Holiday Spirits

My daughter is Elf-level excited for Christmas. At 19, she can leverage this excitement into a force to be reckoned with. It’s not quite the same cuteness factor it was at 9, but a lot harder to resist, as she doesn’t respond well to “It’s bedtime now” anymore.

I am somewhat less excited. The first set of holidays post-divorce is hard. Especially when Christmas was your family’s “thing”. For all his other faults, my ex really went out of his way to make the holidays magical every year and by and large he succeeded. I knew Christmas would be hard. I didn’t know I’d be up against the second coming of Christmas Spirit herself, but we’re making it work. Last weekend we decorated a village of gingerbread houses. She had The Polar Express playing in the background to accompany her mood, I had wine for mine. I made Christmas candy for my coworkers, and managed not to eat it all. Instead I had wine. We put up the tree, I had… well, let’s just say there’s a theme.

So far, I have not succumbed to Scrooge impersonations. But I did have to talk for 90 minutes in therapy to realize that I need to give myself space to be sad. Not despairing, nor depressed – just sad. It’s okay to be sad at Christmas. It feels a little like trudging.

to-trudgeBut it is punctuated by sounds that make me sing, food smells that make me hungry, and lights and pictures that make me smile. It’s not all bad. Next year will be easier. And the one after that, easier still. This is my lesson of 2016. Nothing feels like death forever, except actual death and that hasn’t happened yet. Of course, my other lesson of 2016 was that Dorothy Parker knew what she was about when she asked, “What fresh hell can this be?” because there’s plenty of it to go around. You’d think hell would run out, but no – there’s always a fresh supply on hand. The sell-by date on first post-divorce Christmas, however, will pass and not come again.

A While.

There’s nothing quite like that moment when your husband tells you he fell out of love with you “a while” ago.

On the one hand, it’s a punch in the gut, but on the other, it’s kind of a relief. It’s a relief to know that you weren’t imagining it. That it wasn’t your fault. That the dead weight you’ve been suffocating under IS actually that elephant in the room. Only it’s dead now. Like your marriage.

Of course on the other hand, you now have a two tons of rotting pachyderm to dig yourself out from under, so that doesn’t sound like fun. And honestly, I can’t think about that right now. It’s too much. My brain literally won’t even go there. It’s like, “Oh no, this is fine. It’s warm and heavy like a comforter. Just leave it. I like the smell of dead elephant. Really.”

So I’m just going to dwell in the relief for a bit. I’m going to languish in the absolute euphoria that comes from knowing this was not my fault. I’ve been rowing a boat for two people, expending all that energy, and I just looked behind me and it turns out there’s no one there. I can rest. I can stop fighting, and oh god does that sound so, so sweet.

At some point I’m going to realize that the tears streaming down my face mean something. Eventually, I’m going to want to tear things apart with my bare hands – I can feel it there, in the back of my mind, waiting for when it feels right. But not right now. Right now, I’m going to cradle that sad, frustrated, confused little heart of mine and whisper: It’s not you. It was never you. You are worthy. You are loved. I’ve got you and it’s going to be okay.

I don’t know what okay looks like, but I know it’s out there somewhere… waiting for me.

Boots

From time to time, I might post old pieces that I want to keep track of, or that I think are worth revisiting. This was originally written 27 August, 2012.


A decade ago, the word “boots” would have meant ankle-height, black leather with a low, chunky heel. Something stylish and comfortable that I could stand in at work for eight or more hours. And that would be the end of this piece. Okay, if I’m being totally honest, it might have included a brief fantasy about knee-high, laced up, stiletto-heeled, these-boots-are-made-for-sexin’ footwear.

Now, though, I see a pair of tan, size 13, authorized ACU boots.

I see long laces of 550 cord pulled tight and clasped with the little spring-loaded gizmo I don’t know the name for and the excess hidden in the top. Or I see the laces ends come out of hiding, and the clasp move to the end while fingers pull slack into each section. If there is such a thing as ceremony in this house, it might be this twice-daily ritual of lacing and unlacing the tan, rough-side-out cattle hide leather, side-vented regulation army boots. They go on last at the feet, but they signify an invisible mantle that settles over the head of the wearer – the attitude of the professional soldier. At home in the evening, they come off first and it’s like everybody relaxes at the same time – not a Soldier now, just Dad and Husband.

I love to see them sit neatly side by side at the door, brushed clean and softly slouched at the top. It means the feet that go in them are home, propped up bare on the couch or getting exceptionally stinky as they sweat in tennis shoes behind the lawn mower. Maybe they’re tapping against the bottom rung of the stool, in time to the music that plays over the work bench. The boots are relaxed and so am I.

Sometimes I see row after row of them, lined up, stiff and straight. They’re clean, of course, but also worn and tired, scuffed smooth by a year of  desert sand. I hear the sound they make, dozens clapping the ground in unison, a staccato rhythm of discipline and business. I see them in formation and it comforts me, those pylons in an upside-down sea of digital camouflage, marking individual pillars of soldiers. It scares me a little, too. They all look the same, but I know they are different.

I know a woman with boots in her house that will never be worn again. She leaves them by the door anyway because she can’t bear to put them away. That strikes me as both ridiculously self-indulgent and unutterably sad. I can’t seem to reconcile my need for pragmatic sensibility with the feeling that there is an encyclopedic wealth of subtext contained within a pair of boots.

I’m fearful of the day when the boots get put away for good. They’re our link to a way of life that defines our existence and a vernacular that has fused with our consciousness. What happens when those small daily ceremonies no longer bookend our day? What happens to old boots that have lost their purpose? Where to Army boots go to retire?

And will I ever think of “boots” again without first seeing my spouse, my partner in uniform? I hope not.