The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
The Christmas season is a rough time of year. Don't get me wrong, I love the holiday. I love the way that Christmas trees smell, and the way their sparkling lights and shining ornaments brighten up a room. I love my new holiday tradition of making gingerbread men with friends, listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies. And I absolutely adore the shopping - there's just something so satisfying about finding the perfect gift to give your loved ones. But when your family uses the holiday as an opportunity to harass you about your looks, your lifestyle, and everything else they think is wrong with you, it's pretty hard to stay excited during the holiday season.
It all started seven years ago, the first Christmas after I graduated from college. I still hadn't found a job, which, to my family, was a sure sign that I had had just wasted four years. Also, I must have an alcohol problem. My mother had been sending me "helpful" job-hunting tips for the previous three months, and I thought that Christmas would be a nice break from that. I was so naïve.
The memory of our Christmas Eve dinner is still crystal clear to me. The usual holiday crew was sitting around the dining room table - Mom and Dad, Grandma Jean, Aunt Vanessa & Uncle Bob, their daughter Rebecca and myself - eating in silence, presumably focusing on their food. Out of nowhere, my mom blurted out, "I saw a movie the other night about an alcoholic woman that ruined her life."
All looked up from their plates, at my mom, to see where she was going with this. Silence still sat heavy around the table, but it was a new kind of silence. The silence that comes before the storm. Everyone began to covertly look around the table, trying to see if anyone else knew what Mom was talking about.
"She lost her friends, her boyfriend, even her job, all because of her addiction to the drink. She just threw her life away."
Aunt Vanessa asked, more out of politeness than curiosity, "Was she able to get her life back together?"
Mom's eyes bored into mine as she answered, "Only after she admitted she had a problem. Luckily, her mother was not willing to watch her daughter fail, and organized an intervention."
Ah. Now everyone at the table got the point, and became much more interested in the conversation. As they switched their attention from my mother to me, I felt compelled to respond to this implicit attack. "Mom, I don't have a drinking problem."
"The first sign of addiction is denial."
"Not if you don't have an addiction. Then, denying it is the truth."
"How many times a week do you go out drinking?"
"That's none of your business!"
"Oh, so you're trying to hide it. I think that's another sign of addiction."
"I'm not trying to hide anything. But I don't have to give you the details of my social life!"
Everyone's heads swiveled back and forth between my mother and me, taking in the new dinner entertainment. They even stopped eating - apparently the argument was better than the food, which was surprising since Mom's traditional spread was always fabulous.
"But Tina, you work at that restaurant, and I heard that working in a restaurant is just an excuse to go out drinking."
"No, you didn't, Mom."
"Yes, I did."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Well, I was talking with your cousin, last week."
Right. Rebecca. I looked over at her, sitting next to my aunt, picking delicately at her salad. She looked back at me, her big blue eyes full of pity. Stupid cow. Maybe she didn't mean to be such a pain, but she always made me look bad. In high school, she was always neat when I was messy, always got As when I got Bs. She was the captain of the cheerleading squad and the class vice president (every year); I was just a reporter for the school paper. She was Homecoming Queen, and I didn't even have a date for the dance. Then, while I was "gallivanting" around California for college, she stayed near home in Connecticut. And now, I was single in New York City, and she was back at home, practically engaged to her boyfriend from college. Maybe she didn't do it on purpose. but she made it feel like she did.
I tuned back in and heard my mom say, ". so when you don't have a reason to get up in the morning, sometimes the result is these kinds of problems."
"Well, I don't have a problem."
"Then why don't you have a job? You went to a good college, got good grades. You should have a job."
"I'm working on it, Mom. It's a tough market right now."
"Well, it would probably be easier if you stopped carousing around town, drinking 'til all hours of the night, and."
And on and on it went. Sometimes my aunt or grandmother would throw in her opinion about my "drinking problem," while pointing out how perfect Rebecca's life was. Someone had the brilliant idea that I have her go over my resume. Naturally, Rebecca stayed above the fray - she couldn't very well be involved in an argument, as that would have ruined her "peaceful" image. My dad and uncle managed to stay out of it, concentrating on their food as if their lives depended on cleaning their plates. This conversation lasted for three days, until I managed to escape back to the relative sanity of my roommates in New York. As the New Year started, and I packed away my decorations, I thanked god that the holiday season was over.
By the next Christmas holiday, I had a great job working as a fact checker at a travel writing company, with big dreams of being a full time travel writer. Since I had a job, I thought Christmas would go back to being fun. Sadly, this wasn't the case. Practically as soon as I walked in the door on Christmas Eve day, my mom started harping on me about my weight.
"Oh, Tina, you're just way too thin! Are you even eating?"
"Mom, I'm fine. I haven't lost any weight."
"Of course you have! Don't I know what my own daughter usually looks like? And I know what the problem is. You're working too hard - and you look so pale! Not even healthy. Come on, eat some cookies before dinner!"
"I'm perfectly fine. And I'm not hungry yet."
"Oh, so you don't eat? No wonder you're so thin. You know Mrs. Scanlon, from my reading club? Well her daughter is just recovering from anorexia. It's so sad. Maybe you should talk to her."
"I don't have an eating disorder."
"Denial is the first sign of a problem."
And, the theme for that Christmas was set. My aunt and grandma loved this new topic, offering me all kinds of tips to regain my health, and suggested that I talk with Rebecca about her diet - she was the very picture of health. Rebecca just smiled demurely the entire time, occasionally entering into the conversation with a wave of her left hand and its new 2 carat ring. Dad, Uncle Tom, and Rebecca's fiancé managed to avoid the rest of us by watching football.
It's really bizarre; most of the time my family is really cool. They don't get too involved in my life, letting me live the way I want to in New York. They don't harass me about visiting them more often and are (mostly) supportive of the traveling that I am lucky enough to do for my job. But when I visit them at Christmas, it's like all of their worries and concerns about me come out. After the "drinking problem" and "too thin" Christmases, I had to suffer through the "too heavy" Christmas, followed by the "why aren't you being promoted" Christmas. Then, after I was promoted to a full time travel writer, there was the "dangerous, nomadic life" Christmas. The past two years have been dedicated to the same theme - "why don't you have a boyfriend" Christmases. Is there anything worse than having to explain to your mother, grandmother, aunt, and smugly married cousin why you can't attract and keep a man? Inevitably, the conversation deteriorates into sex tips from grandma. It's awful. But it's not like I can completely avoid them, so I made plans to drive home on December 24 th , and stay through the 27 th .
As I drove the hour it took to get home to Fairfield, I listened to Christmas songs on the radio and tried to get into the holiday spirit. Meanwhile, I kept trying to convince myself that it wouldn't be so bad; after all, they do mean well. But in the back of my head, all I could think about was what this year's theme would be. Would Mom stick with the recent "no boyfriend" topic? Maybe it would be age related - I am 29, so maybe she'd get started on my "biological clock." By the time I pulled up to the house, I was so worked up that I had to sit in the car for twenty minutes to calm myself down. Finally, I composed myself, walked up to the front door and let myself in. "Tina, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me, mom."
She bustled out of the kitchen, brushed her hands off on her apron, and gave me a hug. I relaxed into her arms, breathing in the familiar smell of Shalimar perfume, Aquanet, and baby powder. She patted my back and pulled back to look at me. After a minute she asked, "Honey, what did you do to your hair?"
"I just cut it - do you like it?"
"Well, it used to be so long and pretty - girls would have killed for that long, straight, blond hair."
Tension began to flood in as I struggled to stay calm. "Well, this just seems more professional."
We drifted into the living room, where my aunt, grandma, and Rebecca were sitting. After saying hello and settling in, mom picked back up with, "What made you cut off all your hair?"
"I told you, this is just more professional." I tried to change the subject away from me by asking where dad and the rest of the guys were.
Giggling, Rebecca replied, "They're in the den, watching some sporting event, obviously." Obviously, it was too much to hope that they could be around to keep the focus off of me. Rebecca continued, "So you cut off ALL of your hair to be more professional?"
My mom, not willing to be left out of the conversation any longer, interjected, "You're a travel writer, honey, not a lawyer. I don't see why you need 'professional' hair."
"I like it."
"Well. I guess it's okay. It's just. well, there's something I've been meaning to ask you."
"What?" A dull ache surfaced behind my eyes as I tried to brace myself for the upcoming conversation.
"Well.... It's just, you know, with you never having a long term boyfriend, and now with this haircut."
"Are you a lesbian?"
Great. I guess this will be the "lesbian" Christmas.
Anna Luciano grew up in Southern California, before traveling across country to attend Providence College. After graduating, she moved to Boston, where she has been living for the past few years. While she loves Boston, she will always be a California girl at heart.