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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dark Red, Matte Gold




^ me, six years ago (2010), 1 of 4 Red Wall self-portraits

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a get-to-know-you Advent dinner hosted by a perky couple from the church I'd started to attend, post-Trump.

I emailed accepting and asking what I could bring.

"Don't bring anything," they replied, "except a memory or a tradition to share, about why Christmas is special!"


[Ohgod, not an exclamation point...]

My instinct was to say, "My mother killed herself at Christmastime, you mean special like that?"

And then I felt like a bad, broken, neurotic person. Why couldn't I just lighten up? Share happy Christmas memories.
I do have them.

Or I could talk about the kindness of a friend who invited me over that Christmas my mother died. I admired this woman, but we weren't close. She was a solitary person with jagged edges, and I often felt shy and even wary around her.

I'd told her and other friends who'd invited me that I was wiped out, still recovering from being violently ill after my mother's cremation, and was planning on staying in bed. She'd said she was going to be hanging around all Christmas, so if I felt like it, I could just drop in. Or not.

As the sun started to set on Christmas afternoon, all of a sudden I felt OK, just really weak, and bored, so I got dressed and walked a mile to her place––an apartment in a crumbling brownstone whose hallways smelled peppery from insecticide.


We sat on folding chairs in her bare apartment lit by strings of Christmas lights and ate roast chicken, wild rice, and corn. 

The steam radiators were pumping out heat, which she couldn't control, so she cracked the windows, and we drank tea and chatted about nothing in particular. She mentioned she liked someone at her new job, and they'd invited her to come to their cabin for the holiday.

"Why didn't you go?" I asked.

"I wanted to stay around for a friend," she said, "on the off-chance she needed someplace to go."

___________

So, there was that. 

But the church couple's request still felt to me like the demand of a kidnapper for emotional payment. And I hate using my mother's memory as some sort of spiritual bon-bon.

I couldn't get right with it, so finally I wrote back and told them that something had come up and I couldn't make their dinner. 
___________

This past week I've been in a wonderful mood, even though I've had a cold, making me fall further behind on my ms, and my sister and I aren't talking (because her wife is a bully), and, and, and...
Nevertheless. I've felt solid.

Today I was marveling that I still feel really good even though I keep weeping every time I think about Aleppo [like there, just then].

There's a radio ad I keep hearing on the station that plays all-Christmas music that says, "The holidays are about the best of humanity." I think that's what the Advent hosts think too.

And talking to bink on the phone today, telling her about all this, it finally came clear and I realized, for heaven's sake! No, it's not, Christmas is not about the best in humanity. 

Baby Jesus didn't come because we were or are doing oh so well, or so we could have special *exclamation point* times at the holidays. 
Baby Jesus came because of Aleppo, which is humanity's child, and because my mother got sucked into a crazy dark hole. 
And because that friend who gave me her Christmas fell out with me not long after, when she felt betrayed by something I'd casually, ignorantly let slip.

Looking back, I'm glad I turned down that Advent dinner invitation. 
What makes Christmas special to me is something buried dark and fierce, and people there who glint, matte like beaten gold.

______________

4 comments:

The Crow said...

Our mother died on the 23rd, was buried Christmas Day. It took me 35 years to the day before I finally grieved for her and could move forward. Yesterday, youngest brother, who was only 15 when she died, called and "casually" mentioned it was the 45th anniversary of her death. The more we talked, the more obvious it became that he had not had the opportunity to grieve for her like I did.

Then he called today while my daughter, grandson and I were having an early Christmas dinner out. I didn't answer, thinking it wouldn't matter if I waited to call back. Besides, his call on the anniversary had stirred up pain I thought I had left behind, which had haunted me ever since we signed off the day before. I realized his pain was still raw and he needed to talk. I wasn't sure I couldn't handle it.

After reading about the woman who had given her day to be there if you needed her, I've decided to stay on the phone as long as Don needs tonight (he's on the other coast, in Oregon). He said in the voice message he left this morning that he wouldn't be calling tomorrow, that he never calls anyone on Christmas Day - his Black Day he said. He just endures it, lets it pass.

I can't ignore that or dishonor his feelings, but I found the courage to carry his suffering for a little while by visiting here tonight. You are a wonderful friend, Francesca, whether we ever meet or not.

Love,
Martha

ArtSparker said...

Wonderful testament. I've been in a strangely good mood, also, despite my lack of plans. Anyway, just stopping by after writing your address on an envelope.

Laura B said...

Wow, this portrait of you is beautiful & fierce.
I almost feel like the older we get, the more people we know will have passed, either around the holidays (Like my mother last year), or just we're used to seeing them on the holidays, and now they're not there- so that these supposedly happy holidays will become more & more bittersweet.
This is not to equate your mother's death with any death....and I have know some people who are relentlessly perky, who look only to the future- I don't know her personally but perhaps your Aunt Vi who you've written about in these pages is one of those-
but i, alas, am not!

Fresca said...

CROW: You just justified the reason for writing. Thank you.

SPARKER: Looking forward to mail!

LAURA: Yes, Auntie Vi (sunshiny Leo!) is relentlessly chipper, and I love her for it,
but that's not me, nor would I even want it to be.

Thanks for saying about the photo--I love that side of me--not the one I usually show. (The fierce tiger inside the panda pudding.)