This time of year messes with my brain.
Although I’ve had a superb go of the holidays for the last five years or so, I can’t express what it did to me to find that family didn’t want me.
I’m thinking about this because at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I did one of those ungrateful, “Well, I’d totally work on Thanksgiving if I could.”
I didn’t say that as a reflection of the people who so graciously invite me year after year to their table. I said it because I hate Thanksgiving.
I think Thanksgiving may have been my favorite of the holidays when I was younger, because I’m rather fond of food, but nowadays, it’s the first bit of the whole terrible holiday season, so I think it’s the one where, no matter how well Ashly, Matt, and Sarah take care of me, I’m still not sure everything is okay. After an entire year of not thinking about what family is “supposed” to be and not being asked about family, people at work, at church, at yoga, everywhere are suddenly small-talking about what I’ll be doing. For the rest of the year, Thursdays are fine. But this one Thursday usually starts to piss me off long before it comes around, because it causes too many conversations and is the catalyst for too many wonderings about what the hell I did that was so wrong.
…what I should do if this is the year when she invites me back.
…how I have to be prepared to forgive no matter how deeply and carelessly I was wounded.
…how I’ve been forgiven far greater transgressions those committed against me.
…how I can’t go back now, because that would dishonor the family that chooses me year after year after year, regardless of who and what I am.
…how hard it would be to communicate forgiveness while sticking by the people who stuck by me.
I’m not in any way exaggerating the thoughts that occupy my mind during the holidays.
In addition to those what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do worries, I usually spend a fair amount of time remembering.
When the family rift went down, it was partly because of a blog post I wrote, and more significantly because of decades of siblings not caring about each other. It was an inability to forgive, and it was a lack of empathy.
But remembering those things is a waste if I don’t learn from those lapses of relationship – if I use them to screw her because she screwed me.
I start by remembering the email that summed it up in the inexplicable, “You just don’t live up to our standards.”
If I were dealing drugs, that would make sense to me. If my family were rich and fancy, that would make sense to me. If I were a terrorist or they were shockingly attractive.
But, it doesn’t make sense to me. Because they’re ordinary people and I almost never give in to my puppy-kicking and public nudity urges. In fact, I’ve never even given a drunken toast at a wedding.
I’m not saying that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread; I’m selfish, and I honestly don’t have a clue why Lori is such a good friend to me, because I’m definitely not as great a friend to her as she is to me. I’m needy and struggling most of the time, even though I doubt that’s how she or any of my other friends sees me.
Still, I really don’t get how there could be anyone out there who might say, “Katie doesn’t live up to my standards.”
What the hell kind of standards does a person have to have to find me so lacking?
Suffice it to say that I spend a significant chunk of the holiday season trying to make sense of my perceived deficiencies.
Additionally, most years, there’s some new piece of information that’s been revealed and provides my next element to worry over. Last year, it was an odd visit. I later learned that this visit left her feeling encouraged – like we might be able to work things out. For me, all I felt was a person who found me lacking significantly enough to dispose of me, saying, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?
Which sounds an awful lot like, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?”
Had someone close to me said it, things would have been fine. To be fair, part of the problem is that someone close to me would have known me well-enough not to have had to ask. Also, I would have trusted someone close to me to ask the question for the right reasons. I wouldn’t have feared that the question was born of competitive drive, with the intent of measuring me – as if that visit were a tryout for admittance back into the family… which I still think it kind of was.
This year, the revelation is that the disowning isn’t something she even recalls doing.
I think I was told about this with the thought that the disowning obviously wasn’t a big deal to her. She isn’t angry still, because she doesn’t even remember it, and therefore, there is hope that we might work it out.
Mulling over that new revelation this year has brought me to the excruciating place where something that hurt me deeply didn’t even merit memory for her. It was the squishing of an ant… it matters quite a lot to the ant, but very little to the ant squisher.
I remember that first year of not knowing where I’d go for the holidays. I remember how each individual holiday was knots and gnarls in my stomach, because I’d never had to wonder before whether people wanted me around or not. I’d never had to discover who my truest companions are and trust that I wasn’t imposing on them, because they said my presence wasn’t an imposition (although it’s hard to believe anyone could want me around if the people who are obligated to want me around asked me not to come around).
The things in between – decorating the house… Disney Lane Christmas lights… Christmas music… gift buying… movie watching, Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown… Walking Winterhaven, which is the only time a person can justifiably wear mittens in the desert… the Tucson things that matter during the Christmas season.
New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Day.
It’s hurtful that she made a choice with such lifelong ramifications, without even considering how it would impact my life. It impacted her very little, but it changed the last six weeks or so of every year for me.
I’ve found a lot of joy in the holidays this year.
I’ve remembered what it is to laugh – really laugh – the way kids do sometimes.
I’ve cooked and decorated. My house looks pretty amazing (if I do say so myself).
I finally bought myself that bike – the impractical one with a cup holder and a basket – the one with the brakes you have to pedal backwards if you want to slow down. The bike with only one gear – slow and easy. I felt the wind in my hair the way a it does when kids get their first bikes as I rode it home from Walmart (because nothing fits in the bug).
So I’m not writing this as a screw you to her. I know she’s going to hate that I wrote this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that she still reads what I write, but she does, and I know it’s going to become another bullet point on the list of why I don’t live up to the standards. It’s another blog post that’s worthy of the disowning – more evidence that I too often refuse to toe the line, following the tail she lays out for the people in her life. I admit I’m a bush-whacker at heart.
But there are others who claim and own me regardless of what I write – or possibly even occasionally because of what I write. They love me without judging my hatred of the well-paved road. They’ve read their Frost and allow that the road less traveled might be a worthy one… because the broadest, straightest roads often take us in exactly the wrong direction. There are people who don’t ignore my apologies or even require the. They often forgive me when I haven’t asked for forgiveness.
They are the people I want to become.
She isn’t the primary, secondary, or even tertiary audience for whom I write, or for whom I live, so, in all honesty, I write this mostly for myself – as a release. Because I will never live up to those standards, nor do I desire to live up to them. I need to put that in writing and out of my head. Because even though I’ve known since the moment I read her email, my heart has still been tirelessly trying to work it out – trying to find that nail in the coffin of who I am that if I just change it a little, she’ll love me, forgive me… for whatever it is that’s so wrong about me.
I write it for my holiday benefactors, as an apology that five amazing years is a greater gift than anyone has ever given me, and yet, my heart is still broken. Though you’ve aided in the mending, time is all that can be expected to heal such wounds. I’m sorry for how my hatred of Thanksgiving must seem like ungratefulness, and that all I offer you is often too-gooey pecan pie. I struggle more than I admit to believe that the walks, board and card games, childlike laughter, and good glasses of wine are more than illusion. I struggle to believe that your kindness towards me is more than illusion. That you are more than illusion.
I also write for Lori and Steve, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave, because real friends are like that. 🙂 I met you, Lori, more than half my life ago, and you, Steve, soon after. You’ve attended more of my birthday parties than anyone has. You’ve moved me from a house, to an apartment, to another apartment, to another house, to another apartment, and, finally, into another house. For every event I’ve hosted, you’ve arrived first and departed last, as I hope might be true of your presence in my day-to-day life.
The holidays piss me off, but I promise I’m growing and changing, and that in five more years, the standards will be a vanished vapor.