How To Love On Christmas

December 24th a.k.a. Christmas Eve, 2016.

It’s just past 7:30 p.m. on a cold, though not freezing Saturday night in Montreal. When I woke up this morning it was snowing something magical like a scene straight out of a picture book, but all that white fluff had been reduced to grey slush over the course of the day. The usually-busy intersection of Park and Fairmount was devoid of a single pedestrian; the only shop still open for business belonged—unsurprisingly—to the Chinese owner of the dépanneur (Quebec-speak for convenience store) just downstairs from my apartment, but I already knew that because I had been in there earlier stocking up on healthy snacks like vanilla Oreos and original Pringles, chatting with the guy in a mixture of broken Mandarin and accented English about how Christmas doesn’t hold too much significance for us—as in Chinese people. Therefore I knew he had half an hour left until closing, which meant he had another 30 minutes of standing behind the cash register watching Chinese soap operas to go go before he would lock up and head home to his wife and three daughters and feast on—yup, Chinese food.

I was a Christmas orphan this year which basically (and in my opinion, only) meant I had no family to do such feasting with. And honestly, I was (and still am, because as I’m writing this it’s still not yet Christmas Day) okay with that. But I know that it’s kinda wamp wamp to spend Christmas all alone, so naturally I was asked to be a part of a few local family gatherings. Most recently, I was bold enough to politely decline a girlfriend’s invite to join her family in LaSalle for precisely the kind of dinner that one would hope to be a part of on a holiday of this magnitude: a warm home complete with Christmas tree, a table overflowing with food—and they’re Italian so you know they don’t fuck around when it comes to mangiare, plus the perfect union of significant others and their families. The kind of setting in which everyone gets along. How is that even possible? Oh, but it is. 

And I said no to that. 

Not in a Scroogey way, but I said no to a quintessential Christmas Eve dinner in favour of lying around in my neon pink panties—because that’s what mature 31-year old women wear when nobody’s looking—and a bright purple tee with its neck cut wider to make it a “cutoff” style because that’s what mature 31-year old women do to their clothes apparently. I bought the shirt from a local design store on St-Laurent because I

liked its purple and yellow Lakers-inspired colour combination; ironically, it said “Love Hangover.” Today, it was more like “Scotch Hangover,” and on any regular day “Life Hangover” would have been the most apropos. Wardrobe aside, it was my decision to watch the melancholic film “Blue Valentine” which a girlfriend had gifted to me over iTunes for Christmas. We’d been chatting about movies recently, and

I’d given her my word that I’d watch it this weekend, and I am a woman of my word. So there I lay on my couch with my dog at my feet, a Flashdance replica with salty Pringle lips, watching these two characters (“Cindy” and “Dean” played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) fall in and out of love. A death wish for any single 31-year old spending Christmas alone, right?

Not really.

When the movie ended, I was in that kind of quiet and sad shock that one feels after watching a movie like this—like, “Oh right. Real life SUCKS sometimes.” I mean, if it didn’t work out for Ryan Gosling, is there

even any hope for the rest of us then? I looked at the clock and decided that it was safe to go out now, as most people would just be sitting down for dinner with their glasses of wine ready to tuck in, so the streets would be nice and empty and I could take the dog out for a shit without having to think about whether or not people who saw me would be wondering why I didn’t have a nice family dinner of my own to be at. That’s first world paranoia for you right there, not to mention the world’s longest run-on sentence. Of course, I veiled myself in puffy black winter gear from head to toe, with the only exception being a pair of fluorescent red gloves that made my hands look like Transformers robots. I set my Spotify to the “Blue Valentine” soundtrack then set out into the quiet night.

The entire residential stretch heading west along Fairmount was eerily calm; all the Jewish people must have been out eating Chinese food like my friend, the dep owner. Houses lining the streets were barely illuminated; there was no noise aside from the hum of distant traffic, and I was the only human being visibly moving. As I’d predicted, it was dinnertime, and everyone had somewhere else to be.

I basked in the worldly silence.

There were leftover tears in my eyes from the kind of blah way the movie had ended not even 10 minutes earlier, and I hung onto them as I leaped over dark puddles of icy sludge. This time last year, I was in Bogotá ascending the famous Monserrate mountain with a younger
Colombian ex-lover who I’m not in touch with anymore. 

How much can change in a year.

I wasn’t really thinking about the movie or my life in great depth; rather, the former had triggered me to feel a little bit tonight, and before all my senses could align, I found myself stopped in front of a special education school with the biggest, goofiest smile spread across my face. I can’t even remember precisely why because that was three hours ago now (yes, it has taken me this long to recap a 15-minute walk) but there I was, a figure in black with red robot hands, dog on a leash, beaming at the dark sight of nothingness in the cold winter—a little bit drunk on love, and a lot high on life. I was happy because I was free, and because I was able to feel this exact way in spite—no, in light of being on my own and far, so very far away from my family on this landmark holiday. 

I was having a moment, and the raw joy of it all was fresh and unequivocal. And I was going to milk it for all it was worth.

As I headed back the way I came from, dog still in tow, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by The Platters came on—it’s played in the background during my favourite scene in the movie when the two characters drunk-wrestle in a love motel room. I actually rewound and watched that scene three or four times, I liked it so much. As this familiar tune filled my ears, I swear I almost began to float on air, and my smile grew so wide it might have broken my face in that moment. How wonderful that those empty windows—black shapes I’d passed by earlier on my walk were suddenly filled with endless possibilities and my heart, full of love and hope for a future unknown.

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