The night is damp outside the windows of the car, all blurred forest and road, the sparseness of a highway on Christmas Eve. The hush.
Past small town I see the warmed houses, their lights, the trees, the tucked in beds and waiting, the cursing parents, assembling, or peaceful around hot rum and love. The waiting, the held breath of the night before, the culmination of weeks of waiting and hoping, blessing. House after house we speed by, their jolly lights, the candy canes and sleighs, candles holding vigils.
I hold it in as long as I can, swallowing hard the lump that begins in my tummy and rises like bread to my mouth. I hold in the anger and the sadness that this year, my children were not with me, that never again would their parents pile presents under a tree lit together. I gulp down the helplessness of being unable to stop, or fix any of it, and the insane rage at losing what seemed so simple, and I took so much for granted, that sense of family, as false as I created it.
But I can’t hold it in forever, and after far too many monosyllabic answers to my love as he tries to draw me out, the tears rush away from me and I can’t keep it inside, not anymore. And I find myself wanting to screech my anger across the fields and laneways, wanting to pour my sadness into a vial and toss it from the car. I want to stop mourning what I never had to begin with, that peace, that togetherness.
Slowly, I accept my new normal, wipe my face as he pulls off the highway to hold me. Fantasy evaporates as reality chides me, reminds me that it won’t always feel so ruined, so broken off. That what I imagine, and what is aren’t ever the same.
I spend Christmas with his family, and see what I’ve never seen before, a family who loves and cherishes each other, who acknowledge each other’s weaknesses and yet still just…exists together in a way I’ve never had. Even on the fringes I feel the warmth and love radiating from all of them, the silly joy in their faces and laughter.
And I know, clearly, that it exists, this love, a place where everything is ok, and someone waves from the window as you drive off. A righting of a life, a glimpse into normal, what normal can be and should be. A confirmation that normal is something I can have, if I want it.
How we can ever live without love I’ll never fathom. But then, I didn’t notice I was thirsty for it until I started to drink it in.