Holiday Ghosts


Most people celebrate some holiday on or near the winter solstice in December, and these holidays are usually described in public as celebrations of the love of family and friends. The mass delusion that everyone else is happily spending time with their chosen posse actually gives rise to loneliness and depression during this season.

An old friend who was raised Christian once told me that everything you’ve lost during the year comes back to haunt you at Christmastime. And the Christmas story about haunting that returns every year is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843. The latest dramatization is usually advertised as entertainment for the whole family, although it was not originally written for children.

The story is about a man who gave up sexual love in young adulthood to focus on economic success, and who recognizes his need for human companionship when it is probably too late for him to find a date who doesn’t charge by the hour. The story’s conclusion implies that businessman Ebenezer Scrooge will be content for the rest of his life to function as a celibate godfather-figure to his employee Bob Cratchit and his family. Do you (an adult reader) consider this a happy-ever-after ending?

For those who feel as alone as Scrooge after the death of his business partner Marley, hosting a Pity Party would probably be more satisfying than attending an office party (and trying to pretend this is not just an extension of work), or trying to enjoy the company of relatives who seem to belong on another planet. For best results, a Pity Party requires at least two people: a whiner and a sympathetic listener. All participants should have a chance to whine in turn. Alcohol and comfort food are recommended.

Trust me: exchanging stories of Holidays from Hell can be a surprisingly effective way to cultivate a warm and fuzzy mood. Exorcising the ghosts by talking about them might even be a good prelude to reading a holiday-themed anthology of erotic stories.

I’ll demonstrate by introducing a few of my own ghosts from holiday seasons past. Feel free to compare mine with yours.

# 1: Ice-Heart

– Young Loki (as I’ll call him) was a dope dealer friend-of-a-friend with whom I started a reckless affair on December 6 when I was 21 and living alone for the first time. Loki had a voracious appetite for sex and considerable skill at getting me off. He had Scandinavian roots, and liked to fantasize aloud about being a Viking raider of the Dark Ages raping an Anglo-Saxon maiden (me). Our relationship was not the kind my parents could approve of, which made it especially thrilling. But did we have a relationship or were we just having sex?

I found out when Loki phoned me on the night of December 23 to summon me (alone, on foot) to his apartment. I was horribly sick with flu, and told him I could barely move. “I know what you need,” he snickered. I told him that if he touched me in the way his tone implied, I would probably upload my last meal on him.

Loki’s tone changed. “So you’re not coming over?” he asked. “I’ll see you around then.”

I still remember feeling sick in the heart as well as everywhere else. I lay in bed in my attic apartment between frequent trips downstairs to the second-floor bathroom shared by all the tenants in an old house. None of them seemed to be around. It occurred to me that no one would notice if I actually died.

I felt nauseous with self-contempt. Loki had never promised me love, respect or even friendship, yet I hadn’t hesitated to get naked with him. I knew that if I ever told him how alone I felt that night, he would tell me he wasn’t responsible for my sucky feelings. I saw him after the holidays, but by then I knew my place in his life: out of sight, out of mind.

#2: The Uncouth Bridegroom

– My Nigerian husband was living uncomfortably with me in mid-Canada after I had sponsored him over from London, England, where we had met and lived together two years earlier. I was now a woman of 24. I thought my love could help him feel at home in the cold north while curing him of his prejudices, which always startled me when they first jumped out of his mouth like poisonous toads. (I told myself that he was really a good person who needed to shake off the influence of ignorant friends whom he had left behind when he crossed the Atlantic.)

Husband and I had been invited, with my parents and sisters, to the annual Christmas Eve dinner hosted by a family friend, a divorced woman who taught English in the same university where my father taught Economics.

For years, our hostess had maintained a friendship with one of her other guests, a Jewish colleague who was known for his knowledge of Milton, his short temper and his contempt for female students. When he lost his sight due to diabetes during my year in London, our hostess had offered emotional support. This didn’t seem to help him enough. As far as I could see, his temper was getting shorter. The impatient tapping of his white cane wherever he went seemed to express his bitterness at the injustice of life. I knew he had recently gone through a messy divorce.

As usual, Hostess’ gourmet cooking kept us all blissfully silent for the first few bites. Then one of the social scientists opened a discussion of world politics, which led – with the inevitability of an ancient tragedy – to conflict in the Middle East. (We can’t stay there, I thought.)

My husband announced, as though he spoke for both of us (as he tended to do) that most of the world’s problems were caused by conniving Jews. I wanted to disappear. I tried to erase Husband’s words from my mind as the blind professor held forth on the pandemic of stupidity which was really causing trouble everywhere in the world. He seemed to be aiming a sightless glare at everyone else around the table.

Just when I thought the scene couldn’t get any worse, one of the other guests (the placating wife of another faculty member who had sexually harassed me – and whom I was trying to avoid) suggested that we all sing Christmas carols. If memory serves me, everyone else ignored her, and she looked hurt. The rest of the evening is a blur in my mind; I could hardly bear to stay present in my body.

In years to come, I wondered why my sexual radar (not to mention family connections) so often led me to the least compatible companions. When I started a new life as a divorced mother, the thought of re-entering the heterosexual dating scene held no appeal for me. I began meeting women at the gay bar, which was the only reliable place to find lesbians. It was also a kind of mothership for women and men for whom drinking was a vocation and a lifestyle.

#3: The Departed Lover

– Xena (as I’ll call her) had dumped me earlier in the fall. This happened after I discovered that Gabrielle, a newcomer from a smaller town to whom I had introduced my girlfriend, Xena, in the interests of sisterhood, was seeing a lot of Xena behind my back. In fact, they were planning to move in together and become business partners. They wanted to live in each other’s pockets for the rest of their lives. They were grateful to me for introducing them.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I had to decide what to do with the present I had already bought for Xena. Everything in my apartment reminded me of Xena’s intensity. She had told me numerous times that I was her true mate on some deep spiritual level. As uneasy as I had been about her drinking, her moods and her general world-view, the silence she left behind seemed deafening. And I could hardly turn to my friend Gabrielle for comfort.

My daughter and I spent much time at my parents’ house during the holidays that year. I was in my early thirties, and thought I had probably lost my last chance to find a life-partner before fading into repulsive old age.

During that quiet week in the home of my adolescence, I sat by the fire to read Orsinian Tales by Ursula LeGuin, a gift from my parents. I noted that few of the stories end happily. (But then, HEA endings would have brought up my sarcasm.) The Christmas tree in the front room, dripping with keepsake ornaments from my childhood, seemed to confirm that I would never again have an adult sex life with a lover who wouldn’t disappear at dawn like a masturbation fantasy.

A hit tune on the radio became the themesong of that season in my life: “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” by Elton John.

“Don’t wish it away.
Don’t look at it like it’s forever.
Between you and me I could honestly say

That things can only get better.”

In later years, I was invited to Solstice celebrations in the homes of lesbian wiccans, where I felt more like a grown woman. Yet these events could be bittersweet when they brought me face-to-face with my exes and with women who had the surface flash of distant planets, attractive but not in my orbit.

Now that I’ve had the same Significant Other for twenty years, while raising one birth-daughter and two stepsons, the ghosts of holidays past are receding into the archives of my mind. From time to time, I bring them out to remind myself that Dates from Hell, by their nature, tend to pass through one’s life. This is their true legacy: once they’re really gone, they leave room for joy.

Jean Roberta
December ’09 – January ’10

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2009 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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