I have spent the last few weeks talking with patients about feelings of loss/sadness around the holiday season. For many, this holiday season has looked different. For all of us, in some ways, it’s been different. From the end of November in the U.S. with Thanksgiving throughout December, there’s a multitude of holidays. Those holidays, because there are so many, create a season. About two weeks ago, things definitely changed. My patients were all talking about ‘feeling sad,’ and many were unsure why. There were some that could identify that they were not going to have their ‘typical holiday celebration;’ however, many were perplexed. For some, they are used to spending the specific days of whatever holiday they celebrate alone, and they still were depressed. Sadness does exist when you are alone on whatever holiday you celebrate. I have spent many holidays alone due to being far from family or having to work, and it never feels great. Almost worse than the ‘holiday itself,’ is the season, when you are alone. This year many people felt that. The streets were decorated, the commercials still ran, the holiday songs and specials occurred, but the merriment was not as strong. Listening to a lot of the ‘upbeat holiday songs,’ the other day, it was almost humorous. People are not ‘filling city sidewalks,’ they’re isolated inside. The sad holiday songs, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Blue Christmas,” took on new meaning, as many people were not able to see loved ones. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that ‘we all have the desire to have people in our lives.’ Presents are just presents, stuff is just stuff, if you cannot be with the people you love. There is not anything I want for Christmas except an evening with my family and friends. That would be the best present ever this year. This year people have lost ‘a lot.’ Many individuals will spend their first holidays without a family member alive to even call and wish “Happy Holidays,’ too. Others are facing eviction, food shortage, financial issues… Many people are sick or have loved ones currently in the hospital they cannot visit. Then there are individuals who are homebound and will spend the holidays alone. Many individuals have not had contact with people for months. Suicides are up, addictions are up, domestic violence is up. Individuals who live alone and are immuno-compromised cannot take the risk to go to holiday events. Many families have chosen to forego the holidays simply because it’s too risky and many have chosen to do it because they fill ‘it’s civically right,’ with hospitals facing over-capacity and medical and frontline workers at their breaking points. It’s not my intent to write a sad post, but I do want to send love and light to those who find themselves alone. This week I was talking with a ‘friend,’ whose brother is very ill with COVID. She is also a therapist, and we talked in private about how ‘sad and frustrating,’ it is to ‘not be able to have the holidays with family and friends,’ and to spend your days listening to people talk about their plans, remaining completely neutral (which is our job as therapists). As we talked, we discussed how holiday adds have not changed (for the most part). We still see people getting together, happy around a tree, enjoying a family meal. The reality is, it’s not new. People face this every year and this year more people are experiencing it. The holidays can be a very hard time when you have images of light, happiness, family, joy, all around you, and you don’t have a family. Whatever you celebrate, it’s heartbreaking to be the person who has nowhere to go, who does not get a call from anyone or a card, who does not get even a small gift to open. I’ve had many people tell me they had a ‘sense of relief,’ this year because ‘they did not have to lie when they returned to work about the fact that they ‘had nowhere to go and spent the holidays alone,’ trying to forget they’re happening, which is hard because it’s a whole season. It’s everywhere. It’s in stores, decorations, images on TV, etc. This year many people are seeing and feeling that feeling that some face every year. It’s my hope that maybe this year, due to so many individuals feeling that feeling, we will be more aware of the fact that, for some people, this is not just 2020 (the year of the pandemic where things were stopped). For many, every year is like this. These people are not ‘bad people.’ They might just be the last person living in their families or never had a family. I love the merriment and the spirit of the season, don’t get me wrong; however, it’s my hope that maybe next year (if things have returned to ‘something of normalcy,’) that we are more observant of individuals who might be alone during ‘this season.’ Sending them a card, giving them a call, inviting them to dinner. Small acts. The season is about ‘people,’ and this year is showing many of us that. I hope we remember that for years to come. That’s what my holiday wish is this year. If you know someone is struggling or alone this year or has recently had a major loss or is struggling, it’s not too late to reach out. We need each other more than ever. The poem I’m sharing today is a poem I wrote in a diner one Christmas Eve. I was away and could not afford to be with family. As I looked around, I just observed different people. The workers, the homeless kids outside, etc. I wanted to give that a voice. I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season, whatever it is you celebrate or don’t. Yes, we celebrate in different ways, different traditions, but we all experience the cultural ‘holiday season.’ It is a time to be thankful, to celebrate, to be joyous. Most importantly, it should be a time to celebrate for everyone. It should be a season of inclusion. This years going to be different for many. We can still reach out. We can still be kind. We can still send love. Hopefully, as the world goes through a ‘holiday season,’ that has looked ‘different,’ for most, perhaps, we can remember the lesson many of us are realizing and learning this year. “The season,’ is about inclusivity, gratitude, sharing, and each other. I hope we don’t forget that lesson in years to come. Happy Holidays! Sending everyone love, joy, light, and hope.
In the diner the blonde skater flips
his bangs every few seconds
protecting his opal eyes from being drowned. His friend,
who has arms sliced up like pre-cut hams, a girl with thick ladled curls
sits solo by the window.
She is the one in a red velvet dress gazing out the window.
There is a skinny couple with a feeling of freezer burn to them.
They seem to love each other with their books and asthma inhalers.
Drinks are served out of mason jars,
to make it feel Southern perhaps,
like we’ve all been working out in our gardens. If it had a smell,
it would be like spring rain. Deflated, in our own ways,
we watch waitresses who look like they took to the whiskey,
enjoying burn down their esophagus’ in warm coffee,
making their yes’ and certainlies easier.
I was alone in the city for the first time as they raised trees
dancing lights around them. I was living,
renting a small, cozy studio with happily named houseplants
and crocheted blankets from what felt like another lifetime.
I had walls and walls of books and shoeboxes of napkin notes
given to me in diners by friends, lovers, that read like poetry.
Most days my lips looked half glossed, but it was red wine.
I spent days pairing them with microwave burritos and hot baths
waiting for the wisdom of the city to return
from the men’s room and begin the conversations with my poems.
I was in love with walking the streets, finding places
like this where lonely women wear Christmas sweaters,
way too zealous for a holiday that should be deflating them.
I watched punks with blue mohawks skateboarding down sidewalks
in the early morning hours, back from a night of bartending.
A waitress in pink brings me a refill and a pie slice.
“On the house cause it’s the holiday and all,” she grins.
Somewhere my family chops apples, prepares a brisckett.
The women of the family passive- aggressively try
to force the men to do the dishes after the meal.
The men act like they have not heard them,
the noise of the football game too loud.
Someone followed a recipe beautifully
and someone butchered one. They’ll be the talk
for holidays to come until another young niece or nephew
feels it an opportune time to test their cooking skills.
It won’t be me. I am the one who writes long letters
describing my wishbone life. I don’t speak of
the burning August asphalt or the stench of the city,
or the man who kicked his dog on the way to the subway.
I write a string of pinned polaroids,
making myself sound like a communion wafer melting on the holy tongue
of this city. I won’t talk about how
by next year if the poems don’t start coming,
I will be working with the waitresses here, talking gibberish to random strangers.
Secretly trying to convince myself I am not the the thunderbolt I believed myself to be
I write about hot storms that cooled the streets
and made the sewers steam, bringing neighbors to their sills
to smell fresh rain. I will
not speak of my closet of used clothes or the girl I have a crush on
in my building who bicycles to work every morning. I contemplate
her career, her clothes, her family. I’ll keep that to myself
I might just kiss a girl with a nose piercing and blue hair,
or just have sex with one. She’ll believe in after sex beer toasts,
which we’ll enjoy as we pet her chocolate lab naked.
Under my bed a box of photos, one of them the punk I met in high school,
who wore flannels and was more than I could ever put in a poem.
Pictures of me in the thrift store suit, I wore to the holiday party of the girl I fucked
that same night and for many nights after,
leading to pictures of us writing bad poems in bed after sex.
I won’t write of how many cigarettes I am smoking outside piss hole bars,
how many of them turn into great philosophical conversations.
Pictures showing how much she hates having me take photos.
Her smile she faked because she knew it meant something to me.
I will revisit the photos when I get home. Someday,
the stories behind them will become award winning poems read at open mic nights.
People will come up to me state, “I feel I know you.”
They will make me smile, “the details were good.”
I won’t write of how life and circumstance is threatening to break me,
how my old girlfriend, they all thought I’d marry, still calls just to hear me breathe.
They will not know of the “meaningless fucks,” after her
and the hours after those fucks where I worry I will never love anyone like her again.
They will not know I am writing this letter in a run down diner resplendent with characters, of nights in empty bars, and cold basement studios.
Poets tend not to share who their work is about
leading people to believe they live a life of worldly observations.
Most of us, have one or two subjects, who haunt us.
our delicious accidents, we can’t stop going back for seconds of.