It’s holiday season and you’re flooded with memories. It doesn’t help that you’re tidying up and you find a box and an album you haven’t seen in years. You can’t stop yourself from exploring, from looking, from letting loose the tears.
Memories are sparked in the objects and images. You’re surprised at how much you must have forgotten; blocking memories becomes the habit of a lifetime, and apparently a means of self-preservation.
* * *
If the memories come and go, unfortunately, the worries remain constant. You wish by now the situation had changed; at one point you were convinced that it would.
But those changes never came to pass and now, you spend your time trying to reach a place of acceptance.
So you tell yourself to be pragmatic and not defeatist, to look on the bright side and not from a place of shadow, and above all to smile at how far you’ve come.
Yet the little faces in the images you find are gleeful. Yours – in the few photographs that include you – is so much more relaxed.
* * *
You cannot set aside the debt and that is fact.
You cannot set aside the anger and that is fact.
You set aside the tears because they’re pointless and you’ve had enough.
You tell yourself: “I can work on the debt and I can work on the anger.”
So you work and you hope, you make minor advances, another incident sets you back, and you struggle up the hill as often as necessary.
You tell yourself this is the way it is. You remind yourself it can always be worse.
* * *
On the mantel is a picture of your children in the old house, their faces freckled and full, the fireplace behind them and the tree glittering nearby. They’re smiling and relaxed, they’re opening their gifts, the sweet mutt of a dog is sprawled sleeping on the carpet beside them.
It may not be Norman Rockwell – and you knew it even then – but it was a family, a feeling of family, an easier time, a time before worry and conflict.
* * *
In an old bag in the back of your closet, you discover the sleigh bells from your grandfather’s house that you showed to your boys, and that reminded you to put food out for the reindeer.
You find recipes and notes and letters in your mother’s hand – suggestions for this and that, commentary on everything. She adored the holidays and you shared a good many together.
You walk to another part of the house and gaze at a picture of the woman who is now gone. You cannot avoid her memory any more than you can forget her betrayal when you divorced.
* * *
You take one last look at the pictures you’ve uncovered – the young man you once married, the four of you by the hearth, the ring on his finger – before he removed it in defiance.
You wonder if it’s painful for your children to recall, for that matter you wonder what exactly they recall. You haven’t the courage to ask them if the holidays are a source of conflict, of confusion, of mixed feelings. Perhaps the topic is moot; they will follow your lead so you will make it a good one.
* * *
You flip through a catalog of cardigans and gadgets, then another with books and posters, and still another with sales on sports equipment. The prices are too steep, so you toss them all aside. You page through sites online, one after another, racking your brain for ideas that might please them. You close the computer; the prices are still too high.
You settle in with the monthly bills and they reflect the years of insufficient funds. You do what you can and console yourself that at the moment it is a bit better than usual. You reconcile yourself to the contradictions in this time of year – money and memories, worries and happiness. You write out the minimum amounts due, you place the checks in envelopes, you seal and stamp, you stack them in a pile.
* * *
You know this to be a sentimental mood, the seasonal chill, the edge of depression that you chase away with a lecture to your Adult Self.
You inhale slowly. You exhale even more so. You refocus.
You stow the album and the box beneath the bed. You return the sleigh bells to where you found them. You turn away from the photographs that make you misty. You jot yourself reminders for the upcoming menus.
You count your blessings.
You note ingredients for this week’s trek to the market: apples, walnuts, celery and onion for stuffing; naturally, a good, grainy bread; the turkey of course, and green beans or broccoli; red potatoes and yams; pecans and brown sugar.
There is still the problem of budget and gifts, but at the very least you will fill the house with love and cooking. You tell yourself that it will be enough.