Christmas in the hole
At my parents' house the day before Christmas, my older brother, a Gulf War Marine Corps veteran, lurched in from the garage carrying a laundry basket spilling over with wrapped gifts and bellowed, "Christmas in the hooooollllllllle!"
It's a better metaphor than he knew. I spent Christmas in the hole. Instead of feeling bright and expansive, I was tired, preoccupied, and muted. It took a significant sustained effort to stay alert and seem engaged when all I longed to do was drag myself into a quiet closet, curl up into a human comma, and sleep. Wait, I will give you a simple but effective illustration of my state of mind: When I heard my father say, "Charlie, want to see Grandfather's gun?" I did not immediately fly furiously across the kitchen, dead set on making him eat it. (It was more of an exasperated mosey.)
It is a strange and burdensome thing to pretend to be cheerful when my sadness is so pervasive. We haven't told our families about anything that's happened. It always seems easier that way, when acknowledging it would also mean having to seem recovered from it.
I have not recovered. There's so much I didn't manage this year, made sluggish by my disappointment. No decorations to speak of; cards sent haphazardly to very few. The gifts for my family arrived in time, just barely. The gifts for Paul's family did not. The excuses I made were dishonest. I sent a note of apology to his sister, whose reply I can only paraphrase because it made me feel so rotten that I immediately deleted it.
I received your message with some glee. I'd felt bad every time I visited you and Paul because your home and your hospitality were always so impeccable. Now I see I can blame my own shortcomings on having children around instead of my own lack of organization. You're finding out how having kids changes your whole life!
Sure I am!
For the entire length of our visit, Charlie was magnificent, which made it both better and worse. To those of you who worry that in my sadness I fail to appreciate the child I already have, let me assure you that watching him clap his hands with delight on Christmas morning, dancing from foot to foot, caroling, "Hewway forda Kissmas tree!" did something gorgeous and indelible to my heart. But hearing my parents marvel at his beauty, and exclaim over his unflagging good nature, and refer to him with wonder as "a real miracle" did something indelible, too. Back before we had Charlie, I had not been willing to accept that we might not get this at all. Now I don't know how to accept that we may get it only this once.
Late in the afternoon, when the presents had been opened and we were all more than a little shell-shocked, I sat with a glassy-eyed Charlie on my lap. My brother waved his hand in front of Charlie's face. Charlie's expression didn't change; he didn't even notice it. "Poor kid," said my brother, sadly shaking his head. "Hit by Christmas shrapnel."
Well, that makes two of us, brother.