I thought this year would be different. My house is decorated and I sent holiday cards. We baked cookies and I’m hosting a small Christmas Eve soiree at which I will wear a mistletoe headband. There were end-of-semester dinners, a work party, and walks down Christmas Tree Lane with cups of hot chocolate. We delivered a sack of Matchbox cars to UCSF Children’s Hospital and I have five weeks of vacation from graduate school.
I’m happy. I’m busy. I’m in love. Yet, my stomach twists and gurgles and the minutes are long in the darkness of my room each night.
Maybe it has something to do with this time of year. Maybe it has something to do with separate houses, split accounts, and legal matters. Maybe it has something to do with the words pre-cancerous cells and the subsequent surgery I had last month to remove them. It might have something to do with the pages of medical records I thumbed through and the details I unearthed this semester that will make my book fuller, but make my heart tighten. It might have something to with the interviews I conducted and then painstakingly transcribed that rehash months in the hospital and remind of an uncertain future.
In the dark of my room, I have also thought about my grandparents' house, the one I went to every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for 18 years when I lived in Lockport, NY. And I wonder if my brother thinks about it too. I have thought about my 90-year-old grandmother, a woman I passed in the hallway at her nursing home because I didn’t recognize her. I have thought about my parents and their divorce. I have thought about the dogs I don’t have, the house I don’t live in, the years and circumstances that unraveled my marriage, and the family I no longer exchange presents with (or get Christmas cards from).
I have thought about fear, communication, transparency, respect, trust, following through, and walking away.
Fortunately the nights are offset by the days when I see him smile and hear his laugh as he decorates gingerbread cookies. I watch him as he continues reading long after the timer beeps and his 15 minutes are up. I hang his drawings of taxis and trains and baseball fields on his bedroom walls and admire how much his art has changed. I listen as he proudly plays Deck the Halls on the piano and smile as he unconsciously sings I hear those J.I.N.G.L.E. B.E double L.S. I radiate as I tuck him and his brother into the bed that they share after they tell me that they love me.
I have also thought about the future, as I wonder how long I get to have this life. And I wonder what I’ll look back on when I’m old. I hope I find that writing the book was worthwhile. And I hope I find the baking and singing and piano-playing and laughter are prominently featured and not all that other stuff that keeps me up at night.