There’s a Light on this Tree that won’t Light on One Side

It’s 11 pm on December 25th and I still haven’t found my Christmas spirit. But I have stopped wanting to torch every Christmas tree that I see, so I guess that’s something. The tinsel, the trimmings, the trappings are all less aversive to me than they were last year. So I’d say I’ve come a long way. Although, going from feeling like you want to commit arson when you drive by a house lit with blinking lights to just feeling… nothing… may not actually be that much progress. But it does feel better. It stings less. But It just feels empty.

If it were up to me, I would have buried myself under a rock from November 1st until December 27th this year. But alas, the universe would not allow it. My family whom I live with were ready to deck the halls this year. They made sure I was ready, too, because they’re amazing like that. I lied and said I was. Also, I was in charge of overseeing the stage decorations for our ward (my church congregation, basically) Christmas party, which included a talent show and a visit from Santa on said stage, so the stage had to be decked. It was a mistake putting me in charge for sooo many reasons. I would rather have taken a doorknob to the eye (that happened to me once… when I was a child and much shorter, obviously) than decorate a damn Christmas tree. Also, I’m mainly just terrible when it comes to decorating anything for anything. My lack of attention to detail these days does not serve me well in making things look pretty. Like my first idea was to just get a Charlie Brown tree, nothing else, and just hope that everyone would think it was funny. But instead I borrowed some brightly-colored decorations from a wonderful woman in my ward, had lots of help from my friends, and we totally Grinched an already-decorated Christmas tree from the foyer of the church building. Merry Christmas.

One thing that did help me get through the holiday season was that I planned an escape to California this week. Thomas has been begging to go to the beach since like September and I figured it would be just what we all needed. We spent all afternoon today at the beach, building sand castles and standing near the water, waiting for the waves to crash over our feet. Then Thomas got too confident in the strength of his lower body, let go of my hand to walk closer to the water, and got taken out by a wave. He informed me tonight while I was putting him to bed that he did not want to go back the beach. It’s too dirty and the waves have “too big of muscles.” *insert giant eye roll. That’s exactly why Gregg didn’t like the beach. Well, not the muscles part, but the dirty part for sure. He hated the feeling of sand and insisted that since he had to spend 12 months surrounded by nothing but dirt in Afghanistan, he was allowed to hate the beach. Whatever.

I wish that I had more vivid memories of our Christmases together. There was the first, in 2009, which we weren’t actually together for because he was deployed. He managed to surprise me with a diamond necklace, which his sister gave to me on Christmas eve. I thought for sure he was getting me a guitar. I don’t actually like expensive jewelry. He didn’t know me very well then, but I did love, and still treasure, that necklace.

Then there was our second Christmas, in 2010, which we flew back home for. His sister bought us matching sweatbands and sports-themed underwear, because like, why would she not. The picture of us posing in those is one of my favorites.

Then 2011, the year we drove from North Carolina to Arizona, in the middle of moving to New York. Literally, when we flew home after Christmas, we flew into JFK and took a cab to our new home. We hadn’t even planned on going to Arizona, but we decided to make the trek sort of last minute. We drove straight through. 36 hours. Taking turns driving. Stopping only for gas and to pee. For 36 hours. I don’t know how we survived. Really, I don’t know how I survived. I mean this in the most loving way possible, but Gregg was the absolute WORST on road trips. Like, driving 10 hours to California with Thomas and Luke was easier than driving to Target with him. For some weird reason, he never liked to talk on road trips. He had to listen to his music, but ON HIS IPOD WITH HEADPHONES. He complained non-stop about the traffic, or the people going too slow, or the sun in his eyes, or the people going too fast, or the seat being uncomfortable… The man turned into a giant baby. And I can say that because I would say it to his face if he were alive. Giant. Baby.

Then in 2012 Gregg’s sister and her family spent Christmas with us in New York. It felt weird because my brother had just died a few months before and I didn’t really recognize that I was spinning out of control yet. So I just assumed that everything was actually fine but also felt like I was actually going crazy. It was a weird year.

You would think I would remember 2013, the year I was pregnant with Thomas, and the couple of years after. I don’t, so I’ll just skip ahead. Those were dark years, man.

In 2016, six weeks after Gregg’s mom died, the adults in the family were trying to fake it for the kids, watching the toddlers decorate the Christmas tree because no one else had the heart to. Frankly, those toddlers did a better job than I would have. We all felt keenly the fact that Gregg’s mom wasn’t there to make last minute runs to the store for stocking stuffers or to let you forage through her well-stocked makeup drawer. And that hole that she left is what we were all trying to ignore when we had Christmas Round Two on the 26th, a sort of second chance at feeling something that felt like Christmas spirit. We had spent hours making funeral potatoes, which I later threw up. I was in the middle of eating, juggling Luke and trying get Thomas to eat, when I decided enough was enough, Gregg should wake up and come and eat with the rest of us.

Side bar: if you don’t know what funeral potatoes are, they’re basically like if potatoes and cheese had a baby and that baby was mixed with various other dairy products and crack and then baked to a golden-brown perfection. I think it’s technically a casserole, but it’s also one of the top five most delicious dishes on Earth according to Paula Deen. I made that up.

Anyway, I think the thing that helped me get over wanting to burn down the North Pole this year was my inability to avoid Christmas. Like, I could not escape it. Every morning I woke up, walked up the stairs, and was greeted by a Christmas tree. I had to go to not one but TWO Christmas parties. My kids are old enough to know that they want to see Santa and, while I am not a perfect parent and let my children do things like watch other kids open toys on YouTube, I will endure any amount of pain to see their eyes light up with joy. So I stood in line while they waited to see Santa and then took several pictures of them, all of which were terrible. But really, the exposure to it all just made it less aversive. Seeing and smelling and hearing Christmas taught my brain that it wouldn’t actually kill me and made me less anxious about it. Which would have made sense in my behaviorist mind if someone had told me that’s what I needed to do, but it also would have made sense in my mind to punch that person in the throat for telling me that’s what I needed to do… so yeah, I’m glad that no one tried to give me advice about how to move forward.

But even though it feels less like I’m being attacked by a tiger that I need to kill with fire this year, Christmas still feels empty. I’m sad to say that to say that I haven’t even been able to feel the true meaning of Christmas. That is one thing that has been hard. I would genuinely be fine without the presents or the lights or the food… but I love my Savior and I want to celebrate his birth. But feeling that means feeling everything, and I guess I just can’t right now. There are times when I do, but I can’t feel it all right now. Cheers to Christmas being over and to the coming new year.



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