About 10 years ago, I started to dread Halloween. Yes, I looked forward to doing the 20-something fun things in DC with my friends, but I also knew that the holidays were lurking around the corner. For the past 10 years, I have been estranged from my family. I am beginning to write and find healing in the process.
This is an essay I did at the Samford Academy of the Arts.
Holidays used to remind me of the Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want”. The painting has such an idealistic feel with the proud grandparents presenting a turkey at a table full of their adult children and grandkids. Everyone is happy and welcome around that table.
Growing up, holidays used to be this ideal setting for me. My grandparents had a huge 5 bedroom house built in the 1930s. During those simpler times, I used to play in the basement speakeasy with my cousins. Sometimes we would play would play make believe in a Western bar; other times, we dragged an older cousin to play hide-and-seek with us. I really enjoyed seeing my aunts, uncles, and cousins during those years.
As I blossomed into my teenage years, the innocence of family gatherings started to fade. I was left out of the boy gossip by my female cousins because I was a late bloomer and wasn’t dating anyone. All of the cousins also gave me the side-eye for not drinking and started to exclude me further. The years rolled by and I heard a snarky retort from an aunt before a holiday. The joy I felt as a holiday was approaching morphed into the dread you experience as your dentist lays his tools on a tray to perform a root canal on you. Years rolled into a decade and words were exchanged on both sides that could never be replaced. Suddenly, I knew that going home for the holidays wasn’t for me anymore.
It is a lonely feeling realizing you shouldn’t go back home for the holidays. For a while, I felt like a failure because no one wanted me. When the holidays approached that year, a kind co-worker invited me to her house for Thanksgiving, and later on, neighbors invited me to celebrate Christmas with them. Slowly, I started to heal and create a new normal for myself. When I moved to DC, I became the person to invite people over my apartment to share a holiday meal. I welcomed strangers, friends, and co-workers into my tiny apartment. Everyone was grateful to be somewhere and the joy was contagious. You could almost call it a Norman Rockwell painting of the 21st century.
I didn’t entertain every holiday. Some holidays I did spend alone. Some by choice and others by happenstance, as a date fell through with a friend. During those holidays, I made myself special meals of turkey, dressing, and a pumpkin dessert, and binge watched my favorite TV shows. Over the years, I learned to love myself more and treat myself well; I also learned that when you love yourself, being alone isn’t so lonely after all. I had given myself a peaceful holiday and was quite content curled up on that sofa. It probably wasn’t what Norman Rockwell had in mind when he was painting Freedom from Want, but I truly felt free.
Three years ago, I started dating Jim, the man who would eventually become my husband. We married last year and have already started creating our own holiday traditions. We moved to Birmingham over the summer and are looking forward to celebrating the holidays in our new home. One of our goals is to welcome people who may not have any where else to go for the holidays. Our home may not look like that Norman Rockwell painting, but my husband, myself, and our guests will be just as happy.