With two days left in it, I’m going to make the following declarative statement (or two – ed.):
December was one heck of a month.
I recently celebrated a birthday away from home, only for the third time. The first two were in college, 1997 and 1998. In ’97, I went from bar to bar with my friend KC (whom I would later travel to London with through a crazy chance happening) and the second occurred during my last college final ever and thus graduation whilst also packing for a permanent move. Needless to say, I don’t remember it well.
This birthday, celebrated in my new state of Ohio, was smaller and lower key than years’ previous. And that has been a welcome change. In fact, that’s a nice allegory for my time in Cleveland so far. I didn’t feel homesick for familiarity. I was in a cozy bar with friends old and new, good food, and left with a ‘Jingle Bells’- singing (screeching) sock monkey to show for it who is now perched happily on my dresser. Totally worth it.
But, then there’s the passing of time and the changing of circumstances and suddenly I found myself in Chicago, downtown at Christmastime, walking amongst ghosts.
But let me back up a bit. I knew I was heading home for a concert and the date of it would put me in Illinois for a solid 10 days in order to spend the holiday with family. What on earth was I going to do with 10 days besides blow all my money and gain 15 pounds? Mission accomplished, by the way. I knew I’d spend the first half with friends and the second with family, which is exactly what I did. Calendar booked, restaurants chosen, presents mostly bought, plans made. I hit the road for Chicago, excited. Giddy, even. I didn’t realize how quiet Cleveland was, comparatively. From the second I was within view of the Chicago skyline (best skyline in the world, thank you) and the CTA’s Holiday Train rattled past me, I was home. I let out a giddy shriek in the midst of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
A few days in, the person I was going to stay with decided company wasn’t ideal so I crashed on the couch of a far more welcoming friend and everything then fell into place. Cocktails, dinners, brunch, you name it. I spent the Tuesday at lunch with a lovely soul and after we parted ways, wandered around the wholly Christmased-up downtown. I knew that going back there this time of year would be difficult; my former relationship made quite an impression on me last Christmas and that unwittingly cropped up the second I stepped into the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, with fervor. I walked all over and every corner held some memory of something we’d shared or done the prior year. I couldn’t escape it. Hot tears stung my eyelids but did not fall (there’s no crying at Christmas). Not even a 12-block walk north to the Museum of Contemporary Art cleared my mind and it wasn’t until I found myself sitting amongst a really lovely installation done in part by Andrew Bird, that I could finally get some peace.
I outran it, dodged it, blocked it and swung at it for six months but The Ghost had found me. Not only had it found me, but it trapped me inside a nostalgic bubble that didn’t pop until somewhere just over the Indiana border, on my way back east. It infused every event with its faint ghoulish odor, it seemed. We’d shared the same people, walked the same streets together, celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my family. It was everywhere and the weight of it caught me completely by surprise. A sadness I should have felt in June was staved off until December and when it hit, it felt like it was a mere two days later. I hadn’t allowed my heart and mind to feel the loss or the pain, I spent months distracting myself with a lot but in this… this holiday which I love from the end of the longest head hair follicle to the tip toes of my soul, the ghost had been lying, six months deep into the calendar, in wait.
My trip home was, in total, wonderful. It was the best my family has gotten along (with me) in recent memory. We don’t fight or get drunk, we’re too WASPy for that, but you could build a pretty solid home on the foundation of subtext we speak in. My oldest sister and I grew even closer, my nieces and nephews grew even smarter, gifts meant even less, time flew by. I didn’t want it to end, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that. I found myself resentful that this ghost was a presence. Sometimes its arm was around me, sometimes it kept contact by just a light finger, but it was there.
After dinner and on the way home from a mother/daughter trip to Target, mom asked me if there was a chance of reconciliation with my former love. I had to level with her and tell her no, giving her the very surface reasons as to why. She didn’t push, but she got the picture. They liked him, they were sad to see him go, but they didn’t understand why he had to and now they would. It was a relief, and I think I felt the ghost sink a little further into the back seat then.
I took an extra day to be with family and the day after that, I left. I crossed the border into Ohio, the snow which had raged through Indiana turned to sleet and then finally rain as I pulled into my driveway. While it doesn’t yet feel like home, it’s getting there. I’m falling in love with my apartment a little more each day. It’s ok if this place fills the void of a steady beau, I don’t want one of those anyway. These walls I can paint any color I want. I can make whatever dinner I choose without fear of criticism. My creativity has awakened. I’m redoing all the switch plates in my home, decoupage. I have ideas for paintings and sewing projects I’ll embark on when my spare bedroom is cleared for the space. It was atrophied due to lack of inspiration but slowly, like spring, it’s budding.
There are plenty of nights that no one knows where I am but me. Yes, it’s occasionally lonely and yes, sometimes the ghost and I have conversations. I say things I should have said, want to say and would never say. I ponder the returning silence. From what I understand, the process for the letting go of ghosts is to acknowledge then release them. And that’s what I’m trying to do.