Christmas had become a long ago and far away memory. As a child it had seemed magical. There was so much to love — Mom’s baking, Ma-Maw and I tossing glitter, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer… The annual animation special had become that once-a-year-event in much the same way as the Wizard of Oz had. And that Island of Misfit Toys always seemed strangely familiar.
Ma-Maw would give me money. My budget was a dollar for each family member, and a dollar went a long way back then. I’d walk up and down the isles at the Dime Store and carefully select the perfect gifts for each person. Then I would immediately rush back to Ma-Maw’s wrapping my purchases in the most glorious red and gold foil paper.
Months of rehearsals for our cantata at church paid off as I stood, breathless, listening to Mary Ann Elliott sing ‘ O Holy Night’. Her alto was pitch perfect, and when paired with her long dark hair, milky skin, and a midnight blue velvet dress the sense of ceremony came full circle. As the story of baby Jesus unfolded it seemed you were hearing it for the very first time.
I loved Christmas.
But there was never a greater sense of belonging and love than years spent with my wife and family during Christmas. And as the walls began to fall around the shame and denial, and I began to understand who I was, I feared the Christmas I loved would no longer exist. I feared the Authentic Eddie would never again experience that special beauty and joy that Christmas brings.
Coming Out Of Indiana, and declaring who I really was, did hurt many people. Christmas seemed to be something I was going to have to give up. Without even realizing it I left that sense of holiday ceremony behind. I became busy carving out a new life for myself, which was both exhilarating and terrifying. The memories of my previous life – even the good ones – seemed to have no place in the new world I was discovering and the new life I was building.
I’d been independent for nearly five years when I met Jeff. He had a beautiful and infectious smile. A take-charge personality. And the first time he kissed me he had to stand on his tiptoes, making me suddenly aware I was attracted to shorter men. Our second week dating he took me to a beautiful rooftop restaurant. It was an extremely windy night, and being true to the kind of man I would soon learn he was, he insisted on taking the more exposed seat. Throughout dinner, as the wind lifted his hair up and down, I couldn’t help but notice that he was losing his hair. And throughout that entire dinner, though clearly unnerved, he continued to smile that beautiful smile. Sitting across from him in that very moment, I knew this would be the man I’d spend the rest of my life with.
There are so many hurdles to get through when you give up your independence and begin a new life with someone – the two of you together. I had just turned thirty and was inconsolable; foolishly thinking my youth was over. But when you commit yourself to someone, life renews itself. The world really does feel young, and you feel young with it. Ready to try new things and give up old fears. And even change some of your ways.
Along with Jeff, came Chelsea, his beloved Springer spaniel. Though I’d always loved animals and had dogs, coming from the country they were kept outside. I had never lived with one indoors, in my own space. It wasn’t as easy for me as it might sound. Chelsea simply walked through the room leaving a trail of hair. My OCD and obsession with cleaning peaked at an all time high. But I was learning what it really meant to share.
Then came Christmas. Jeff loved Christmas, and was excited about our first one together. I pretended I didn’t hear him every time it came up, but he kept talking about it.
Oh no….I don’t do Christmas.
I explained how I’d worked two jobs nearly every Christmas since I’d come out of Indiana, and that I hadn’t celebrated Christmas in years. Jeff just handed me my coat and I followed him out the door. Walking down the street, I asked Jeff ‘Where are we going? The Christmas market? What do you mean a real tree? I don’t do real trees. What about the needles? The mess?’ But before I knew it, there we were, with Jeff meticulously eyeing each tree. Is it high enough? Full enough? I just shook my head but couldn’t help but notice the intoxicating smell of pine and wood and winter.
Heading back home, we each carried an end. Though I wouldn’t utter a word, I suddenly felt this surge of energy, like a new adventure….
When it came time to decorate, we found ourselves in the most extravagant Christmas boutique eyeing the most expensive and beautiful ribbon I’d ever seen. It was outrageously gorgeous and just as expensive. We walked away, determined to be sensible, but went back to that ribbon a half dozen times. Finally, we decided if we used cheap lights, pine cones, and didn’t eat out for at least four months we could swing it. A few hours later, watching Jeff wrap that beautiful, beautiful ribbon around our first tree together, I basked in the beauty of the season, my new life, and most of all, in Jeff. With Chelsea in my lap, lights blinking in the windows. I breathed easy. Christmas was back…