I woke up alone.
On Christmas morning 2014 I woke up alone for the very first time in my entire life.
But I wasn’t sad about it.
The stockings were full. The candy was out. The gifts were under the tree. I even left the Christmas tree lights on overnight. Like I always do. But this time I took my Christmas Eve sleep to the couch, right next to the Christmas tree. That year, I needed to sleep beside Christmas.
I needed to wake up beside Christmas – my first Christmas morning alone.
In the past, there were Nanaimo bars, school concerts, tree decorating, puzzle building, special coffees, special cookies, church on Christmas Eve, crepes on Christmas morning, and Santa came and put lots of gifts under the tree. The merriest time of Christmas was when lots of kids, friends, family, good food and jam sessions of jazz, Christmas carols, blues and rock filled our house.
That’s what Christmas looked like. Every bit of it was fun.
But sometimes things fall apart. Parties cease. Decorations break. Houses sell. Kids grow up. There are no more jams of jazz, Christmas carols, blues and rock with good food, lots of kids and friends in that house.
Despite that seemingly sad part, during the Christmas Season of 2014 I did get a lot of “Got to’s.”
I “got to” spend four days of Christmas time dragging my mom, my sister and my aunt all over New York City, knowing that my mom can check off “Christmas time in NYC,” exhausted and happy.
I “got to” hear the voices of two young men, no longer my own, belt out Christmas songs at Christmas Eve mass. Even with the mockery resulting from spiritual confusion, they sounded pretty good.
I “got to” help my daughter find Christmas Eve church services in Barcelona. On the flipside, my daughter “got to” be in Barcelona.
I “got to” watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the very first time ever in its entirety. No commercials. No interruptions. With a martini.
I “got to” fall asleep beside the Christmas tree to its twinkling lights and wake up to a Christmas morning to be whatever I wanted it to be.
Christmas morning, December 25, 2014. The sunshine is muscling its way through the cracks of the blinds, though, not so strong as to drown out the Christmas tree lights.
I see the twinkling lights at first eye-open.
I’m kind of excited. This is something new. Something different. No stockings to empty. No crepes to make. No gifts to unwrap. It all sits there until evening. I have one Christmas morning.
It kinda feels blank.
I just lay there propped by my pillow, wrapped in my special blankie, staring between the lights on the tree – I’m entranced. What to do? What to do? I can’t decide. Yet, what am I deciding between? I can’t really figure it out. As much as I’m looking forward to the so-far-in-a-once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity. I just decide to play it moment by moment.
And my first moments must include coffee. Coffee and kielbasa – the special treat I bought myself for my very own Christmas morning.
I open up the windows. While feeling the warmth, I notice a silence that I’ve never heard before. The silence of no cars. Of no voices as they walk past. Not even a dog barking. I listen for a birds chirping. Nothing. Sprinklers sprinkling. Nothing. The only sounds I hear are my coffee brewing and the kielbasa crackling. I don’t think of it too much more.
I begin thinking of past Christmases. The Christmases of when I was a child. Strong in my recollection, was the one time, or maybe there were two, when I was six, seven or eight – I can’t remember – I got up early Christmas morning, far earlier than I was allowed to, crept into the garage, grabbed my bike and took it for a spin. It seemed like for ours. Clockwise. Round and round. Counter-clockwise. Round and round. The fragrance of the rubber tires mixed with the auromas of the garage, I can even smell them right now.
Which lead to an idea.
I Google the weather. 75 degrees, it says. Perfect for a bike ride. So I pump the tires, fill up a water bottle, pack my fanny pack, slip on my helmet and head out for a ride. I carry my bike down the stairs as the sun shines on me so hard that I make myself go back inside to leave my hoodie at home.
I feel like I’m in some kind of movie.
Camera shot from below
Face to the sun. Grin on my face. A bicycler ready to take action. I feel strong. Ready to save the world. (if there’s anyone in it)
This is gonna be fun.
As I ride up the street headed for the bike path, I notice there’s not one car driving down these streets. Nobody is walking these sidewalks. Not unusual for a Christmas Day.
I keep riding. The intersections are a little too empty, I think. I’m kinda confused. It’s just that I’ve never seen empty streets in this part of L.A. Ever. If one person can win the lottery, why can’t one person be out on the streets?
I change course. Instead of heading for the bike path, I ride to the main boulevard. Instinctually, I want to find at least one more human being.
I get there. No one.
I ride the bike lane west. Not a soul. Not one car.
I begin getting a little more loose with myself. Giving myself permission. Gutsy. Breaking rules. Challenging the law. A “rebel,” I convince myself.
So I steer myself out of the bike lane and into the street.
I ride down the right side of the median. I ride down the left side of the median. Where there’s no median, I ride right down the middle of the boulevard. I want to yell at the top of my lungs “Merry Christmas,” but I don’t like the sound of my voice.
And then I did it. I did that thing that I used to do as a kid that came so naturally.
No, not a cartwheel.
No, not a handstand.
No, not swimming the English Channel.
I took my hands off those handle bars. I had them at 90 degrees. I balanced. Whoo hoo! Then as soon as I felt comfortable when my body could steer, I got those hands up to 180 degrees. For only a second. I almost fall. But I didn’t. I feel like a kid again.
However, after a few miles, the novelty begins to wear off and I’m already of thinking of what to do next. I turn around and head back. I’m still riding in the middle of the boulevard and my mind wanders off to that “Burgess Meridith episode” of Twilight Zone:
It’s the apolocalpyse and Burgess Meridith is a librarian who always has to work but doesn’t get the time he wants to read. Suddenly, he’s the only person on the planet amongst all these books. Now, he has all the time he wants to read. He’s ecstatic.
He depends on his glasses to read.
He shatters his glasses.
My imagination starts making up all the how’s, what if’s and what to do’s – the consequences of what may happen to me when no one’s around. But by the time I make it back home, my imagination has run through all possible scenarios, and I have a message waiting for me. “Merry Christmas, Mommy. We’ll be there at 1 to go to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s.”
Christmas morning has ended.
It’s now approaching Christmas 2015 and it will, again, look a lot different. There has been a change of plans.
We will spend it in San Francisco. The Ex, the Kids and Me. In a different city. In a different space. In a different relationship.
But this time, it’s just our family.
The first time ever.
Most likely, the only time ever….
Ciao for now,