Last year it was Christmas in the shelter. The year before that was Christmas in the Beastie, in a campground in Oregon. Billy and the Boy surprised me and put christmas lights and paper homemade decorations on a tree in our space. They both made me cards, Billy’s had a guitar on the front, the Boy drew a koala with a santa hat on. We cooked on the propane stove, played music together, swapping songs and laughing. We watched a baseball game we had never seen before, an extravaganza with Ken Griffey Jr making outlandish plays in the outfield, huddled around the tiny glowing screen of my cell phone. It was the brightest light in the RV, the battery had died months before.
I got brave and played a recording back of us singing Fairytale of New York together, and my heart broke. What I had forgotten amidst all the horror of his final ten month binge, and that last year that we spent apart, was that we loved each other. We had deep joy together, we were best friends. We laughed and joked and sang and lived. We ‘got’ each other. Someone could search their whole life and never find that perfect click and ability to provide each other with understanding and affection. Our company was easy. We were two halves of the same coin. We spoke the same shorthand, lived the same lives, sometimes apart, sometimes together. We were Billy and Detroit. The terrible twins. Wherever he went, I followed, whether it was to Medford, Aberdeen, the depths of alcoholic drunkdom, or hell. Christmases in parking lots, christmas in a trailer we had no hope of being able to stay in but was good for a rest for a few months, christmas in campgrounds….All of these were poor, but we all did our best to give the children a good day, and to have some fun. I would try and make sure we at least had electricity that day. One year a ranger donated camping for one day over Christmas. That helped immensely, if only to persuade me that people were not all evil bastards with no compassion. Sometimes people would knock on our doors with plates of turkey and potatoes. One year the rangers bought us candy and pretty handmade soap. Sometimes we would stop and have a drink with our unhoused neighbors in the parking lot or campground for Christmas, and smoke weed, play guitar and live a little. Sometimes I was high and drunk. Last few I have been sober.
I liked a glass of couvoissier cognac. Billy was a thief…a terrible big hearted thief. Need cigarettes, he would steal em. A bottle? Coming right up. I knew it was Christmas when he would come back to camp, and pull a bottle of cognac out of the pocket he had sewn into his trench coat, producing it like a rabbit out of a hat. One year, deep in the depths of some coastal forest camp we had made, he returned back with a handful of oxy, a bottle of brandy, a stolen card and a smile. Merry Christmas, baby. This one’s for me and you. It was all one big lie. It was never ‘our’ year. The next year was never really a better one, not until I left. Now it is better and worse. He is gone forever, I am alive and in an apartment with the Boy, who is rapidly becoming a man, dwarfing me and showing me what a sweet, kind, loving, devoted and hardworking guy he is growing into. I am happy here, even if I do look back longingly to the coastal forest that became our home and having someone who didn’t have to love me, choose to do so anyway.
I dipped back in the time machine that is my phone, and listened to The Girl’s voice say “merry christmas!” She was giggly and funny and with me. I had to drop the phone and turn it off fast. Unless I am going to go hunting for a bottle of brandy and a handful of pills that is still too much. It might always be too much. There is nothing in the world that makes me sadder at this point in time. I hope the world doesn’t say “here ya go!” and throw something that beats it onto the pile, I cannot take any more sadness, loss or devastation. I go to sleep willing him to be ok, to survive, to live, to grow, to have a beautiful long life full of love and happiness. I wake up scared of what might be. This golden year with the Boy in San Francisco has been so beautiful. The memories made, the walks we had together, the time we got to spend with each other. Sometimes if feels too fragile to last, this happiness. I worry that if I hold onto it too tightly it will shatter like a bauble, crack at the root like an icicle and melt away to nothingness in the California heat.
In my mind’s eye I resurrect various Christmases past. Tokyo being beaten and Pig eating the entire Christmas meal that was meant to be for two adults and two children, leaving hardly a scrap for them and nothing for me. I drank the entire bottle of champagne his work had given him – he didn’t care for it, he had a sweet tooth and dull tastes, and passed out on the bed after getting my head knocked in. Came to with the children piled up next to me, curled around me, fingers wound round my long hair. I cried when I cut all my hair off. It was like cutting away memories of what had been, cutting away my youth, my motherhood, my ‘pretty’. It all fell to the floor. Wasted. Lost. Swept away. Holding onto sanity was like holding onto a tsunami, getting battered and torn in the waves of grief. Those waves still wash up on my shore, muddied by Billy’s passing.
The heating doesn’t work in my new apartment. It keeps cutting out and won’t stay alight. The gas heat makes me nervous, I press the ignition, see the little pilot light and eventually it fires up, but the thermostat turns it off soon after. The landlord set the thermostat too high. He includes heat. Just not enough of it. It is rainy and cold and grey here. I hear the sound of the water drip drip drip down the fire escape, pinging off the stairs. Outside is silent. Silent and wet and brutal. Looking out there fills me with dread. How can I do it again? The wind blows through the trees that line the street. The sirens wail. A lone dog barks. The wailing sounds desperate and afraid. There is a sense of anticipation in the air, a wondering of what the rich and spoilt will throw at people next. Because the real people who live here though numerous to the few on the top of the heap who feed off suffering like carrion crows, get so little while the privileged get so much. It is arbitrary. Some get. Some don’t. It is all greasy soup and muddied boots, with some getting all the meat of life, and never getting their feet or hands dirty. There is very little pure and decent in the world this Christmas.
We are being forced apart by others agendas. Scapegoating and blaming abound. Nothing feels right anymore. The heating stopped working. I am not impressed. At least I have a roof over my head…for now…
Merry Christmas to everyone who has read over the last year or so. May your new year be a bright one, and all your days be toasty and full of love.