One More Time
Especially during the holidays.
Especially during the holidays.
I had a somewhat strained relationship with my mother for as long as I can remember. Who knows why — sometimes things just are. Certainly, I understand the tension during my teen years — I was an asshole.
Maybe I was an asshole as a child too.
Maybe I still am.
My mother has been dead a little over six years now, and she was the driving force behind the holidays. She did her best by badgering, ranting, and loads of guilt to ensure that as much of the family as possible gathered between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And like any other family, our familial get-together was riddled with tension and dysfunction. Ours, like others, was punctuated by just the right amount of alcohol. The holidays were never horrible, and I recollect that they were typically just a notch below awful.
Lots of love.
Lots of dysfunction.
It's probably one of the reasons I'm not a huge fan of the holiday season. "The season is the reason." What's the reason again?
Memories can get cloudy. But as I got older, I just knew that the way my family celebrated under my mother's direction was never what I wanted or saw for myself.
As my brother and I got older, getting together during the holiday season became either more difficult or the desire had diminished. I suspect it became more difficult for my brother because he had a family. He did the traditional marriage toggle (one year Thanksgiving at the in-laws, and Christmas at the other… and then swapping the following year.) And then he got divorced, and shit got real wonky.
As for me, what little desire I had to gather with my family as I got older evaporated. The holiday hassle to holiday joy ratio was disproportionate.
I began to celebrate more holidays either with a partner or alone, rather than visit my family — but always with a high degree of ambivalence.
Many years ago, an ex's mother was confused by shilly-shallying around this season. She asked me what my favorite memory of Christmas as a child was, and I was stumped. My ex's mother appeared angry about that, which I thought was a strange reaction.
I never had a bad Christmas, but my memories of the holiday are cloudy at best.
The other day, a friend asked me when was the last time I had a Christmas tree. I was again honestly stumped. I don't think I have ever had one on my own. Although a roommate of mine had one in… say, 2005?
Here again, with a tree, the hassle to happiness ratio just isn't there for me. And look, I don't have kids, so there is little need to perpetuate the myths. And far be it from me to piss on anyone's parade who appreciates it or those that get really into it — I'm just not one of them.
Towards the end of her life, I would call my parents most weeks, and definitely around the holidays. If my mother answered, this was often the extent of our conversation:
"Hi Mom, it's me, Keith."
"Oh hello, how are you?"
"I'm good. How are you?"
At this point, I would get her medical update. That could take three minutes or ten, but it was never really a conversation — just my mother reading her list of ailments and how she was being treated. My mom wasn't sick with a disease — she was aging.
Something tells me that after the age of 70, life becomes the downtime between doctor’s appointments.
After her medical triage update, she would ask: "Do you want to talk to your father?" I never really had a chance to respond before she would bellow: "Bud! It's Keith," and hand the phone to my dad.
I didn't even get the updates towards the last few weeks of her life. She would say "Hi" and pass the phone to my father.
Before she died, I called on her birthday and had the opportunity to tell her I loved her. I'm unclear if it resonated, and I know I said it and can only hope she heard it. And received it.
As this year's holidays wind down, I thought that despite, or maybe because of, my troubled relationship with her, I'd give almost anything for one of those strained and awkward phone conversations.
One more time.
Not because we'd try to figure out what was wrong with our relationship — that ship had sailed long ago.
Losing a parent can leave you unmoored. Well, it did me. Sure, the distance between remembrances will grow, and those memories — good or bad — will fade or become distorted; that's a sure thing.
My aunt used to say: "And this too shall pass." Typically, that's a good phrase to keep in your pocket, but with this? Here's what I know — it's not gonna pass.
For me, it's inevitable that my desire to have one of those stilted phone conversations one more time — especially during the holidays — won't pass.