It wasn’t as bad as being alone on an otherwise deserted island, but it wasn’t ideal either. It appeared that I would be alone for the holidays.
Thanksgiving is the most difficult day of the year for me (search for “Cheating Death One More Time,” posted November 18, 2011). Fortunately, my good friends and neighbors, Kathy and Glen Hoff, invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them and their extended family. I had officiated the wedding of their granddaughter Paige, and I’d been to events with the family before, including Thanksgiving the previous year, so it was comfortable and family-like for me. I even went over Thanksgiving morning to help Kathy with food preparation, and I contributed a little food to the event.
I heard from three men that Thanksgiving. The first was my stepson Richard Cornell; the second, my friend John; and the third, Jake. While Richard is the youngest of my late husband’s sons, he’s still only sixteen years younger than me, so not quite young enough to be my son . . . unless I had been very precocious in my youth. But I love him as a son, and it means a great deal to me that he bothers to call me every once in a while. I was sorry I’d missed his call that morning when I was at Kathy Hoff’s house helping with food preparation. I had dated John a couple of times, but no romance developed. Instead, we became friends. He is bright and very active with a mind that likes to penetrate everything using the left brain. I make a good foil for him. Jake had texted me the night before Thanksgiving saying he hoped I had some fun plans. Then we traded a few texts Thanksgiving Day. Considering how careful he was to keep things from getting more than superficially personal, it touched me that he’d texted.
Once Thanksgiving was under my belt, my attention turned to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For some reason, Christmas isn’t quite as problematic for me as Thanksgiving. Even though Howard had an incident necessitating a call to hospice Christmas night and even though he’d died a few days later, I knew he was close to death on Christmas Day, 2010, and it was time for him to go, so Christmas is a rather benign day for me.
I have fond memories of many a Christmas Eve with my late husband. For many years, we had the Christmas Eve ritual of going out to dinner. Every year, we went to a different place. The most memorable was the Christmas Eve dinner just a month after I moved to Colorado. We dined at the historic Oxford Hotel in Denver. I have no idea what I ate. I was in love; it was a love fest. It was snowing gently when we left the restaurant. We didn’t hurry. It was like being in a Hallmark movie.
I had fond memories of Christmas Day with Howard too. Across many years, I served champagne and little food delicacies as we opened gifts on Christmas morning. Then, after phone calls to and from family, we would get bundled up and head for Rocky Mountain National Park, where we wished the elk a merry Christmas before returning home to Christmas dinner. I had been mostly fine with Christmas since Howard’s death, content to be alone. I didn’t feel that way this year.
Again, fortune was with me. One of my favorite people (who also happens to be one of my apprentices), Lynn Smith, had invited me to Christmas brunch at her house. I was looking forward to spending time with her and the others who would be there.
But as much as I kept myself occupied on Christmas Eve, I was restless. I wanted to create some new rituals and future memories with someone. And New Year’s Eve was shaping up to be another holiday alone too. Why was I bothered about being alone this year when it hadn’t bothered me previously?
Apparently, once Pandora’s Box had been opened with Derek, some interior muscle had been brought back to life. It had little to do with sex (though sex was a wonderful offshoot) but everything to do with relationship. I wanted to love and be loved. I still couldn’t see myself marrying again, and I still couldn’t really see myself living with a man. But I wanted love.
Though not usually petulant, I was feeling sulky and ill-humored, and I didn’t like it. Then I went out to get the mail, and the little boy from next door ran over to wish me a merry Christmas and give me a hug–the same little boy who had brought me flowers from his yard during the summer. I knew that little boy was going to grow up to be a magic man because I no longer felt petulant. I went inside to pack up some soap I’d made that I planned to give to three of my favorite neighbors. And while the boy next door might be growing into his magic, my soap has full-blown magic to it. The scent is of my own creation, a mixture of essential oils. But what makes it magic is the love I consciously insert into it.
When I went to Kathy and Glen Hoff’s house to give them one of the gift bags, they invited me to come over for a little Christmas cheer that evening. Their big extended family would be there, and Andrea, Glenn’s daughter, informed me that there was always at least one straggler. I was happy to be a straggler with that crowd.
When I got back to the house, there were two text messages. One was from Jake. I’d left a message to wish him a happy Christmas Eve earlier. He’d replied. The other was from John. I hadn’t texted him because he was out of the state, spending Christmas with his son. I didn’t want to interrupt that visit. But he had interrupted it himself long enough to text me. I didn’t like admitting to myself that being remembered and contacted mattered so much to me. It was a remnant from half a lifetime earlier when I’d left a thoroughly abusive marriage and attempted to prove to myself just how independent I was. I sighed and let myself accept the fact that being cared for enough to be contacted did mean something to me.
Before the holidays, I’d bought a new dress. I had nothing specific in mind for that dress, but it made my waist look about as small as Scarlett O’Hara’s, it hugged by bosom appealingly, and it’s crinolined underskirt made me feel like a princess. I looked great in it and had hoped I’d find a reason to wear it. It appeared that it would still just be hanging in the closet into the coming year.
But that fact no longer mattered so much. I’d been reminded that what I really need is to be able to give love to others, whether in the form of magical handmade soap gifted to my friends, my time and attention when a friend wanted it, or my body and full self offered up to a man. And I’d been reminded that I also need to receive love from others, which might come to me as an innocent hug from a magical little boy, an invitation to a holiday gathering, or a text from someone I care about.
I had given and received a bit of love, and I realized that I wasn’t alone for the holidays after all.
Note: The names Derek, Jake, and John are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the men involved. The names Richard Cornell, Kathy and Glen Hoff, Andrea, Paige, and Lynn Smith are real, and I am blessed to have these people in my life.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall