It was my choice to spend Christmas alone.
Early Christmas morning my husband flew to L.A. to spend the holiday with our older daughter Natalie. She had just returned from a trip to the Philippines and getting her jetlagged self onto another plane to come to Seattle was out of the question. I’m heading to L.A. on January 2 on my way to a book event in San Diego. It didn’t make sense for me to make two trips to Southern California so close together. As for our younger daughter Ana, she’s in another hemisphere altogether, traveling in Colombia after having spent six months in El Salvador. She popped up on Instagram on Christmas Eve. It’s how we know her location: social media and my texts asking, where are you now? (Lima, Peru is the answer to that question as of today.)
Christmas by myself would be fine, I told myself. And it was. The streets were quiet when I went for a walk that morning, with hardly a car in sight. Fog shrouded the lake so even the walkers and runners on the path seemed spectral and hushed. For lunch, I ate goodies I’d picked up at the co-op the day before, including a slice of pumpkin pie. It did feel weird to eat my holiday meal with the just the cat at my side. I turned on the TV and we watched a Christmas episode of The Partridge Family. I admit to getting a little teary-eyed when the family lip-synched “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to a man who was spending Christmas alone. The cat was unmoved.
I set out extra bowls of water and kibbles for the cat, packed up my laptop and a change of clothes, and took a bus downtown. Let your heart be light, I hummed. My bus was minus the weekday work crowd so it was just the down-and-outers on the ride. Nearly all the seats were filled.
I checked into a boutique hotel where the mini-room I had reserved was perfect for a mini-writing retreat. I’d barely settled in at my laptop, when I decided to go see a movie. The writing retreat would suffer a slight delay. But movies are stories and stories feed other stories and I wanted inspiration. Even if I had to sit through endless previews, the rustling of popcorn bags, and the inevitable talker because there’s always a talker two seats away.
I saw Fences. Denzel Washington was faultless in his portrayal of a flawed and complex man whose dreams have been thwarted by the fact of his blackness. He took up most of the screen time, but when she was on screen, Viola Davis matched him. I later read that though August Wilson wrote the screenplay in 2005, he wouldn’t allow the movie to be made unless it was directed by a black artist. Good for him. Good for Denzel for getting it done.
Later my husband and I talked on the phone, he from his hotel room in Hollywood and me from my Seattle boutique hotel whose restaurant was closed for Christmas. I was starving since more than six hours had passed since my holiday lunch of co-op treats. The front desk had recommended a nearby pizza place so I was waiting on the veggie pizza I’d ordered for my Christmas dinner. I was cranky because I was hungry, so after my husband told me about his mishap in the airplane bathroom, we hung up.
I ate my pizza in front of the TV, watching The Parent Trap and I kept thinking how sad it was that Natasha Richardson had died and how since then Liam Neeson had been making those screaming, bloody action movies as if that was the way he could express his grief, and also there was pre-adolescent Lindsay Lohan and I felt sad and nostalgic for innocence and cuteness.
I started to miss the cat.
My sister called from San Diego. She started passing the phone around so I could speak to my other sibs who had gathered for Christmas, but my phone ran out of minutes on the second sister.
So I wrote a little bit, read a little bit, listened to blues on the radio.
Christmas alone wasn’t so bad.