family, but was missing me and wondered if I wanted to meet for a drink at the swanky hotel between our houses.
I did. And it was really good to see him.
I'd planned to spend the day hating everything and I ended up having one of the best Christmas days I've ever had.
You know, George, you really have a wonderful life.