Monday, December 24, 2012

Oh, Please, Mister Father Tree


I wrote this story years ago, maybe when I was in high school, maybe when I was in college. It's hard to tell, because I write stories and leave them in poorly marked, unspecified files for myself to try to find years later. (Don't ask me how my photos are stored, ugh). But this story has to be at least six or seven years old. Some things have changed since then, some haven't. The sentiment of the holidays both as an intensely painful time and as a time of joy sticks with me to this day. 

I leave you with this story, but I hope that if it rings too close to home and too true, that you find something about the holidays that you love, and keep it close by for comfort. We all get to write the stories of our lives, for better or worse, and I hope to keep writing better futures. 

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         I believed in Santa Claus until I was thirteen. That was the year my father left, and winter came colder than I ever remembered. I don’t know if I hugged him goodbye. Years later that night is all a blur. He had a late flight, and my last vague memory was him standing in our dimly-lit kitchen with his suitcase. He probably tried to force me to hug him. I don’t know when he decided to leave, just that one day he was there and the next day he wasn’t. My mom didn’t drive him to the airport – he called a taxi, probably the only one in our little Mississippi town.

          When he left, there were no eggshells or rooms to avoid. We could be too quiet or too loud, we could play on the computer late, we didn’t worry about food disappearing from the fridge.

          But there was no one lying next to my mom in the big king size bed. The dog took to sleeping there, and now, years later, no one can say it isn’t her spot. I remember being small, teacake-size, and snuggling in between my parents in the morning before school. The alarm would go off a few times then they would shove me out, toward my room to get dressed.

          The psychiatrist asked me once if Christmas made me miss him. I don’t remember much of my father around Christmas, except maybe once or twice he lifted me on his shoulders to put the angel on top of the tree. But we always decorated with my mom and shopped with her. I don’t remember that much of him during the rest of the year; I don’t know why she would think Christmas was so special.

          The year he left was different, because I decided if I was old enough to manage without a father then I was old enough to not believe in Santa Claus. It wasn’t really a rite of passage – not like my first kiss, or my first period, or the first time I stayed home alone in the dark. Those had already passed. Funny how they meant so little.

          Now I lie in bed, wishing I could sleep as soundly as my girlfriend next to me. The lights go out, and she’s down faster than a kid on a snowboard. It’s Christmas Eve, and we’ll spend tomorrow with our separate families and hopefully shove an hour together near the end. They’ve never met, which is ok, because I doubt I could handle them all together. Christmas, and all the alcohol that comes with it, would make it even more interesting.
          We’ll go through the day tomorrow, thinking of each other every moment, but in reality forgetting she exists. It’s the game we play with our families, because they would so much rather believe we were single and straight. Or married and straight. Just straight. It’s Christmas so they won’t hassle us, unlike normal days. We’ll all gather around the tree and exchange presents and drink until we’re smashed; the lesbian thing will disappear faster than the turkey burns in the oven. Everyone will be nice, super nice, asking how work is and telling me all the uber-exciting things they have done lately. I’ll talk about how the pipe in the bathroom under the sink leaks sometimes and how boring the Christmas party at work was. I won’t mention how we had great sex last night or how she woke me up with mistletoe and hot chocolate. I’ll forget how she lit all the candles in the house to remind me of Christmas Eve church services when I was a kid.

          I wonder what my father would do if he met her. What would he think of the whole lesbian thing? (as if it were a phase, a sidebar from life) When I was younger, and angrier, it would stir in me to call him and yell: “Guess what? I’m gay.” It’s just too hypocritical though. I swore it wasn’t about him, my life didn’t wrap around his goings and comings – or lack of them. My sexuality wouldn’t depend on it either.

          Even at Christmas I can’t forgive him. I’m not sure it’s about forgiveness anymore. Is that Easter or Christmas? Christian holidays, dear me, I can’t seem to keep track. All these people running around, saying, “Think of the Baaabbby Jessssus,” as if he would open his eyes in some stroller and ask, “So how are you really doing?”

          No, Christmas is about little boys who count if they have more presents than their sisters. It’s emptying your bank account for people you haven’t seen in years. It’s cards from relatives you thought were dead, roasted turkeys and hams and every animal possible, the Rockefeller tree with some Rockettes in mini skirts doing high kicks.

          This year the big thing is the debate between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” because the latter is more politically correct. The truth is, no saying will make up the injustice of all the non-Christians who are bombarded by gospel music on the radio, the television, in stores, and seeping out of the very air. We haven’t named Hanukkah as a national holiday (nor any other Jewish religious holiday), but for some reason we recognize Valentine’s Day. Schools, workplaces, and d├ęcor are not based on some sort of “Holiday Season” but rather Christmas – Santa Claus, Jesus, and red and green stuff. I even know Jewish and Islamic people who give presents on Christmas. Not that I think any day is a bad day for presents – if we gave more, maybe we would need to take less. Or hate less. But it seems so… dominate-culture-ish.

          My girlfriend hates Christmas, mostly because of the hype. And she hates wrapping presents. Hates it more than getting out of bed at 4 a.m. or doing the dishes. Then there’s the money thing, how even when we pull the rent out a month early, we get dangerously close to the hole come January. We’re barely out in time to pay taxes in April. I miss being young – kids usually get back more than they spend on others. Adults… not so much.

          I’m going to try to go to sleep now. I won’t think of tomorrow (and our silences) or my father or Santa Claus. I’ll dream of sugar fairies and plums, or was it the other way around? It will all be over by tomorrow night, when we’ll be back in bed – money spent and gifts unwrapped and tummy full. I’ll let her lay her head on my chest, while I wrap my arms around her. We’ll give each other the crummy things we need (and maybe a few we don’t). But it will be just us. And life will begin again, for another 364 days at least, the way it is every day – work, rent, friends, food, illnesses, birthdays, the rest. My father and Santa Claus will go back to the places they belong – the history of a child’s memory.

          At the end it is not the imaginary, a fat man with a sleigh, some reindeer, and the world full of children to deliver presents to, that carries us along through the Season and the year. It is the problems of our society, the delights and downfalls of family, and the banality of everyday life.

          But in the morning, I will awake and whisper, “Merry Christmas, beautiful, I love you.” I will push myself to be positive, to remember why it is worth waking up. The forced silence and the pain of remembering will go to the bottom of the closet for a little while. And she will be there. She’ll be there, and we will both be ok.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No Matter How They Tossed the Dice

I used to think lists and written goals were silly, an overly bureaucratic waste of my time. I'm not really sure when this changed, but I find that I am so much more focused and self-aware when I set goals. It still feels weird and slightly unfamiliar, but so does not having them. The last few weeks I find myself collecting ideas and thoughts about relationships, reading things that I want to carry around, finding methods I want to put into practice. I'm creating this list, knowing I will add and edit it over time, to remind myself of what I find important. It uses feminine pronouns because I'm dating someone female-identified currently, but I think this list goes for anyone. Most of these will take daily work, and I will fail repeatedly at all of them. But failure is not a final answer, simply an opportunity for learning.

Things I strive for in our relationship:

1) To actively listen to her, to try my hardest not to interrupt, and to provide a response that fits what she is asking for. Not to split my attention. To remember that most, if not all, of what she says is important to her. I want to be present, and active listening is a huge part of that.

2) To determine whether she is asking for a sounding board, emotional support, or advice, and to provide what she needs without my own opinion or assumptions. To acknowledge her feelings, even if I don't agree, and to recognize that those feelings are valid and important to her.

3) To be honest and open with her. I struggle often to talk about my own feelings, and thoughts may roll around in my head for weeks or months before I have the courage to say them out loud. I will work on overcoming my fears about being emotionally vulnerable so that I can open up to her. I will talk with her about the things that are important to me, to us. I will work on acknowledging my mistakes, my baggage, my shortcomings, and my fears.

4) To always support her autonomy, her desires and dreams, and the things in her life that are important to her. To acknowledge and respect her friendships, her relationship with her family, her dreams, her hobbies, and her work. To give her ample freedom and time to cultivate all those things without my interference and often, without me. I want my girlfriend to always have a life outside of me, and I don't want her to have to check in, verify, or ask my permission to act on her own. I do not need to know where she is constantly, what she is doing, or who she is with. I will respect her privacy, and I will never violate what is hers -- her texts and emails, her online accounts, her journals or writing, her private correspondence and conversations. I will respect her space, her routines, and her relationships with other people. I will exercise no control over what is hers, and I will recognize that her life is not "mine" or "ours."

5) To always make time for her, to do things which she enjoys (even if I don't), and to enjoy time with her without expecting it. To thank her, praise her, and acknowledge what she does for me. To do small things that please her. To show my love to her through words, actions, and time.

6) To respect her sexual boundaries, to keep exploring within our sexual relationship, to ask for what I want without fear or shame, and to treat sex as a privilege, not an expectation. To remember that sex is not a quid-pro-quo exchange, and that we both want and need different things at different times. To receive her requests to not engage in sexual activity at a given moment with grace, not with surliness or frustration. To be conscious of how she feels and responds to my sexual energy.

7) To forgive and forget. To fight fair. To respect when she needs to walk away and take a break, and to ask for the space to do so, too, if I need it. To verbalize what I need and what I want when I am upset, because she cannot read my mind. To apologize when I am wrong or when I hurt her. To never revive an argument or mistake if it has been settled and forgiven. To acknowledge my capacity for mistakes, and to try my best to never act out of passive-aggressiveness toward her.

8) Be mindful of what she does not like, and respect that we desire different things. For example, if she does not like gifts, then refrain from buying her things.

9) To never promise anything I can't provide. See: forever.

10) To respect our agreement to have an open relationship, to act within the boundaries we have set, and to give her the space to act on her attractions to other people. To acknowledge my jealousy and my insecurity, but to remember that I cannot let these feelings overwhelm me or affect how I treat her. To always be honest and conscious of the feelings and needs of my lovers. To take steps to protect everyone involved and ensure that I act in ways that are consentual and respectful.

11) To really take this idea to heart: That commitment, instead of being a promise for a future, can be a devotion to radical deep presence, with longevity as a by-product.

12) To remind myself that my crazy is mine -- she does not know pain and history if I do not tell her. To acknowledge my baggage and unfamiliar, uneasy, or painful feelings when they arise. To allow her the ability to rewrite the script, and to talk with her when my past affects us. To release my fears, anxieties, and pain when possible. To remember that she is not my former lovers, and to try my best not to assume her actions and reactions will be the same as theirs. To remember that she has her own pain and history, and to do my best to support her in working through her own baggage.