Christmas was a long, slow ride through hell. Beginning, even, with the goddamn eggs Benedict (completely forgot the Canadian bacon). What is that Bukowski line? “It’s not the big things that send a man to the mad house...”
Navigating the chasm teeming with loneliness and failure was exhausting and heartbreaking. I now get why people kill themselves during the holidays.
And yet, there was no way around it. My seven-year-old was 300 miles away, out scrambling cliffs and celebrating Christmas with his father and his father’s friends. And trying to orchestrate reunion, just like those twins in Parent Trap. He called me a couple of times, finishing his conversation with: “Papa really wants to talk to you!” And meanwhile, my ex-husband had carefully removed himself for the duration of the phone call but was told: “Mama really wants to talk to you!”
And then there was: “Are you going to come out here? I miss you so, so much.” And his litany of parting shots: “Miss you, love you, miss you, love you…” OCD runs in the family, so I’m trying to figure out if my little boy is blurting this mantra with quantifying rules, worried that if he misses a ‘love you’ I will die.
That my ex-husband continues to hope that our divorce is a temporary condition was problematic as well. His sentimental, beseeching voice. The sweet talk. The memories. Fifteen years of tumultuously loving this man, and writing about that love: I didn’t just divorce a husband, I banished a muse.
My guilt and self-hatred was in full swing all day. Not only was I questioning my marital dissolution, but many of my recent coping mechanisms, also. The solace-seeking, diversional, semi self-destructive impulses I’ve employed to get me out of hell—even if just for an hour or two. But everything’s closed on Christmas.
Except the movie house.
I went to see the French thriller Bridesmaid, and I was the only person there. My usual sure-fire antidote for torturous self-slaying failed me, and I sat in the cavernous theater aware mostly of the empty seats around me. Earlier, I’d taken a walk through the park and happened by great clots of families healthily striding, their cohesive chit-chat settled on my ears like wind chimes. It was pleasant, until it started competing with the abnegating voice in my head.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t have options. I turned down offers of companionship throughout the day mainly because, even though I wanted to jump off a bridge, I sensed that getting through this Christmas alone might lead to a cure.
Where it brought me in the short run, was to poetry. I pulled one of the poison spears from my chest and fashioned it into a bad poem. Concretizing free-floating self-loathing by thrusting it into form actually was a great exercise. And probably healthier than the two hours I spent on the phone with my ex-husband as Christmas turned into the day after Christmas.