Blue Christmas

True confession time:

While I suspect that most of you were visiting with family, wrapping last minute gifts, or sitting quietly and reflecting on the season, I totally cracked in line at the grocery store on Christmas Eve.

I told my husband in the car on the way to visit my sister for the week that I was already feeling like I was headed for a breakdown. I hadn’t had a cry in quite some time and I just felt one coming. Cue the swell of foreshadowing music.

The story goes a bit like this: I hadn’t seen Dad in about a year (my fault) and, in the most recent effort to save his leg, had his big toe taken off over a week ago. He hadn’t been up and out of bed until the day we arrived. I wasn’t at all prepared for how bad his dementia had become or how complacent he would be in sitting in his own feces. He was also ridiculously tired, and frustrated because he bought Avatar on Blu Ray and it wouldn’t work in his DVD player. He seemed confused and foggy. I knew this was all coming, but it was still a bit of a shock. I didn’t even take my coat off while we visited with him.

We decided we would join him on Christmas Eve for a mid-day meal in the dining room at the Assisted Living Facility. Nine of us, including my mother and her husband, arrived and he seemed brighter, but still a little confused. As we dined on our salisbury steak and canned green beans, I sat across the table from my mother, watching her strain through awkward conversation with Dad, telling him how she always preferred his hair (now shoulder length) pulled back. Dad laughed uncontrollably, and for no real reason–a seeming after effect of his strokes two years back.

I felt like flipping a table.

Do you ever feel that way? So angry and raw that you could hulk-smash everything in sight, but even more angry because you know that hulk-smashing everything in sight would solve absolutely nothing and just make a mess you’d end up having to clean up anyhow?

Later, driving to the grocery store, my voice trembled and the tears and words tumbled out of me before I could catch them and stuff them some place else where no one could find them. I put the car in park, wiped the tears away, and took a deep breath. It was Christmas Eve. We had no food purchased for dinner that evening, or the big Christmas Dinner the following day. It was time to get a coffee, brave the crowds, and shop. Tear stained, we set forth.

Standing in the produce section of the store, the lights begin to shut off as a voice over the loud speaker stated “ATTENTION SHOPPERS, THE STORE WILL BE CLOSING IN 20 MINUTES! PLEASE MAKE YOUR FINAL PURCHASES AND PROCEED TO CHECK OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!” We had a single box of clementines in our cart and had no idea the store would be closing. Have you ever tried to make a proper holiday meal for 10 people with just citrus fruit?

The next 20 minutes was a blur that consisted of running the length of the supermarket no less than three times over, filling the cart with god knows what as management continued to make announcements urging customers to check out.

It wasn’t until we were standing in line at the check out, unloading frozen yuca, a pile of plantains, a tub of hummus, and a variety of Mexican sodas that I began to laugh. Uncontrollably. Like a woman on the edge.

Or like my Dad.

My sister began laughing, too. And suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my pain. We stood there, laughing as the cashier stared at us in wonder and amusement. No doubt she thought we had been dipping into the egg nog all afternoon. If only.

Still, it’s a night I won’t soon forget and an experience which kept me from a major, embarrassing, breakdown I know I would have deeply regretted. I’m sure there’s a moral to this story buried within, but I’m not at all sure what it is at the moment.

What I do know is that tears and laughter made a holiday I thought would be unbearable one of the most joyful, in the end. And I highly recommend carnitas, tostones, and random Mexican sodas for your next holiday gathering. Just make sure you get to the store early enough.

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