The Holiday Season is a time of reflection. Like a silent movie, the memories of the past and the faces of people I have loved, play in my head. I was sitting outside on the screened-in porch. I could hear them talk, I could hear them laugh. I had called the dogs and had stepped outside for a minute. I wanted to be alone. Christmas evening is special to me and 2009 was no exception. To this day I insist that MY CHRISTMAS is celebrated on the evening of December 24th, the Austrian way.
Christmas morning has not much meaning to me, it belongs to my husband and whoever might join us.
Weihnachten/Christmas in Austria is quieter, not as loud and colorful as it’s celebrated here in the United States, and while I have adapted to all the American traditions and holidays, I always insisted to keep MY Christmas alive as well. An homage for my upbringing, a THANK YOU to my Grandmother.
I sat outside in the cold and cried. I was angry with myself. How could I have left behind what was so dear to me? The brass stand for the Adventskranz, my husband’s stocking that I had made years ago. It had taken me almost a month to hand stitch Santa with sequins, beads, felt, and cotton pieces. I had been so proud of it, and knowing that it must have gotten thrown out with all our other things, hurt me more than I can say. The German Christmas pyramid I had found at a resale shop. My pride and joy. I had treasured it for so many years. Liting the candles, and watching the wood pyramid slowly go around had always been a special treat. My Christmas mug, the beautiful cheesy cup a friend had given me. The elf hat. All gone!
The box with our special ornaments. Every year we had bought another one, sometimes silly ones, sometimes beautiful additions to our tree. Why did I not take them?
Not for the first time, I felt bitterness. What a terrible feeling it is. A mix of jealousy and resentment of the past. I felt like a loser. I had come here to this country with nothing more than a couple of suitcases, a heart full of love, and a soul full of curiosity so many years ago. I had worked so hard, we had come so far, yet here we were.
What makes a loser a loser? Is it because you lose or because you accept your loss? Maybe it’s the other way around and you become a loser if you can’t accept your loss?
I stayed outside for a long time. The laughter inside was just not appealing.
I had a ring in my pocket. It wasn’t anything special, as a matter of fact, I had bought it twenty years ago at a coffee shop in Munich, Germany when I had been working there for a few weeks. A small gold band with a blue sapphire between two very tiny diamonds. My friend had always admired it, and I had decided to give it to her for Christmas.
A small token of my appreciation. A little thank you for her kindness and her generosity.
I like giving presents. I have been told I am a mean gift giver, which I know was meant to be a compliment, given by my father-in-law on Christmas morning when the book I had given him, had made him cry. He had mentioned the title years earlier when he talked about his time during WWII. The whole unit had one book to read, and the last pages had been missing. “The most boring book I had ever read,” he told us. He had been laughing with earnest eyes. I had found the first edition at an antique store by accident. I had remembered the weird title and had bought the used book for a few dollars. The gift would be either a hit or miss -there was no in-between. The man who didn’t like to hug, almost squeezed the life out of me that day.
I love giving presents. Watching people’s faces when they unpack something they secretly wished for or had all forgotten about, is a priceless gift I give myself. I never learned how to receive gifts properly.
That year I had nothing to offer. I felt left out, I felt cheated by life. Memories of so many holidays, not all of them were great, some were disappointments because the reality could not live up to my HALLMARK expectations.
I started shivering, called the dogs and we went back inside. Nobody even noticed. They had fun. The booze in the eggnog gave them red cheeks. I filled up my mug and poured a generous amount of whiskey into it as well. Why not?
No Christmas songs, no Christmas movies, no Christmas cookies. Nothing was to my liking. I wished myself far away, I found myself wondering about the future. Where would we be in one year? Would there be a Christmas? Silly thoughts I tried to booze away.
I had no reason to complain, yet I did. Inside me, I was fighting against myself.
My friend looked at Kurt. She was tipsy, laughing like a little girl, eyes glittering. She was in love with the guy I could tell. I loved to see her so happy, at the same time I wanted to shake some sense into her.
“Is it him or the memory of your husband? I had carefully asked the day before. “I don’t know,” at least she was honest.
He had been over every day. She was falling for him deep and hard, and I felt it was my job to be by her side to prevent her from getting hurt. I had no right to think bad of him, yet I did. There was something about the guy that made my neck hair stand up. The whole situation was so grotesque. I wished my friend would have stayed sober more often.
Christmas morning, way before everybody else was up, I went into the kitchen to make sure everything was ok. I checked the freezers and the smokehouse. I made sure the space heater was turned off when the door opened. Ben had come to see me. He handed me a Soduku book. “Here you nerd, Merry Christmas,” he said with a wide grin. He had a word-find book for my husband in his other hand. How thoughtful of him. He had seen us solve our puzzles when we had to wait for the sausages, or the meat to be ready.
I thought it was awful sweet. “Are the kids still sleeping? I wondered. “No, they were up at 3 am,” and found Santa’s presents. I had to laugh.
Around 10 am we all met at my friend’s house. The kids got all their presents from her, and there were many. The adults exchanged gifts. My husband and I went into the guestroom, ‘our’ bedroom, we felt like we didn’t belong. We didn’t have anything to give. There were no presents for us. I gave him the scarf, we hugged, we both thought the same. “Where will be next year?
The afternoon was filled with food. We all enjoyed the feast we had prepared. Turkey and goose, red cabbage, sweet potato casserole, pies and cakes, au gratin potatoes, vegetables, gravies, roasted chestnuts, and hot red wine (Glühwein) from the World Market.
The Christmas cake, too beautiful to be cut into, got destroyed by a bunch of people who should have stopped eating hours earlier.
Around 8 pm my friend was officially drunk. She slurred her words, made a mess on the table, spilled her drink. I had to get her to bed somehow. She thought so too but in a different way.
She got up, dragged me with her. “I am going to tell him that I like him a lot,” she told me. I wasn’t sure what scared me more, the words, or the way she was trying to keep her balance.
“I tell them all to leave, and you two could go to the kitchen for a while.” I was in no position to argue with her. I know what I should have said but I only nodded.
I told everybody the party was over. I almost threw them out, escorted them to the door, and told my husband we had to check the kitchen. He tried to say something, but my LOOK stopped him.
I told him what was going on. “Sweet Jesus,” he said. We both felt the same way about it.
Half an hour later, or an hour later (I don’t remember) we got tired and went back to the house. The living room and the kitchen were empty. There was light in her bedroom and we could hear them laugh.
As drunk as she was, she had invited him right into her bedroom and he had followed her.
Sweet Jesus, was followed by “Good Lord,” from my husband. I didn’t say a word. Sometimes there are no words.
We went to the guestroom, took all the dogs with us.
As I said before, between Christmas and New Year, everything would change.
Life writes the best stories and I happen to have lived a few -not always by choice. Our ‘story’ writes itself and it gives me the joy (and a bit of pain) of reliving some of it. So much seemed clearer now, so much doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
The category “Losing it all” is from start to finish the time in our lives between November 2009 to probably March 2012 or 2013. I will leave a few things out but not much.
Thank you for reading!