The Ghost of Christmas PastBy Slade Ham
December 04, 2009
Well, yippe-ki-yay. It’s December and it’s snowing in Texas. While people skid across the highway and spin into guardrails, I’m sitting in front of this blinking cursor, drinking coffee, while something with a piano in it winds its way out of speakers and into my head. It’s cold and my plans have been interrupted. Not just my weekend plans either, but all of them.
I find myself somehow acutely aware of everything around me. Instead of inspired I feel sadness. Not the depressed, debilitating kind, but the kind that is just there. It’s a part of me that is playing spectator and is unhappy with what he’s seeing. He sees what’s missing instead of what’s there. He sees the things that he can’t have instead of the things he can. He stands with his toes on the cliff’s edge, looking down at some incredible valley below instead of running into it.
He is tunnel-visioned. People see what they are looking for and right now all he knows is this uneasiness. It’s not even a conscious decision at this point, but instead something that has been around for such a long time that it’s grown comfortable, like old leather. Memories come back like waves on a beach, each one washing in and leaving something old and forgotten on the shore. Always at this time of year. Always December.
Four years ago… I’m driving a new car, a super-cushy bank account, Christmas in five places, my family and my girlfriend’s at the time. I’m standing on stage in my own little empire, small and trivial, but mine nonetheless…
Three years ago… I’m dating a girl that I’m crazy about. There’s a concert in Shreveport. I go to Los Angeles to hang out. I’m eating dinner with the executive prouder of the Academy Awards. He couldn’t care less who I am, he’s just a friend of a friend, but it’s no less cool to me. I have huge plans. I’m anti-Christmas and she is committed to changing my mind about that. She buys me my favorite shirt and I get her a cat. It will end quickly and awkwardly in the almost immediate future.
Two years ago… I’m in St. Louis. I go on stage in ten minutes. My phone rings as I walk through the mall attached to the comedy club. I don’t have time to answer this, but I know she snuck away to call me. A few days later, an empty apartment, laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling… Everything has changed. The truck is packed. I leave for good in the morning. This could be a horrible mistake or it could be amazing. Now I’m flying to DC. My dad’s going in for surgery. My brother calls and tells me that things didn’t go so well. It’s a coma. Showtime is in an hour. Be funny now, Slade. I’m in the airport headed home. I read an email on my Blackberry that makes it a bit better, for the moment anyway. I spend Christmas day listening to piano music in the hospital lobby.
One year ago… This is a first. I’m not just disenchanted with Christmas, I’m dreading it. I’m packing my stuff again for my fifth move in twelve months. These Christmas carols are torturous. Certain people are gone forever, and other people are harder to reach. Oh, that’s why. Great. I’m back in DC now. God, this is déjà vu. I want to call my dad to say hello. I instinctively pull out my phone and then silently slide it back into my pocket. A year later and I still do that. I bury my iPod in my backpack because every song reminds me of something. I send a text message. I don’t get a response.
This year… it is snowing. The DC club is closed now and I’ve decided that I never want to see that city again. Every time it comes up, I lose something else. More is gone every year. I watch as it deteriorates and fades around me. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to be like. Maybe I’m being stripped down to my emotional skeleton for a reason. I’ve given up trying to understand or make sense of other people’s actions. Find some solace in having been wrong about them. It makes you human. It pushes me to find congruency in my own life, a balance between what I say and what I do. I never want to contradict myself like that. Just click “delete” and move on…
It’s okay to feel this way this year. Just this year though. Immerse myself in it. Succumb to it. They tell you that you can’t, that you have to pick up your head and regroup and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Who has bootstraps? I’m okay with the experience of it. Not every Christmas is blinking lights and children’s laughter and sugar cookies and sleigh rides. Sometimes you are allowed to watch it all from the street, through frosted windows, standing in the cold, wet air.
It is snowing.
It could be any of us outside that window, fogging up the glass, and if it’s you, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one standing in that street this year.
Slade. How did you read what’s in my heart? Bleak time of year my friend. I’m with ya on that street. Let’s go to to corner bar and get drunk.
My realization that it’s not just me is what prompted me to write it. Here’s to warm whiskey and neon lights. Save me a barstool.
This hurt to read.
I loved the construction of this piece and how every paragraph was more wrenching than the one before.
It’s funny, I have always been one of those people who gets silly about Christmas and really excited about it, and have never understood why other people don’t share that feeling. But when you have experienced loss, especially loss upon loss, I can now see that Christmas can be a lonely and unforgiving season.
This year I feel a little like you do -like I’m standing on the street.
Lucky I have long bootstraps and I’m going to do my best to pull myself up by them. I will have a drink on Christmas day and toast all of us who are not loving the blinking lights and Christmas carols.
Here’s to us!
Oh and 2010 will be much, much better!
I have had a few years worth of the happy, silliness and I do honestly miss that. I’m taking this year as a call to arms. I figure I have twelve months to fix some things before next year. On a separate note, where do you guys find these boots with the straps? I’m clearly shopping in the wrong place 🙂
Shit-kickers have bootstraps – at least mine do. Probably my favorite thing about them – other than their name, natch.