Stories told

The Christmas bellwether

This is the third in a short series of stories from 10 years ago. A sad story for Christmas Eve, but with a hopeful ending. Just one more story to go after this, next week.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, having Christmas as a family. It was our last.

I couldn’t see, didn’t want to see, that my marriage was over. How did I miss it? She wanted me out; I had holed up near our home in a one-room apartment. My wife was lighter, happier without me. She changed churches, she made new friends — this was what moving on looked like. It frightened me.

What did I say that convinced her to do Christmas together in our home? I can’t remember. Perhaps she wanted a show of normalcy for our sons. Maybe she wanted one last memory with my mother; they had been close. I can’t believe my parents were willing to come. They had to convince my brother. They did it for me, they did it for my sons, even though they knew, even though it would be anything but comfortable.

I recall only random details. There was dinner: not elaborate and overflowing as in years past, but a routine Sunday pork roast. Decorations were sparse, with no tree, but gifts were piled up for our boys. I bought my wife a gift, pajamas, something I knew she needed, the kind she liked; “I told you not to buy me a gift.” I slept on the couch, my parents on the futon. There must have been breakfast; there had to have been. I don’t remember everybody leaving.

But I remember being back in my apartment that morning, alone, the whole day after Christmas before me. I sat on my bed for hours, pain and loneliness pinching my face, loss pressing into my shoulders, grief crushing my chest.

Divorce hurts. Have you been through it? I can’t speak to yours, but mine was so destructive that it took me years to recover from it. I’m not ready to tell those stories yet. But I am ready to say that I remember that Christmas, the one that foreshadowed a terrible year to come, a year of loss after loss, of anger, of agony, of tears.

Opening a Christmas gift in my childhood home

Opening a Christmas gift in my childhood home

I remember better the Christmases that followed. My sons and I spent the next one in South Bend, comforted to be with family in my childhood home. That next year, stability crept in and I found solace; the grief and pain eased some.

By the next Christmas my church had invited me to live in its parsonage. I invited my parents and my brother to share Christmas there; it is where our family’s Christmas spaghetti tradition began. A year of rebuilding followed, of figuring out our new family ways, of making new traditions.

By the next year I had bought the little house in which I still live. We’ve had seven Christmases here, my parents, my brother, my sons, and I, and we will enjoy our eighth tomorrow. For a few years, each Christmas was better than the last, foretelling a better year to come.

But three or four years ago, I felt it: we had a routine Christmas — wonderfully good, full of food and family and closeness. But that had become the norm. And I knew our lives had recovered, and we were just living again.

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6 thoughts on “The Christmas bellwether

  1. I don’t know where you find the strength to share what you have. It’s personal enough that I’m faintly uncomfortable reading it but compelled by its sincere presentation and authenticity. You seem like such a great guy that I’m scratching my head as to why your ex would want to go, but I’m in no position to judge and it’s very clear that we’re not being invited to—you always remain a gentleman.

    It’s soothing even to someone who hasn’t gone through it that you’ve kept your centre and held onto yourself and even found new things about yourself; that your sons have come through it and sound as though they’ve made peace with it too, and that with one great exception, family remains. I don’t imagine it’s ever just fine, but I like that you’ve found the strength, and the will, to share what it’s been like.

    Merry Christmas, Jim, and thanks for doing what you do. A present to the rest of us all year.

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    • LP, I like to think I’m a great guy, too. But ten years ago I had some problems and they were my part in destroying my marriage. My ex has her part in it, too. We’re both 100% responsible. The last two years of my marriage and the two years after the separation before the divorce was final was genuinely traumatic and left me messed up, to the point where I needed a lot of help getting myself back together. My journey back from all of that has been remarkable and difficult and intensely personal; this is as much of a peek inside as I dare give, at least for now.

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  2. Christopher Smith says:

    It takes guts to bare ones soul and I admire that, also time is a great healer and its seem to be proving so in your case.

    I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

    Like

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