Follow by Email

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ho, Ho, Ho. Not. Alone on the Holidays.

Lonely Snowman at the Flatiron Building. Oliver Fluck Photography
It begins in October, on my birthday, which is also the anniversary of my brother Phil's death. Then there is Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.

I exhale only on the first business day after New Year's Day.

These holidays were hard when I was an abused kid in a less than perfect family. These holidays are hard now that I'm a single adult with a less than perfect life.

There was some respite years back when I was a young adult, away from my natal family and before I was hit by the twin meteors of a catastrophic illness and being politically incorrect in academia. These two events made me really poor, and really poor is never really popular.

I remember my 24th birthday when my tall, adorable, married boss, who, according to the grapevine, had a crush on me, threw a surprise, candlelit birthday party for me above a sheep stall in Nepal. Everyone was there. There were heartfelt toasts with raksi, Nepali moonshine, and yearning glances and furious gossip. One of the great nights of my life. The next day he sent me a poem by runner. Handwritten on that translucent, lumpy, handmade Nepali lokta paper. I still have the poem. If the skinny bastard wants to deny this, I can produce it.

I remember a Thanksgiving party I threw in a closet-sized dorm room in Dom Studencki Piast in 1988 in Poland. Communism was falling. Nobody partied like young Poles on the verge of yet another liberation in their long history of captivity and release. You would not believe how many gorgeous, pale, crazed young Poles, and how much Sodom, Gomorrah, and Gatsby, we packed into that tiny dorm room.

I remember an intimate, Berkeley, Christmas Eve gourmet repast prepared by Simon Stern, now a successful professor, then my fellow grad student, and an atheist of Jewish descent, who celebrated Christmas for me.

Those rare, long-gone days are jewels covered in dust in the bottom of a quilted box way back in storage. They've begun to smell of mold.

Now it takes everything I have to remain upright, functional, and dry-eyed.

My birthday. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Twenty-four hour doses of hell.

I am so alone on these days, and in such overwhelming pain, of a full buffet of flavors – rage, grief, nihilism – that inevitably I have to ask, "Why am I here?"

I used to be Facebook friends with poet Mary Krane Derr. My cherished Facebook friendship with Mary came to an abrupt end on November 30, 2012, when Mary met the fate she long expected. Her body finally quit.

Mary had been born with a chronic health condition and she was always spilling out and spelling out her body's various malfunctions in graphic, hapless, Facebook posts.

Mary rebelled against the concept that the afflicted exist in order to provide spiritual growth to more fortunate people. Mary didn't want to be constantly ill and on the verge of death – and she didn't want to go through this as a learning experience for others. She wanted to be healthy, goddamnit.

Me? I think it's possible. If God is in control, and if the world makes some kind of someday remote sense – very big ifs – if the chaos that we see, if you pull your focus far enough back, resolves itself into an intricate and magnificent design– maybe those of us whose lives pointlessly suck are here to say, however mutely, to those whose lives don't suck – Be generous. Be grateful. Be aware.

The other day I had a strange encounter. A former student approached me. The student described in detail my having helped her years ago. She said that she had been totally alone and that no one else had realized she needed help. No one knew what to do. I alone, she said, had recognized her need, known how to help, and helped.

Here's the thing. To this day, I have no memory of this event. I've struggled to add up her face and her story and my help and I don't remember. And this isn't the first time this has happened to me – it's happened about three times. Someone I can't place and don't remember says that I was there at some key moment and did some key thing that made a positive difference.

So. Maybe that is why I am here. For those key moments when I help a stranger I'll quickly forget. And maybe I have to endure the torture of these autumn holidays, for however long I have left, so that I'm there at those important moments.

I am not always as alone as I am on my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. I test as pure extrovert with no introvert tendencies. I am compulsively verbal and I like people. I like one-on-one contact and I actually like crowds.

My human contacts, though, are seasonal. I'm not important enough to anyone to be remembered or treated with any tenderness or intimacy on my birthday. I have no family so Thanksgiving is an impossibility. On Christmas I can always pretend to be Jewish and go to the movies and a Chinese restaurant. I've never been either cool or sexy so New Year's is really not that big of a deal; it's just that it is the final punctuation at the end of the Fall suicidal despair marathon.

One of the social gymnastics I must perform is being nice to people on the days after holidays when my acquaintances come trickling back into contact with me. "Hi, Danusha! I just spent 36 hours ensconced in the bosom of my family, cavorting and frolicking, surrounded by my grandma's apple cheeks, my spouse's passionate and affirming embrace, my siblings' caring and sharing, and my children's, niece's, and nephew's adorable, youtube-worthy antics! How about you?"

What I want to say is, "You will be pocked by plagues and wracked by famine, a scorching wind shall smite you, vengeful midgets will trip you up, and an abominable beast with ten heads and a burning eye in the center of each head will rise dripping, from the depth of churning seas turned to blood to obliterate you with his rod of iron."

But usually I just say, "Hey, great!"

On a more serious note.

I have moments of celebration. Last summer I tossed together an essay, "Top Ten Reasons I Am No Longer a Leftist." It took me two days to write. I submitted it to an online publication and it "went viral," or as close to viral as anything I write will ever get. I was satisfied by that, and I shared my sense of satisfaction. Some of my Facebook friends slapped me on the back and said "Way to go" and shared my happy moment.

And my Facebook friends have shared my sadness, too.

I recognize that I'm being a small, miserable putz when I am unable to be happy for them during their moments of celebration. Yes, they have family and I don't. I should not begrudge affirmation. I don't know their secret pains, and none of us knows what the score is going to be at the end.

So, yes. Happy Birthday. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. May I be as happy for you as you have been for me. And may the happiness I feel for you expand my soul as the sorrow you have felt for me has expanded yours.

I don't normally close blogs with a list of instructions for any potential readers, but I will close this one with just that. Please don't feel sorry for me, or try to comfort me, or feel obligated to send me an invitation. Being the charity stranger at someone else's family feast is worse than being alone.

I feel compelled to write and to share what I write. I am always eager to write. I always feel high when I write. I always feel better, and better able to face any task, any chore – including surviving the holidays – after I write. And that's why I posted this. 


  1. This picture I took when I spent the holidays in the NY. My friends had left the
    city to see their families and I was stuck in their apartment with my canceled
    flight to Germany. I spent Christmas alone stomping through the snow when I met
    this fellow lonely snowman.
    Nice to see he has found a nice home on your blog.

    1. Oliver thank you for the photo and the story behind it.