I spent Thanksgiving in bed watching a My Little Pony marathon. I got up at the appropriate times to feed, bathe, and half-heartedly potty train a girl who has decided to wear diapers until her high school graduation. I struggle with depression, but the added weight of loss makes this season darker than blue.
Before this, my holiday blues were colored in straight lines. I’m not suggesting that queerness is the bastion of holiday joy, but the expectation that everyone’s life fit a particular heterosexual script is the Grinch that steals Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter Sunday from me. The script: 1) Be straight. 2) Be searching. 3) Be found. 4) Be wife. 5) Be pregnant. 6) Be mother. 7) Be grandmother. 8) Be enforcer of script, questioner of women who veer off-script, prayer warrior for women who yearn to fit script, gossiper about women who don’t give a damn about script, backwards-looking desirer of a script-less life. 9) Be “loving wife and mother” etched in stone.
I have never brought a romantic partner home for Christmas. I’ve only been romantically involved over two holiday seasons. The first was a college love and we both knew we would spend the holidays with our own families. Still, I was relieved to at least have tentative answers to holiday questions asked back home: Who have you found? When will you find? When will you marry? How many children?
The second time I was romantically involved, my partner was disallowed from our family gathering for having ovaries. I was bummed; I’d been practicing my “we’re just like you/ love knows no gender,” hetero-conformist speech since our first Hollywood kiss. It was just as well. She didn’t really “do” holidays (or me, for that matter) and didn’t care. I begged her to stage a pre-Christmas for our small family. She reluctantly complied and I pretended we were my parents, wondering what was missing as my daughter played with boxes instead of toys. It was warmth. That fake Christmas night, our bed was North Pole-cold and lit only by the faint glow of her cell phone as she exchanged Words with (her other) Friends. I wanted so badly to stay even marginally on script that I lived in the corpse of that relationship until the stench of decay was too much to bear.
This weekend, covered in quilts and watching a purple horse talk about the magic of friendship, I realized how silly it was of me to spend all those years mourning the imaginary person who would hold my hand, fill my womb with respectable pregnancies, and silence the questions. This mourning was nothing in comparison to that of the flesh and blood man who called me Sunshine and never rushed me to some altar he didn’t want to imagine. Cancer stands between our past and my present.
My daughter is throwing handfuls of necklaces from her treasure chest (my jewelry box) across the room and I’m too sad to care. “Mama, be a pirate!” she says, as I feel the sting of pearls on the side of my eye. She reaches out to touch my face, and her once-upon-a-time patty-cake hands are bigger than they were just yesterday. Her eyes are bowls of apology even as the tiniest bit of mirth tugs at the corner of her mouth. I feel her cool fingertips on my skin and the thought hits me like the proverbial apple hit Newton as he was possibly wishing he wasn’t sitting alone under that tree. I am still mourning the imaginary. My family is in this room and I am still missing those who haven’t opened the door to join us. My mourning is often disguised as longing for community and partnership, but even that longing is for an imagined other, a person or persons who will make my non-traditional family enough. If no lover or friend ever opens this door, if we continue to live states away from our blood family, if our chosen family doesn’t choose us back, it is enough that our laughter ricochets off these walls in this moment.
To lose sight of this truth is to ignore the story that supposedly governs this season. Gift-bearers were drawn by the cosmos to a small family in Bethlehem. Everyone who was supposed to be there was there. Those who were not supposed to be there could not find the way.
I am thankful for the gift-bearers who could not make the rest of the journey with us. I am thankful for the universe’s protection from the ones who could not find the way. I am most thankful to know that my family, though suspicious enough to be banned from respectable inns, is enough as it is. The miracle of it all shines star-bright.
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta.