I remember you loved Christmas lights but didn’t love Christmas. The gathering always stressed you out. A smattering of distant relatives and people you weren’t sure if you were supposed to hug or kiss on the cheek. Cousins you disliked because they posted ignorant things on Facebook. Still, you had to smile and ask about school. Still, you had to talk to Aunt Joyce and listen to the same story three times in 20 minutes.
I remember you asking me to Christmas dinner with all your extended family and my visible hesitation. What if the people who raised you didn’t love me like they loved you?
I remember you opening the gift I got you and trying not to cry. And I was glad. I poured myself into it. Spent months planning out the details. I wanted you to know how much I paid attention. I wanted you to know how much I saw you. Really saw you. I think that’s what love is. Seeing the other person. Seeing them and deciding to stay. No, not just deciding, wanting to stay.
I like Target during the holiday season. I have since I was a child. The decorations and displays and crowds of people trying to finish shopping. I love it. In 6th grade, my best friend and I would go to Target and have our own photo shoots. She’d curl up against a reindeer or I’d drape some string of twinkly lights around my neck as if it were a boa. We lived for it. These were our glam shots. Target was our backdrop.
I’ve never liked Christmas. No, that’s not right. I did. Once. But that was before grief sliced through my family like a butter knife. It wasn’t smooth. It was ragged. You ever try to cut a steak with a butter knife? Takes time. Took months. It was sickness and fighting and death and another death. It was avoid, avoid, denial, denial. It was loss and deflect and loss and deflect.
I remember you kissing me in my living room while my mom was away. She did this on purpose. I told her I was afraid you’d never make a move. I doubted your feelings. My mom, with her trust and heart and ability to understand her teenage daughter was over-the-moon in love, went to a friend’s house for an hour. She left and you kissed me. I remember us eating spaghetti before. If two people eat the same amount of garlic, it doesn’t matter.
I remember you loved that fashion blog with the men in crisp, tailored suits. You always dressed so sharp and I was wearing your sweatshirt. I still have the cardigan. I said I got rid of it, but that was a lie. I told a lot of lies towards the end, you know.
I remember your face when I said it wasn’t going to work. I remember my heart begging me against it. I remember my logical side taking over, for once. I remember all the futures you read in my palms. Every wrinkle, every line, every smile indention, you saw 20 years. You saw 40 years. You saw a porch and dogs running around, even though you’re allergic. I’ll take medication, you’d say. I remember telling you it was over for me when it wasn’t. But I remember the fatal mixture of timing and distance and distrust.
I remember you loved Christmas lights.
But mostly, I just remember how much you loved me. And how much I wish you still did.