“I have almost five months clean you know, and I’m doing the right thing now,” he says to no one, shuffling past a row of Christmas trees for sale, the butt of a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
A woman with a hood half-covering her face stops to ask me for a very specific $1.89 to buy milk, adding that no one will stop to talk to her because they can’t tell if she’s a man or a woman. I give her three dollar bills from my back pocket, and she wishes me a blessed day, thanking me, adding that I look so pretty and clean. Then she’s on to the next blessed block.
Something about the holidays makes a city of over 8 million people somehow feel like the loneliest planet in the universe. For a minute there, I lost myself staring into a window display, walking past Christmas trees, paralyzed by a clean, nostalgic evergreen smell. As powerful as that teenage boy clean laundry smell. As powerful as when you used to make me feel clean, dirty and new.
In the dense and glowing grid that is New York City at night during the month of December, everyone is inside, clinging to each other for warmth; sharing body heat; keeping the cold of the streets out on the streets, where cold things belong. Peek inside any one of these sample glow holes and see how everyone is fast at work trimming their first official holiday tree together, buying just the right piece of jewelry that sends just the right message about how they feel about you, baby, now that it’s been 2 years and 7 months and bitching about their stupid holiday office party where Mary Ellen always gets too fucked up and starts hitting on Steve. Is it worth it to buy a new sparkly dress, even if you’ll never wear it again? Oh well, what the hell. ‘Tis the season. Every kiss begins with kay. Plus: mistletoe.
Meanwhile, I’m losing the entire month of December, gnawing on the bitter scraps of the part of myself I lost in you; a stray dog out there in the cold; looking into that glow; empty stomach; a refugee.
The other night out on the sidewalk, he held open his coat to block the wind while I lit my cigarette, and for some strange reason it almost made me cry. I later realized that the pathetic warmth of that little pocket of his five second space gave me more safety than I think you could have ever provided. He shielded me from the cold with the grace of his wings; the size of his body; and I remembered I had a beautiful, fragile soul worth protecting. That’s somehow all it took for all of this to click.
You used to be my favorite daydream; the Christmas present I couldn’t wait to open; a private space I would seek out in my imagination to bathe, to sprawl out, licking my lips, you calling me lovely. Placid and amphibious, at one point hearing your voice was my cool summertime swim. I waited for your holy bloom, for the light to come back into your eyes. I waited; the seasons changed; I got lost inside the hell of your mind. It was six months of a slow, gradual decay.
Now, you’ve become a nightmare I can’t shake; a spider; a reminder of a complete, total emptiness, in my bed and down to my toes. I walk around with your living ghost. He reminds me of the vibrant urgency with which you first treated me, and the trail of longing you left in that wake. He reminds me that you’re just a cab ride away in this city, but in reality, I know you’re completely out of reach. Because your soul thrives in an empty, unfurnished apartment, with empty beer bottles lined up on your kitchen sink and an empty space inside of you I could never fill.
Something about the holidays brings that feverish, desperate search for human warmth—empathy—protection—a filling up of your cup—to the forefront of everything. Walking past these rows of evergreens makes me miss my old suburban homes; my younger and cleaner suburban soul swinging in the backyard; the simple places where I used to find peace.
Something about the holidays also makes the lonely soul stronger, tested to its limit, missing a layer of vital fat but always hungry; fiercely alive; stopping to smell pine trees and recognizing the full weight of that solitude. Letting go of the spiders of the past as this year comes to a gentle, quiet close.
“You got any kids?” the same man asks no one, continuing his invisible conversation, shuffling back and forth outside the storefront. “Yeah, yeah I do. I have a seven-year-old. She scares the shit out of me,” he laughs, tossing his head back, adding, “I want to get her something really good for Christmas this year.”