Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On Christmas

I go for a walk. It's what I do instead of napping, instead of laying waste to the imaginary cheese log, instead of bickering over the remote control or the Fine Chocolate Assortment or the disposal of the wrapping paper. It is 4:00 PM and bitter cold. I don mittens, slip out the front door, and try to get lost even though I know this is no place for it, here in my native town in the empty streets.

Only they aren't empty, the streets. Familiar, yes. Frost-covered, quiet, possessed of that holiday slickness that reminds you of where (and who, and what, and how, and with whom) you should be that you're not. But empty? Nope. It's like lifting up a rock to discover the grubs teeming beneath. Here we all are: numb, dumb refugees from whatever numbing, dumbing celebration we've escaped. None of us makes eye contact. A woman with a dark braid digs her hands into her pockets. A teenager in a green army jacket marches toward the park. A middle-aged man in a Santa hat pauses at the corner of First and High for a full sixty seconds before turning on his heel and heading back the way he came. The wind picks up; the sun drops an inch; we waddle and stump and plod.

It's one of those moments. You knock on a wall of your world and discover it gives under your hands, that there's a secret passage, a false door. Here's another: the day before Christmas I have lunch with a friend on the second anniversary of her divorce. I tell her how brave she is, how much courage it must have taken to cut her losses, let her investment (all those years, days, hours!) go. She's quiet for a couple of beats. Then she tells me about the people who sought her out when she first got divorced, how they leaned in and lowered their voices and told her -men and women, strangers and friends- that they wished it were them. Her parents, her therapist, her cashier: they wished they had the guts.

It's like clicking on a hidden link. It's like splitting a cow's heart down the middle. It's like discovering that your world is made of paper, that all you need to do is pull on your mittens and push.

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