I don’t like Christmas.
When you read that, you thought “how horribly Grinch-like!” or “that’s really sad” or some other negative response, right?
I don’t like Christmas, and it’s not a big deal. But it seems to be a big deal every time I say it. The shock, the questions, the attempts to convince me otherwise. My feelings and opinions on holiday appear to be very very important to those around me, and maybe they’re just trying to fill me with some of the magic that they feel so that we can all be jolly together but at the end of the day it’s simply just a personal choice. I can feel magic and joy without needing a holiday to tell me to do so.
I’m not a Grinch, at least I try not to be. I don’t want others to experience Christmas any less than they want to. When I say “I don’t like Christmas” it’s not an attempt to ruin their holiday, it’s simply an expression of my opinion on the matter. A succinct attempt to give them a head’s up that, hey, if you keep talking about how much you love Christmas and all the wonders it brings, I just don’t really have anything to add to the conversation. I’m happy you’re happy, I just don’t care to participate.
First of all, I don’t believe in the Christian God. I don’t really think I ever did, and it was never really imposed on me by my family; I was baptized but never confirmed and we stopped going to church before I can remember what church is like. Believing in God isn’t necessary for Christmas, I understand that, but the name is right there in the title of the holiday. You don’t expect a person of Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist faith to celebrate Christmas, and you’re probably okay with that. But someone with no faith at all, well that’s just unacceptable.
Like I said, I do understand that the holiday isn’t all about Christ. It’s also about the unity of bringing people together, friends and family and loved ones. It’s a nice way to sum up a year, an excuse to see people you haven’t seen in a while, a reason to reconnect and eat and drink and be merry. And that’s a lot of fucking pressure. What if you’re not in the mood to be merry? The calendar says it’s the last week of December so you better start feeling it. In full force, nothing held back. You also better make sure you remember the names of all of those people you haven’t seen or even spoken to in months or maybe years, and you better have some fun upbeat anecdotes ready to share about how interesting your life has been since you last saw them. You have to be warm and polite and you have to make sure to talk to everyone long enough so that they feel like they’re important to you. And you have to do all of this while traveling through the worst crowds you’ve ever seen, and you better show up not exhausted and instead thrilled to now spend 4 days with people you literally have nothing in common with. Remember your cousins who you used to babysit nearly every weekend until they were 3 and 4? Now, you keep calling them by their wrong names and they have no recollection of ever knowing you.
Then there are the presents. Yes, I understand that Christmas isn’t about the presents, but it’s also 100% about the presents, right! You want to show that you care about someone so you think for a while about what they like, what they have, what they need, and what they want. You think about what dollar amount that friendship is worth to you and then you start searching for the perfect present. You need something personal enough so when they receive it, they know how much you care about them, so it has to be perfect. Multiply that effort and stress for all of your friends and family and now it’s basically a full time job finding gifts for everybody. You’ll never really know if you nailed it. Every single one of them will tell you they love it, that it’s just what they wanted, that they’re so honored you thought of them, that you didn’t have to, and then they’ll remind you that they love it one more time. Because who’s going to receive a Christmas gift and say, “sorry friend you missed the mark this time” and crush the efforts of the giver?
The pressure is also on even when you’re receiving gifts. That cozy sweater that’s just the style you want doesn’t fit. Do you smile and say thanks and throw it in the back of your closet forever? Do you muster up the courage to tell them it’s not quite right and make them feel guilty and embarrassed for missing the mark? You open a toy you’ve been excited to play with for weeks because you were just certain you would receive it. You go to play and there are no batteries because that slipped everyone’s mind, and now the giver has to watch your disappointment as you continue to wait some more before you can actually enjoy the gift they thought would bring you immediate joy.
It’s the guilt and the pressure of it all that takes away the magic for me. Years, and years and years of disappointed faces and voices, of spending so much effort only to realize it’s not appreciated, of the expectations and being forced to participate in unwanted awkward events.
I’d rather just refrain from it all. The rest of Western Civilization can continue to carry on with their lights and their songs and their cookies and their presents and their glee. All I want to do is continue on as normal because literally none of it means anything to me.
Such a cold morning to wake up to; another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and my three-day visit with my parents was just about coming to an end. We had a specific plan on how the day would turn out. We definitely did not see the hurt that was coming our way.
I awoke from my bed; the box of ashes of my dear departed, Precious, right at my nightstand. Never has there been a time where she was not at my side wherever I slept. She is my partner in crime, even beyond this lifetime. I always felt her presence nearby, wherever I would go. I truly miss that cat.
My parents and I left home to drop off my car at our usual car dealership for an oil change. We wanted to make the most of the time we had left before I returned home to LA. We went to get some breakfast and catch up on some good times. We talked about the sudden cold weather and how amazing it was to see all the snow on the mountains. It was a bit bittersweet to say the least; my brother was absent so it felt out of place to laugh when he wasn’t around. His girlfriend had to work Thanksgiving so he didn’t want her to be alone. I then received a call from the dealership that my Chevy Cruze was ready for pickup so we decided to leave.
As we got in our car and left the parking lot, my mother noticed a car stopping abruptly as it was making a right turn. We stopped to see what was up. To our shock, the man in the car hit some unknown animal, dragged it off the road, and proceeded to speed off. Worried, we drove by and saw that it was this black kitten leering at passing cars. We couldn’t tell how bad the inflicted injury was, and as we parked our car, we kept asking each other what we should do. My mom didn’t hesitate with her decision.
We both walked over and noticed the kitten lying on the ground. The kitten was trying to protect its right thigh, with a large gaping bloody wound. Horrified, we decided best to take the stray kitten to a nearby emergency clinic and see if we could save it. My mother picks the kitten up with a small towel, and it tries to fight back, eventually accepting its fate letting us help it. We carry it off the ground and drive off in a hurry. We had just met this young little life, yet as many meows of agony it could muster, we attempted to calm it down like we would with one of our own.
We reach the emergency clinic, filled with concern and hope, only to be brought down hard with honest realization. We were given two choices from the nurses: if we save it we would be financially responsible for the kittens’ recovery, or, animal control would be called and the animal would most likely be euthanized. The look my mother’s face, the hope, the faith that it would all work out, flushed all the way down to her feet, and only tears followed. We both knew our family was in no position to treat the kitten, but we didn’t realize how swift a life can be taken. The nurses accepted the kitten, sullenly apologized to us, and I hugged my mother as we both exited, defeated. Nobody ever likes to see a family member cry when they get hurt. You always want to make them feel better, and console them that everything will be okay. But how could you, when it is beyond your power to do so? My dad and I said not one word. The silence was deafening, as my mother attempted to recover on our way to the dealership.
I drove my mom home, and she carefully began to open up. “I just don’t understand, Andy. I just don’t understand how anybody could hit somebody, and then just drive off like it’s nothing. Why Andy? Why do people do that?” I took a moment to craft my words carefully. I shared her hurt of what went down, but I knew deep down, as much as mom puts up a strong front, she has the biggest heart of the family. “There’s a special place in hell for people like that. I wish I had an answer for you, Ma.” She wipes her tears, “the kitten didn’t even have a chance. Poor thing, the kitten didn’t do anything to deserve that. Do you think I should’ve done more?” I grabbed her hand, and said, “you did enough, Ma. For as short as that kitten’s life was, that kitten experienced love and compassion. If it wasn’t for you, the kitten would still be on that corner, probably the worst place it could be. Nobody would’ve batted an eye but you did. You did good, Ma.” She squeezed my hand, and the rest of the car ride was in silence.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was just another holiday that my giant polish family got together to eat. Like most families I guess, we’d go around the table and say what we were thankful for in a hurry because staring at the feast in front of us was torture. One person at the table was never in a hurry. My Grandmother: Charlotte Nieliwocki (I told you, we are very Polish). Her favorite thing in the whole world was her family. Nothing was ever small. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, picnics, etc. would always be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We would fill that colonial style home in New Jersey wall to wall as we got older and had to filter to the backyard when it got too crowded. Thanksgiving was her favorite. Why exactly I’m not too sure, but the smile that was on her face every year as she looked around at each of our impatient faces is etched in my mind forever.
77 years old seems like an age accompanied by wheelchairs, cataracts, broken femurs and assisted living. Charlotte was an exception to this fate. My grandma was a ball of fire; nothing slowed her down. She was also quite the lady. She loved tea, to read novels and eat Oreos at midnight and kept quiet when it came to anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to your priest about. Catholics.
She was also a badass. She was an avid traveler filling her passport like a scrapbook. She not only traveled the country but the world. She had a special needs daughter in the 60’s and fought like hell for Patty to have the best education and quality of life and she nailed it. Through all the ups and downs in her life, she stayed warm.
My grandmother loved all of her grandchildren endlessly, but she had a special place in her heart for her girls. She had collected teacups from her world travels and when we reached an age when breaking things was no longer a usual occurrence, she would set up extravagant tea parties. We would dress to the nines stumbling over silky dresses from her closet and fluffy feather boas. She would have every inch of the supper table covered in miniature cucumber sandwiches, scones, delicate cups, and the fresh cookies from the Polish bakery down the road. The hours would fly by as we would giggle and sip tea with our pinkies up. I could tell, even at such a young age, these moments with us are what she cherished. I now have one of those teacups forever inked on my ribcage. It is my most precious memory I had with her.
The world stopped spinning for a while on January 11th, 2015. I got a call from my tough as nails mother choking on tears.
“Grandma gave blood at church this morning and passed out at the 7/11. She’s being rushed to the hospital, but they are saying she suffered a traumatic brain injury.”
Once I had the naive feeling that this woman would live on forever never aging never changing and now her whole world was ripped from her hands.
Grandma went on another one of her trips but is not returning this time.
She calls me her daughter.
Her husband, my witty grandfather, is reduced to a broken man losing 15 pounds he can’t afford to lose as he watches the love of his life forget him.
She puts baked beans on a slice of bread, raises it to her ear and says “Hello”.
Everything changes and then nothing does.
Change can suck. The fear of no change when something is so monumentally altered is torture. Life is not fair and why these things happen to people I will never understand.
My grandma passed away a year ago on November 24th 2018.
Grief is weird.
It hits you when you least expect it. I’ve been so angry. Angry at the church for letting someone her age give blood. Angry at the universe for letting this happen. Angry for seeing the call come in from her the week before and ignoring it because I was “too busy”. Just angry. I am ashamed of myself because I’ll be at the grocery store and I’ll see an elderly person I’ll think “Why? Why are you still here and she isn’t? That’s not fair.” But that isn’t what she would want at all.
I’m not sure what I believe there is after this life but if there is a heaven or a “good place”, I know for a fact she’s there and that brings me peace. I talk to her a lot, especially as we approach the anniversary and her favorite holiday. It often happens when I am taking a shower or am on the toilet, which is strange, and I always apologize to her first, but I never want to be too busy for her again. Or too busy for anyone for that matter. Tell the ones you love that you love them. It’s 2019 and the world we live in right now is a scary place. No moment is guaranteed. So talk. Hug. Love. Be kind.
When I get angry or anxious and I fear the future and the change that may or may not come, I think of the crimson color that would cover my grandma’s cheeks as she smiled at us, her family and the memories she created.
And I smile.
And I cherish.