My mom wasn't feeling well and she wasn't going to be able to make it to my house early for Christmas. Not the 15th? What about the 16th? Next week? No, the x-rays came back and she had to have an operation. No one is sure about the timing. Maybe by Christmas Eve?
I don't remember which came first, if it was the appendix or the gall bladder but whichever it was, she ended up in the operating room on Christmas day and it was the first time I'd ever not been with my parents on Christmas. None of us knew what to do, my husband, my sisters, my aunt, my cousins, our friends. I had a house full of family and in-laws and I didn't want to be making dinner and tending to guests because I was not ready. My mom was supposed to be helping me.
But still. It will be okay. It is only her appendix. It is only the gall bladder. It is only something small. Probably. They thought. We hoped. We didn't know. They didn't know. But my parents were at the hospital, five hours away, on Christmas day and we decided that my sister would leave to go be with them and I would stay put and make things as warm as possible for the rest of us, despite the big scary elephant sitting in the living room under the Christmas tree alongside the pile of unopened gifts.
Christmas had always been our family’s strongest glue, and was coming undone.
But no, there’s hope. We did what we could. We had a piano and singing anyway, like the Whos down in Whoville, and we put my mom on the phone so she could hear our childhood friend Kyle sing her favorite song, even though she was on so much morphine she didn’t seem to know what she’d heard.
It would be fine. It was just bad timing. It was nothing to worry about, not really. The operations went fine and my mom felt loads better. See? So we would just wait until my mom was out of the hospital and could drive down to Connecticut and we’d do a big gift exchange then. So what if we all had to extend our Christmas vacation calendars by a few days? It was worth it for us to all be together.
It would just be a few days.
* * * * * *
Some time before Christmas, David and I had decided we might start trying to get pregnant. We weren't going to make a big effort yet, but at least we'd stop actively trying NOT to get pregnant. A fine idea, except that I noticed my body wasn’t really on board with this plan. I had started spotting erratically, and my cycle was all off. There was no weird cramping, but hmmm. And you know, I would have had it looked at but the last thing I felt like doing was going to a doctor’s office.
* * * * * *
Some time before Christmas, David left his most recent job – another in a string of dotcom failures. It was the way of things, then. We had enough money to be stable for a while, so we weren’t too concerned. Frankly, I was happy to have him home with me, manning headquarters.
* * * * * *
When my grandfather died on New Year's Eve, everything got a whole lot blurrier and there was a lot more crying.
Who was going to stay where? Who was making the arrangements? Plan. Routine. What should we make for dinner? Do we want to go to a movie? More guest towels. It’s going to snow again I think. Of course another week would be fine. What’s that you’re reading? I’m going to get some more wine.
My grandfather's passing was monumental and sad and I was so mad at myself for thinking that maybe it was better now, finally, he had been so uncomfortable. He could barely breathe.
I wanted to help with the arrangements but I couldn’t focus. My mom had finally made it to Connecticut and it was the first time we’d seen her since Thanksgiving and she had lost maybe 30 lbs. She was not overweight to begin with and she was only 5'6". She had no color and she looked very sick. None of us believed she was out of the woods.
The funeral service was grand and stately and hundreds of people came. My grandfather had been a great man.
And…so much more happened that I can’t properly distill. I remember the stupid stuff, like my parents' old, awful neighbors who had come and no one knew why, and after the service the wife patted my chubby tummy and asked if I was expecting. I didn't have the strength to tell her to go fuck herself. I just said, "We hope so."
There was a reception after the funeral and I know it was warm and so many family friends were there and the piano played and I can’t remember anything else. It started to snow and we needed to get back to my house because it was kind of far and dangerous to drive and – I can’t remember why – I am pretty sure it was that night we finally had our gift exchange.
* * * * * *
When The Holidays were over, my parents and youngest sister, Sam, had returned to New Hampshire, exhausted. Healy returned to her life in Boston.
And David and I were left alone with a suddenly empty house, and nothing but each other and the long, cold winter ahead of us.