On Christmas Eve in 2003, J and I had just met in person ten days prior. We’d talked to each other every day since I first emailed him, though, and while I knew he had plans with family and friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (and so did I), and we were ‘new,’ so we didn’t have plans to spend actual time together those days, I expected a message or a call. He’d already set up that expectation. We spoke briefly in the middle of our respective plans on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day, I just waited. And waited. And no contact came. Not when I was totally distracted with family over for brunch at my new condo I’d just bought late that summer, aching for a message alert or the phone to ring. Not before going to an extended family gathering where I got asked (again) if I was seeing anyone and I (finally!) got to say I’d met someone. Someone really special.
Several family members: Why didn’t you bring him?!
Me: <out loud> We’re brand new. That’s a big deal, bringing him to this. <true…but internally, I was thinking, ‘Because I LIKE this man and you guys are loud and nosy and sometimes crazy, so…’>
I didn’t hear from him all day. I still remember the sad anxiety I felt. I thought he forgot about me (lots of people did…and still do). I thought he made a choice against me in favor of someone or something more entertaining, less complicated, more or less of something I wasn’t enough or was too much of (lots of people did…and still do), and he’d not only not contact me on that Christmas, but never again. Finally, after nine at night, he called.
“I’d have called sooner, but I was in the emergency room.”
He’d gotten in a serious car accident. Some uninsured, reckless idiot hit him and totaled a classic car he’d restored himself, so I never got to ride in it. J just let it go, so I did too. We went out to dinner the next evening, the day after Christmas, with my parents and younger brother…their first time meeting J…and he had a bandage on his forehead (he still has the scar). He met my two best friends at the time that day too. With a bandaged forehead. I felt stupid for not trusting his interest in me and commitment to me. I still kind of feel stupid about it now, 15 years later. J never has been like all the other people in my life. He’s always set himself apart (in good ways).
We had some family over to our house to celebrate the holidays a bit early this Saturday, and a couple of these folks who came over are fairly transparently lonely people. They didn’t really have anywhere else to go for the holidays but our house, and no one else to really spend the holidays with. J and I stayed up talking Saturday night about how lucky we were to have each other. We both felt that kind of lonely, even with people all around us, before we met each other. J said, ‘I remember how much I liked going to work, even when my job was stressful, just to have people to talk to.’ I remember that too. We’d both gotten good at being alone. We didn’t ‘settle’ for each other, but rather found relief in the connection we made, even very early in our relationship. It would have been easy to just settle for anybody to not be alone, but neither of us did. Meeting J…spending time with J…has always felt like comfort and excitement wrapped up in the same package. Being with him always beats being alone, and it always has, and I’ve never been able to say that about another person I’ve spent regular time with.
Maybe that Christmas…our first one together in our very beginning…shaped the way I think of and treat J. I’ll never take him for granted, because I could have lost him. Right after meeting him…right after I found him.
Every Christmas, just for a little while, maybe even only a moment, when we are celebrating, I think of that Christmas and waiting for him to call, and the relief I felt at first just because he didn’t forget about me, but then, more importantly, that he was alright. That I didn’t lose him.
That’s a gift to me every year. Every day. That I still have J.
I have a friend who is entertained by my quirky ability to connect up song lyrics to my life like it has a soundtrack, so here’s the Meghan Trainor and John Legend song that goes with Christmas with J. It’s not a holiday song for most people, but it’s become one for me, I guess.
Happy Holidays to all of you. May you see the gifts you have in the people in your life. Every day. And may you never take each other for granted.
(Artwork is classic Norman Rockwell for Christmas.)