It’s the holiday season, so a whoop-di-do and a I WANT TO PUKE! Call me a Scrooge all you want but I have every reason to be this year. Relax, I’m not going to kick puppies or grimace at babies (unless they’re being unnecessarily loud) but celebrating “the holidays” is just about the last thing I want to do right now. I mean really, what are these holidays without my dad?
I am not a big fan of Thanksgiving. Actually I kind of hate it. One of my aunts died on Thanksgiving morning when I was in seventh grade, only a few weeks after my uncle died, and the Thanksgiving after that my sister got into a car accident on her way home from school. (She was not injured, only the car was, but car accidents are by nature upsetting.) Even though my sister has always spent this holiday with her dad (half-sisters, remember) ever since those two Thanksgivings the day has felt particularly lonely for me—just me, Mom, Dad, and Aunt Pat eating turkey at our house, then Mom and I going to the movies, then all of us going down to Aunt Mary’s house the next day for Thanksgiving Part II because she couldn’t drive up to our house anymore. When I was a kid my mom made a huge turkey/stuffing/potatoes kind of dinner plus a huge pasta/meatballs/salad kind of dinner and our house was filled with guests, so each passing year is a reminder of how many family members we’ve lost. This year that reminder will feel a whole lot worse.
The only part of Thanksgiving I enjoy, at least for the past five years, is a tradition I started with my friends: Mini-Thanksgiving. It’s our annual potluck dinner held at one of our houses, involving my mom’s famous stuffing, an unbelievably delicious pineapple upside-down cake, and some of the best friends a girl could ask for. It’s one of the few nights a year all 1o of us are together; it has always been incredibly important to me that we all be there, so I certainly don’t want to be the one to break tradition this year because I’m upset about my dad. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
The real killer is going to be Christmas. Every day without my dad is a killer but this is the day I have feared most since May 30. I believe with all my heart that this is when his death is going to hit me the hardest. I’ve described how much it hurts that he won’t be there on my wedding day, won’t be there to help me buy my first apartment, won’t be there to hold his grandchild for the first time, or ever, but those are all theoretical events in the future that may not happen the when and how I think they will. But December 25, 2010, and every day leading up to it, will happen without a doubt and will suck beyond the telling of it.
I’m going to hear all of our favorite Christmas songs on the radio and for the first time in my life not feel like singing along to them, in fact I will probably change the station. An ongoing joke in our family is that Santa’s handwriting looks an awful lot like Dad’s, but his handwriting will not appear on my presents this year. Not that I even give a crap about presents this year. He won’t be there to make a big fuss about putting up the tree, won’t be there to yell at me for putting the lights on the tree wrong, won’t be there to turn on one of his rock-and-roll Christmas albums while we decorate the tree with all his little trucks and diner replicas and nativity scenes.
Aunt Mary won’t be there either. She won’t be there to bake cookies from scratch with, won’t be there to tell us her latest gambling adventures, won’t be there to fall asleep an hour into dinner. I have to make my list of presents to buy people and there will be no “Dad” or “Aunt Mary” categories. I already saw season five of 24 on Amazon and automatically thought ‘Christmas present for Dad. Oh wait…’ He won’t be there Christmas morning in his rumpled old green bathrobe, hair sticking out all over the place, directing who opens which present when. He won’t be there to unwrap the exact same Rolling Stones CD he bought Mom, I won’t hear his loud chuckle when he realizes he and Mom got each other the same gift again. (How was that only last year? How can so much have changed in one friggin’ year?) He won’t go pick up Aunt Pat and I won’t go pick up Aunt Mary, he won’t ask me if I want to try the new holiday beer Mom bought him and he won’t be back and forth between hollering at the football game in the den and grabbing some pigs-in-a-blanket in the living room. And what about Christmas dinner, who is going to sit in his chair at the head of the table? Or are we just going to leave it empty? Am I just supposed to stare at that empty seat while eating my mom’s ziti and meatballs like it’s any other year? He’s really not going to be sitting there? How is that even possible?
Oh and let’s not forget what comes precisely two weeks after Christmas: my birthday. I was pretty sure my 19th birthday, when my mom went into the hospital for brain surgery, was the worst I would ever have, but no. This one will surely take the cake (no pun intended). When my parents took me out to dinner for my birthday last year, I was angry. It was just past the one-year anniversary of when I left for Rome and all I could think about was my 21st birthday there, at my host family’s house and then at a real classy bar called The Drunken Ship, and how I wished more than anything that I were back there. In fact I was pretty angry for all of Christmas break last year because living at home for the first time in two years was driving me completely insane, much like it is now. I think I even got into a fight with my dad right before I went back to school, and I gladly drove off without so much as a goodbye. So on top of all this misery and heartache and nausea, we’ve thrown a whole lot of guilt into the mix too.
If it were up to me I’d skip town from right about now until mid-January, preferably to a secluded island where the only activities I am required partake in are swiming, eating and sleeping. Or more realistically I would do nothing to acknowledge the holidays—no presents no tree no dinners no parties no nothing, just veg out and watch movies, maybe even make like a Jew and order Chinese food. I seem to be the only one who feels this way, though, so I just have to suck it up and continue to pretend I am okay when I really feel hopeless and miserable because all I can think about is the fact that I will have more Thanksgivings, Christmases and birthdays without my dad than with.
And so I leave you with a parting thought from an old family favorite that I think sums up my feelings pretty accurately: They’re singing Deck the Halls, but it’s not like Christmas at all.