Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 67

New sensations become obsolete, jaded experiences with a phenomenal speed when the people involved are endowed with intelligence, culture and freedom, and are deprived of most judgemental features inflicted by narrow-mindedness. Flames and thrills need to be constantly maintained and fed. But nature does provide the possibility of balance, as the same people that experience boredom a lot faster than the rest will also be able to find ways of making pleasurable moments last the longest and they will extract the highest degree of fulfilment out of such endeavours.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 66

She could see the fast burning flame about to disintegrate and take both of them down and she wasn’t naive enough in order not to separate shallow infatuation and sexual ecstasy from real feelings. Robert was allowing himself to be carried away by this new, odd and exciting woman in his life, but Amalia knew better than to leave to chance even the most remote possibility for real feelings to spark. There was something between the two of them, but it belonged on a different level; as situations and events untangled and intertwined their separate existences, they would both start to perceive they needed each other’s presence, but not mainly on a romantic level.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 65

Life provides us with certain summers that can be blissfully filled with freedom and peace, open space and open souls, antithetical experiences that mark our memories, in spite of their mundane, insignificant character. Those are the summers we long for and those are the scarce moments of a particularly brief time in one’s life, which cannot be allowed to slip through our fingers unnoticed. Amalia was living such a summer, she was aware of it and its value, as she had planned it with desperate stubbornness.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Purple

Not even the cleverest makeup can conceal certain marks on a woman’s face. I could imagine her sitting in front of her vanity mirror in the morning, sad and lonely, trying to make those ugly shades of purple disappear under layers of foundation, concealer, powder and blush.

Sometimes they were easy to hide. But even then, when you saw her walking down the hallways in her elegant outfits, head rarely held high, you knew something was out of place. She normally wore only a touch of makeup… when there was nothing to hide.

Her husband was a doctor. She was a teacher in my school – a beautiful, intelligent, highly educated woman, with a great sense of humour. Everybody knew. Nobody seemed to care. If anything, they turned up their noses and shook their heads, when her private life was in plain sight, written on her face, scarring her delicate, still youthful features.

Sometimes, she would miss work several days in a row. One some rare occasions, she would disappear for a couple of weeks. Once, her voice wasn’t the same for a while, some broken teeth affected her speech. Then she disappeared again and her teeth were absolutely perfect when she returned. Everything could be fixed, everything could be covered…

Everybody gossiped, nobody interfered… because it wasn’t out of the ordinary. It happened in all walks of life. Cultural and social status may have been a catalyst at times, but it was never a deterrent. I wonder, how many of her female colleagues – the ones who were only too thrilled to spread the word – went home to a similar life? I wonder, how many of her male colleagues went home to dispense the same kind of loving treatment to their wives? Envy was the one thing most of them shared – what was a few bruises, some broken bones and teeth, compared to everything she had? She certainly couldn’t afford all those nice clothes or that home in a nice part of town on a teacher’s salary… And many women put up with much worse… And maybe she deserved it… maybe she even liked it.

She would leave. All her friends and acquaintances had heard her talk about leaving him. She shared her incredible plans for a better future with anyone who would listen. And people listened, because that’s what you do. You sit down and have a cup of coffee with this woman who seems so together, she all of the sudden becomes unhinged, while calmly telling you how she would leave that home of horrors. She doesn’t even feel the need to explain why she would leave, because she knows you know, in spite of all those stories about walking into doors and falling down the stairs. You nod and agree with her, because you have no idea what else to do. But just like everybody else, you don’t believe her, because she’s been talking this way for years. Nobody believes her, not even her husband believes she could ever leave.

Then it becomes clear – that was her plan all along. She wasn’t as unhinged as everybody thought her to be. One morning, she was simply gone. First, nobody paid too much attention to that particular matter, she occasionally spent the night at a friend’s place. Then she failed to show up at work… or at home… or anywhere else.

She was gone.

Gone were all her personal things as well. Her wardrobe was empty. Her jewellery box was empty. Only most of her makeup was still on the table, in front of her vanity mirror. She was nowhere to be found.

Pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. She had systematically taken her things to a friend’s place over the preceding months. She had everything set up – a new job, a new home, a new life. And once her child was old enough, once she had that child’s future secured, she could finally buy a plane ticket.

Suddenly, everybody believed her. She hadn’t only left him, but she left the country. The saddest part was that most of them considered her happy ending, her new beginning, as nothing more than a pathetic, insane, unacceptable choice.

Here’s to hoping that more and more women in her situation manage to find the strength and resources to make such a choice!

Atop

Sometimes, we need to escape more than we know… Only when we start to travel, only when we put some space between us and our “everyday” do we realize how desperately we needed to do exactly that. I don’t know about you, but the right trip at the right moment makes me feel on top of the world – at least on top of my world 🙂 .

In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Atop.

On This Day of Ours

She spent all the time admiring herself in the mirror… she went on and on about her perfect body and her toned abs, lifting her shirt to show me. Could she be vainer?

I knew the girl who had been getting on my friend’s last nerve. She was attractive. She was beautiful. But most importantly, she knew it and she loved flaunting it. Personally, I admired her fashion sense – she was one of those women who instinctively know what suits them best and could create astonishing outfits from unremarkable items – and I found her lack of false modesty refreshing.

I also knew what that story was about… Equally beautiful, equally vain, my friend was more subtle about showing off her best physical features. It wasn’t difficult to know when she was truly happy with her body. She’d emerge from dressing rooms half naked or she wouldn’t mind undressing in front of other women. We’d pretend to go to the gym only so we’d have a good excuse for sauna and massages.

On the other hand, whenever she put on some weight or she obsessed over imaginary cellulite, shopping with her was a nightmare. My needing a size smaller than the one she was trying on generally resulted in a variety of mood swings and was often met with a particular grimace – the one she was saving for those special cases when someone’s actions were perceived as purposely directed against her. Our guilty pleasure – a nice meal and sharing a large slice of chocolate cake at our favourite restaurant – would be replaced by a blend salad and a lecture on the dangers of sugar and carbs.

All of the sudden, she’d show up wrapped in an oversized towel, the kind she always made fun of when seeing other women wear when taking a sauna. Like I said, I knew what it was about – she had cancelled our sauna and gossip sessions entirely for several weeks, when our acquaintance was showing off her perfect body.

It looks like all that time she spends exercising is paying off… Well, some of us don’t have the time for that, some of us have to work…

The time for feigning acceptance had passed. I could envision their afternoon… after all, I had witnessed such displays so many times. Both of them beautiful, both of them competitive, both of them frustrated in different ways. One would brag about her career and stable future, the other about her looks and her obscenely wealthy boyfriend… one of them relying on her education and her supportive family; the other one relying on nothing else but her beauty and survival instincts, her family offering her nothing but a bedroom in their home… both of them sharing one common goal, in spite of their temporary independence and rebellion – meeting a man they’d marry, the way it was expected of them…

I think of that conversation once in a while… particularly when I notice people shaking their heads and rolling their eyes disapprovingly if I make it clear that I feel good about the way I look… particularly when I notice people sigh with exasperation if I’m displeased with my appearance. So get ready to roll your eyes, because I’m going to say it. We were in our twenties back then and all three of us were beautiful, in conventional and non-conventional ways.

What is so wrong in saying that, anyway? No matter what we look like, we are constantly bombarded with clichés on the importance of self-love… so much so, that it’s really easy to end up hating ourselves for not loving to bits all those perfect imperfections we abhor. Yet the very moment we actually find a way to accept and appreciate our individual beauty, no matter what that might look like, countless brows frown and condemning whispers point out how such deluded vanity is unacceptable. What is the crime in it, that we have to tare each other apart this way? Everything in moderation, one might say. But moderation isn’t always an option… Much like beauty, moderation is subjective, defined by the eye of the beholder. Call me crazy, but I’d rather err on the side of deluded vanity/self-love…

Yes, we are can be wonderfully generous and we can be frightfully mean; we can be insecure and we can be arrogant, even at the same time; we laugh, we cry, we hurt and get hurt. We are only human. We live. So perhaps – once in a while – we can just live and let live… especially on this day of ours. Rather than trying to set new patterns that “need” to be followed, we might consider respecting each other’s choices, even if we may not always agree with them. Rather than trying to define, rule and regulate what a woman “should” be, let’s take a break and appreciate who we actually are.

This is supposed to be our day, so first and foremost, we should celebrate ourselves. Then we might want to think of all those other wonderful women in our lives. Then we might want to take a moment and think of those special people in our lives, the patient and loving ones, the ones who make us feel like ladies each and every day, and thank them. We all know who they are 😉

Happy Women’s Day, ladies!

Valentine’s Day…

1

Sometimes, it’s “Swan Lake” and dinner at a nice, romantic restaurant… sometimes, it’s beautiful red roses and phone calls, because everyday life doesn’t take a break for special occasions… and other times, it’s nothing but disappointment and frustration. Like many other socially branded times of celebration, the controversial Valentine’s Day will do that to us. Or… really… let’s be honest… we do that to ourselves.

It may not be my favourite holiday, but I’ve made peace with Valentine’s Day many years ago. Call me jaded, call me old, but I couldn’t have a meltdown because of it, even if I tried. And that’s mostly because I am who I am, I like what I like, and I honestly don’t care if those around me approve of it or not. I no longer try to adjust my expectations in order to fit their needs, nor do I feel guilty when I’m labelled as “spoilt” just because I want to be treated in a certain way. I get to choose who is close to me. We all do. We all should. Part of this choice is being aware that there are persons willing to offer me what I want, people who wish to make me feel special… people for whom I want to do the same.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again many times – celebrating a loved one, a relationship, showing them how important they are, can be so fulfilling. Perhaps some people are able to do that each and every day. Personally, I often drown in everyday nonsense and I generally need those pre-set occasions to shake everything up. I like thinking ahead, I look forward to birthdays, anniversaries and holidays and I have great fun getting and preparing all sorts of things for the ones I love, even months before any of these occasions. I once had two years’ worth of gifts for my mother, that should say it all. That’s also part of who I am, together with my expectations.

Yes, I like flowers – no heart shaped knickknacks, no cutsy teddy bears or other plush toys, no, thank you. It’s not that I need someone to buy them for me; I don’t mind getting them myself, if I need some cheering up. But I want somebody who cares enough to offer me flowers, just to make me smile, just because that’s what I like, and that’s important to them, even when it might not be their favourite activity. It’s about being offered what I want, not what somebody thinks I should want. I’ve learnt that such people exist. I’ve learnt that I’m also willing to compromise and make these people happy. These are the persons I want in my life, not the ones I need to change, not the ones who want to change me. They are the ones I think of when it comes to celebrating love.

Undeniably, I like the romantic side of the holiday. There’s something so adorable about watching a man get all dressed up for a date with me (even after being together for years), struggling to pick the right tie, the same way I struggle with choosing the perfect shoes. It’s fun to see him happy and elegant, impatiently waiting for a compliment, inevitably choosing to wear one of the ties and the cologne I gave him on some previous occasion. I know that at some point, he’s going to move his wrist just to make me notice he’s wearing my favourite watch as well. All these are small, irrelevant matters in the grand scheme of things. Yet it’s small, happy, fun moments together that make up the good part of life, the one that keeps one going through all the murky, unbearable times.

But this scenario is not always an option, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s also not the end of the world when it doesn’t happen. As I’m listening to Bon Jovi, enjoying the red roses I received earlier and the delicious pralines I offered myself (first and foremost, I love myself), I’m thinking that a nice dose of realism is absolutely necessary on Valentine’s Day. A date on Valentine’s Day doesn’t guarantee love, nor does it reflect a person’s worth. Knowing what we need from others and from ourselves, seeing the value of who we are, celebrating it and those we love (be they a partner, a friend, a relative, the self) might be more important.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Find a little something that gives you pleasure and treat yourselves to it… or share it with somebody important to you.

Solitude

10

“She stands still, looking around, never moving, never changing. People leave. People change. New people always arrive, so they would take their turn leaving sooner or later. And they live and die, they experience a constant transformation. Yet she transcends stages of life without moving, because she cannot undertake the usual, normal human evolutionary road and follow it through the same ditches of failure and disappointment. So she stands still, most of the times alone, breathing steadily and sometimes stopping someone to keep her company, help her forget fear and loneliness and hatred… and just trying to live.’

Parallel Lives – Ana Linden

11

In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Solitude.

Picking Up The Phone And Speaking Out

6

I barely managed to quietly lock the door behind me when the ringing made me jump out of my skin. Whoever was calling, I begrudged them. That phone was so loud, that you could hear it from any corner of the house… especially in the dead of night.

Great! My grandmother was already standing in front of me – the woman could certainly pull a frightening judgemental look, even in her frilly granny nightgown, measuring me from the tip of my high heel boots to my mascara covered lashes. Our make-believe game was working so well… I would pretend I got home early, she would pretend to care enough to stay awake and see when I returned; as long as nothing happened, so she wouldn’t have to be confronted with the truth, as long as none of her friends could prove my disobedience, the system served us both so well.

What time is it? I answered, defiantly looking her in the eye. Why did we need to pretend, anyway? Who was calling at this hour of the night? How was I to know? Perhaps I could find out, if she moved aside, so I could get to the ringing phone… No. That was unacceptable. The phone would not be answered. Calling that late in the night was simply a sign of bad manners. I scowled, as my grandmother stood in front of me, arms crossed, sleep marks on her face, yet stubbornly blocking my path to the phone. Maybe it was an emergency, I ventured a guess. No emergency justifies bad manners! I wasn’t going to win that one, I knew it.

Perhaps getting a mobile phone wasn’t an entirely bad idea, I thought to myself, entering my room once the ringing stopped.

*

The desk by the window remained empty that day. I hoped she would eventually show up.  But she didn’t, and I couldn’t fight that feeling of dread and helplessness taking over me as the hours went by.

*

I had to ring several times before the door eventually opened. Her brother looked sad, but relieved to see me. Something in his voice made me believe that he was constantly feeling the dread and helplessness I had experienced that day, but ten times, a hundred times more intensely. She was fine… well, she was upset, but she was fine… she just didn’t feel like going to school, that was all. Was he trying to convince me or himself? Why didn’t he go to work that day, if he believed it?…

Relax… No pills, no trips to the emergency room, she smiled sadly as I entered her room. No more of that, she did promise, after all… Was she trying to convince me or herself? She was just in a bad mood; everybody can be in a bad mood once in a while, right?

When she didn’t come to school for about ten days several months earlier, nobody could get in touch with her. But nobody worried too much either, she often missed school for days at a time. She was a bright girl, so she always managed to keep up with all the school work… and let’s be honest, we all did our best to skip as many classes as possible.

She loved life and she knew she had made a mistake in a moment of weakness. Last night was just bad, that’s all, she told me. She knew that talking about it would make her feel better, would chase away some of her despair, fear and loneliness. Her brother was out. So she tried calling her closest friends… but it was late, very late in the night, so nobody answered.

Of course they didn’t, manners were more important than emergencies, I thought to myself, not at all sure whether what I was feeling was anger or guilt.

Then she dialled some random numbers, she continued to tell me the previous night’s story. Eventually, somebody answer. A stranger. A kind, patient stranger, somebody completely unfamiliar with certain good manners, answered and listened. A stranger can sometimes be more understanding, helpful and objective than any friend. But most importantly, it can be a lot easier to talk to a stranger, especially when they do answer their phone in the middle of the night. She cried, she talked about things she didn’t even know she needed to share and in her turn, she listened to a stranger’s opinions and personal stories. In the end, the experience had been cathartic, but exhausting as well, because it was morning by the time they hung up. That was why she hadn’t come to school, she needed to sleep. I was relieved; at the same time, I felt awful.

I wanted to make my grandmother feel guilty, I wanted to make her understand how wrong she had been. It didn’t work; some people can never see anything outside that small box which represents their close-minded vision on life. But whether she liked it or not, telephone etiquette was no longer respected.

*

I often ignore phone calls, but to this day I always answer when the phone rings in the middle of the night. You never know when allowing someone to speak out about something completely irrelevant to you might actually be a matter of life of death for them…

Winter Moments – Cosy

 10

I blinked a few times. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. It was still early and having gone to sleep very late in the night / early in the morning, my eyes were heavy with dreams and exhaustion. The hauling wind outside must have been what woke me up. The “breeze” often became an angry gale, but that was worse than usual.

My warm, sleepy feet found the slippers and I left my cocoon. I hadn’t completely closed the shutters and a blurry, milky light was sipping in through the uncovered part of the window. A thin, frozen layer of white was covering the glass, making it impossible to distinguish anything. It had started off as heavy rain, then it became heavy snow – heavy snow that covered everything in only a couple of hours, curiosity and an odd kind of excitement led me to discover.I left my bedroom, but none of the other windows were more revealing.

The cold wind blew in as soon as I opened the kitchen window. A mad flurry of flakes had taken over and for a moment, I felt like my building was alone in the middle of a snow storm, cut off from the world, away from everything and everyone else. I could barely distinguish the shapes of the trees right outside the window, heavy with snow, leaning in the wind, but the nearby buildings were nowhere to be seen.

I closed the window as abruptly as I had opened it, and I was pleased… pleased with the warmth of my home, contrasting with the new day’s first shades of cold, blurry light… pleased that the cold madness out there was so beautiful… but most of all, pleased that I didn’t have to go out if I didn’t want to, I could just go back to bed and sleep, and sleep, and sleep.

I crawled under the warm, cosy duvet. Great photo opportunity, that blizzard out there, I thought to myself, eyes already closing. Oh well, others will take advantage of it, good for them… and I pulled the duvet over my head, falling asleep immediately.

There’s something so cosy, so decadent in staying in your warm bed while the world outside is buried under heavy snow. Just one of those small selfish pleasures of life…. I would have hated it if I had to go out; that way, having the choice not to do it, I also had the chance to enjoy it later in the day, when I eventually emerged from my hideout. Funny… how such a small moment can be representative for much more relevant situations…

Winter Moments – I Must Be Getting Old, Because I Felt Like A Child Today

7

I gave the car mat a good shake and put it back where it belonged. I had dragged so much snow on my boots, getting in and out the car, that I couldn’t just leave it. That was that, no driving anywhere for the day. I finally turned the key to stop the engine, grabbed my bag and my gloves, locked the metal igloo on wheels, and walked away.

I could actually walk to the park… Hmm… It hadn’t even occurred to me, I was so stuck on the little itinerary I had established for myself, that nothing else registered. I was going to drive to this spot where the sea would be spectacular, with all the snow and disturbingly low temperatures we’d been having. Then back to the park, for a nice walk in the snow and some more seasonal photos. Sure, I was going to brave the cold, spend some time outside, in the snow (mostly shovelling it off my car), but I wasn’t going to walk there… Remember Lorelai Gilmore’s “love affair” with snow? Well, I’m nothing like that. It is just frozen water falling from the sky at inopportune times, and pretty as it may be, it is just a nuisance, the annoying cause of bad traffic, countless broken limbs and stupid car crashes. (Fine, I watched Gilmore Girls, you can stop rolling your eyes now. What, don’t you have any guilty pleasures?).

Walking through the snow to the nearby park and thinking back of some pictures I recently found, an old, almost forgotten sensation started defrosting my soul. Since the first snow this winter, something has been nagging me; and when I found those photos and started going down on memory lane with my childhood friend, I couldn’t deny what used to be… Just as I once used to run in the rain, I also used to like the snow.

We had real winters, cold and white, in the little corner of the world where I grew up. There was always snow in December and we often got the first flakes in November. As the winter progressed, we got sick and tired of the frozen intruder, but for a while, it was the centre of our childish existence. What sort of mysterious energy did we possess, what kind of superpower drove us? We spent all our spare time building snowmen and snow forts, and plotting snow fights. Even as teenagers, we weren’t above snow fights; and much as we pouted and complained about wet clothes, messed up hair and smeared mascara, we secretly loved them. Unless, of course, the person(s) you really, really liked didn’t throw one single snow ball at you, that’s when the drama began…

Something miraculous happened. I stopped feeling angry about all the difficulties snow drags along. I stopped thinking about stuck cars, blizzards, bad traffic, icy roads and a myriad of other depressing things. They’d be there tomorrow as well… and there was nothing I could do about all that, except give myself worry lines. If I could detach myself from all that noise in my head and just enjoy something as simple and natural as a snowy day in the park, why shouldn’t I?

You know you’re getting older – no, let’s call it “more mature”, it sounds better – when you realize you’re feeling like a child. You recognize that sensation, you can associate it with specific moments, and you welcome it, because in some cases it can be such a joy to relive a version of it. The wind had calmed down a bit and the snowy park was beautiful. Narrow paths had been carved across the thick layer of snow. As soon as I strayed from them in order to take some pictures, I was really glad I had decided to wear my over-the-knee boots.

A few steps sideways and I could get the perfect photo of a tree bending to the ground under the heavy burden of snow… or I could have got it, had my behind not hit the snow at that very moment. Half a second later, I was back on my feet as though nothing happened – after all, I know how to fall. I immediately got rid of all the snow I had picked up during my unexpected incursion while worriedly looking around for members of younger generations. I was ready to smile at my own lack of grace, hoping they wouldn’t make too much fun of the thirty something woman with the crazy hat. But there was nobody around… my fall had slipped unnoticed.

Then it sunk in. There wasn’t anybody around… In fact, there weren’t too many people in the park, even though as far as snowy weekend afternoons go, this one was a lovely one… and most of them were adults. You know you’re getting older growing more mature when you feel like starting a thought with “when I was a kid…” I’ll take my chances. When I was a kid, we spent hours and hours outside, in the snow, in the cold, playing, sledding, having fun; we had to be dragged back home. Then, when we got a bit older, we did our best to spend as little time at home as possible; even being outside, at disturbingly low temperatures, was preferable. The parks were always full of children and teenagers. Now, almost everybody was over 50.

It was something along these lines that my friend and I were remembering, looking at old pictures of us in a snowy park, from our high school days… And we could not figure out how we managed to do that, spend all that time in dreadful cold, and not mind it. We didn’t just grow older and jaded, we also became overly sensitive – and it’s not only an age related matter, it’s a state of mind. That strength, that resilience, that mystical superpower, I think we drew it from being able to enjoy every little thing, regardless of all discomfort and inconvenience that also came with it. Was it madness? Was it recklessness? Perhaps it was – up to some point – but it was also a type of simple, instinctive wisdom, which we outgrew.

At least I can remember it, therefore I know that as a human being, I am able to feel it – and if I focus and dig deep enough in my soul, I can even overcome my jaded, cynical self. My toes were starting to freeze in my boots, but I could stand it, it was a good feeling, just like so many years ago.

I could hear laughter in the distance and I could see somebody making a snow angel. Then I walked closer. He helped her up, laughing as well. They were having a snow fight and they were still laughing, yelling loving threats to one another. As I was walking towards the park exit, I met them again. She was throwing one last snowball at him, while he was picking up her designer bag. He came close to her and brushed some snow off her elegant coat. She broke free and they started laughing and running through the snow again. They were feeling like children too, even if they seemed to be in their forties. They had their own memories, their own impulse to feel like children. Too many don’t create such simple memories that might rescue them later, not anymore…

I was frozen, tired and exhilarated when I got home. So I can still occasionally enjoy snow, even if I still hate winter cold. Who knows, maybe I can still run in the rain as well.

Happy New Year!

happy-new-year

Mistakes are unavoidable. Sometimes, they can even be the result of good intentions. If we’re lucky and wise, we manage to understand what went wrong and try our best to avoid repeating those actions, perhaps we can even try and succeed in fixing what was broken. Unfortunately, wallowing in regret doesn’t help much; all we can do is pick ourselves up and move forward, remembering the past, but not allowing it to control the future. So let’s hold our heads up high, take responsibility and step confidently into a brand new year, full of opportunities for wonderful achievements and glorious mistakes, all of which build who we are.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2017 be a better one for you and all those people you treasure!

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 2

2

Part 1

I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?

To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there, from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then.

So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.

Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…

Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…

On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.

Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike two. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date. I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!

It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet, he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parents’ behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…

But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…

Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 1

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It was shortly after lunch when I started looking forward to the comfort of a hot shower, a fluffy bathrobe and a pair of soft slippers . I made it back from the local shopping centre frozen, hungry and somewhat scarred for life by the madness of last minute shoppers – one of which I had unwillingly become that year. But at least my frozen claws were clenched, holding on to their sought after and fought over prey – a not too big cardboard box containing a brand new artificial Christmas tree and a plastic bag with a few decently looking ornaments.

She could’ve at least checked to see what state it was in, I couldn’t stop thinking somewhat resentfully, because my mother’s old Christmas tree was beyond redemption, as I got to find out earlier that day. But after fighting tooth and nail with the cat in order to recover each and every one of the bobbles my mother so gracefully spread all over the floor for the little animal to play with, after figuring out where the tree could be safely set, out of reach of the spoiled four-legged menace, after some pre-Christmas cooking and baking, the evening ahead seemed promising. I was exhausted, but it looked like we were about to have a nice, calm, peaceful family Christmas Eve for a change.

Fluffy robe and cute slippers on, hair in a messy ponytail, all relaxed and reinvigorated, I’m making my way to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before I decide on something nice and comfortable to wear – and all of the sudden I feel like I’ve forgotten how to breathe… and utter words. I don’t blush. I never do. But I feel my face burning, it must be red this time. There he is, the family friend… all dressed up, looking festive, uncomfortable and equally speechless. And there’s my mother urging me to be polite and hug the man – after all, we hadn’t seen each other in such a long while. And there’s her husband, grinning smugly, whispering to me, I couldn’t fit him under the Christmas tree, but you can thank me later.

I really should have known better… both of them had been on their best behaviour the entire day, occasionally exchanging amused glances or leaving the room in order to make various phone calls. But I fell for the mirage of that simple, tranquil, boringly normal Christmas Eve dinner, and you just don’t question a miracle if you feel it’s about to happen.

I needed help with my outfit, so the gentlemen had to excuse me, while my mother had to explain herself as soon as we were out of the room. It was really all his fault – she would blame it on her husband, as usual; she would have preferred someone better. But this one would have to do on such short notice… it would have been nice of me to let them know I was single at least a few weeks in advance. What’s the harm in it, anyway? He’s a nice guy, I had met him before, we always got along well… and you have to admit he’s hot, she tells me. And he broke up with what’s-her-name, now you two can finally have some fun.

I really should have known better. It was all about the perfect package – and as long as I didn’t have a date for Christmas or for the New Year’s Eve party or for any of the other holiday related events, I was not the full package. I had once again forgotten that everything I had accomplished held value only if there was a man there to hold my hand. And since I was in my mid-twenties, I was practically an old maid already. It didn’t really matter if I was dating somebody at home or not – as long as I didn’t bring anybody with me to introduce to them, I was fair game and they took it upon themselves to set all sorts of uncomfortable dates for me. I had no problem getting dates on my own, thank you!

To be continued…

Someone’s Birthday

A few weeks ago, I jokingly threatened someone to reveal their age in a birthday post. It’s generally assumed that women are the vane and sensitive ones when it comes to this delicate subject, but from what I’ve noticed, men are equally touchy. One enjoys one’s birthday to be acknowledged and celebrated, but one hopes one’s age be forgotten. So don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me 😉 .

There’s a very special gentleman out there – one very important to me – who’s one year older today, yet just as young at heart as he was the day we met. To him I’d like to wish a very happy birthday! May all your hopes and dreams come true! And don’t forget, the best men are like fine wine – they get better with age 😉 .

First Snow

1There’s something special about the first snow… that day when it doesn’t only smell like winter, but it also looks like winter. It always takes me back to some of the nicer days of my childhood, to snow fights, and snowmen, and sledding. Coming in from the cold, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my home, it reminds me other moments as well…

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That warmth and comfort I now take for granted haven’t always been quite like this. Maybe I should be more grateful for small things. Something a friend told me many years ago comes to mind – happiness can be the relief of not having to be out in the cold, struggling, on a day like this, and instead just be in a warm, safe place you can call home… Coming from a kid, this statement left an impression. My childhood may have been far from perfect, but others had it much worse. So for a short while, I enjoyed this winter’s first snow on the beach, putting up with the frozen air; knowing that warmth and comfort were within reach only made it better. Besides, I only like the first snow, so I might as well take full advantage of it, right? 😉

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Anticipation.

My Own, Personal Grinch

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Come December, I see her photo pop up on my phone and I know we’re going to have the same conversation over and over again. Sometimes I don’t even answer, because I’m already too irritable to put up with the depressing rant. I’d rather be the one calling her, when I know I can take it and perhaps even help.

The hypocrisy! Those two hate and trash each-other all the time, and today they were hugging in the middle of the town! They were talking about the holidays and inquiring about each other’s families. As though anybody believes that act!

They only give presents to receive more expensive ones. They’re not fooling anyone.

Please… they only decorate their homes to show off and make everybody else feel miserable. Like we don’t know…

Sure, they’re suddenly humanitarians! They only give to charity to have something to brag about

By all means, devour everything in sight and call it tradition. As though they’re not fat enough already….

I already know all the highlights of holiday cheer.

The lights are just too bright, that’s in poor taste.

These lights aren’t bright enough, you can barely see them. Why even bother putting them up?

All those decorations… that’s just too much. So tacky!

Only a few decorations… that’s not enough. What’s the point?

No Christmas tree for me. No, thank you, I can’t stand the sight of it.

No Christmas tree for me… Everybody has one, but me. I must not deserve one, according to you.

There are always surprising new twists. Somehow, the snow is always whiter under other Christmas trees. Nothing and nobody could make my mother allow for the possibility that somewhere, in the midst of all the exasperating holiday madness, there might also be something real, someone honest and decent.

I used to visit her every year I was invited, regardless of what it cost me – emotionally and financially. I would try to make her happy and proud, never quite succeeding. I’d decorate a tree, if she wanted me to, or I’d pretend not to want one and not to think of all the festive decorations in my empty home, as the trend may dictate that year. I’d listen to her bitch about her husband, and to him, moan about her. Each of them would get upset with me, believing I’m taking the other’s side.

I was one of those people who dread spending the holidays with their parents, yet they masochistically go back for more the following year. I kept hoping something would change. And it did… for the worse… Every Christmas with them became more unbearable than the previous one. I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d come home a nervous wreck and it would take longer and longer to pull myself together.

I decided to take a break for a year or two. It was not well received, so I visited once more. I wasn’t really surprised to see that not only was my gesture not appreciated, but my mother’s Grinch-like behaviour had got worse and her general attitude was atrocious to one and all.

It was what it was, and I finally stopped caring. So instead of ignoring my own needs yet again, I went out and bought a small artificial tree, new decorations, and managed to dig up some of her old Christmas stuff. By the time they woke up from their afternoon nap, it was all nicely decorated and Christmas lights – more than she found acceptable – were sparkling all over her living room. I was ready to growl and defend my Christmassy rebellion. It was my holiday as well. Her husband’s too. Not only hers.

The holidays passed, filled with deception, depression, neurosis, hurtful, reproachful arguments and insensitive comments. Before I left, I informed her of my decision – that was it, no more family holidays for me. There was no happiness, no contentment, no appreciation when we were together.

I had to do what was right for me. Call it selfish behaviour, if you will. But I stuck to my decision; and that was finally the beginning of peaceful, calm and pleasant Christmas celebrations at home – my own warm, festively decorated home.

I’m not a positive person by nature. It takes constant effort to see and appreciate the good parts of my life, rather than obsess over the bad ones. More often than not, I’m a cynical creature and as a realist, I am well-aware of forced holiday cheer, consumerism and hypocrisy. I’ve seen people trying to use this time of year to play on others’ emotions and take advantage of their naïve nature, just as I’ve seen people falling prey to depression, loneliness and despair. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep my head above water and focus on the pretty lights, so that’s when I can’t answer her calls. But I also believe in appreciation and trying to do something nice for somebody.

Sure, many of us get so caught up in our lives, that we need special occasions to remind us that perhaps we should do more. But isn’t once a year still better than not at all? Should that earn us the hypocrisy label, even if that one nice gesture comes from the heart? Just because I’m not too forgiving a person, that doesn’t mean others can’t be. I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the holiday spirit and appreciate the human values behind Christmas…

Had I decorated my home yet, she wanted to know this month. Was my town all festive and Christmassy this year? She was looking forward to her town being all lit up for Christmas and she wanted to see photos of my tree. I had to tread lightly, I thought to myself, the way you do, not to scare a wild animal. A few days later, when I called her, she told me about the lights and decorations she put up – the ones I had bought her several years ago. She sounded… cheerful! She went on and on about nicely decorated store windows, Christmas presents and how she hoped it would snow. I haven’t heard speak that way in well over two decades.

Who’s the little hypocrite now, and many other sarcastic remarks were on the tip of my tongue. But I said nothing, I am not that bitter yet. I wasn’t joking when saying I wouldn’t visit on Christmas and she had to eventually acknowledge that it wasn’t my duty to decorate her home or prepare her holiday feast. It’s up to her to find some contentment in her life. I’m not deluded, I know this wave of good intentions can disappear in the blink of an eye. But for now, I’m glad my own personal Grinch managed to see some Christmas lights… And I hope it lasts.

On My Third Year on WordPress…

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December is rapidly slipping away and taking stock of the year about to end is something most of us tend to do. Here’s yet another reminder – a nice one, this time. Three years on WordPress… Thank you all for putting up with me for 12 more months! Thank you for your support and encouragement! And thank you for sharing your wonderful stories and opinions, for drawing me into your worlds each time I read your posts.

It was this third year of blogging that gave me the opportunity to put together and self-publish a collection of short stories, which started off as posts on this site. It was also this year of blogging that led to a very interesting collaboration (more on that and the book that resulted at a later time). So thank you for reading and since Christmas is near, here’s my small gift to you – you can download Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos for free until the end of the year.

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/ana+linden?_requestid=538455

https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/search?query=Ana%20Linden&fcsearchfield=Author

and on iBooks.

Happy reading!

On a different note, I took a quick look and these are the three posts that people were most interested in during this third year on WordPress:

1. Vicious Circles

As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairytale-like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.

We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles, even if we know better by now. Read more…

2. Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?

I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life, and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.

If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. Read more…

3. Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want, when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to. Read more…

I hope it’s been a decent year for all of you. Happy Holidays!

Shifting Horizons

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Sometimes, perspectives shift right in front of us, radically and so fast, that we are rendered breathless, speechless, utterly unable to react. Sometimes, the change is discrete and gradual, until we lift our eyes one day and no longer recognize what we see on the horizon or what’s brewing behind that image. And sometimes, we can just tell something’s coming, something needs to and is about to undergo deep metamorphosis. However, we cannot really tell whether our horizons will be broadened or simply turned upside down, becoming an incomprehensible mess.

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in response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – New Horizon.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.

It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.

It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.

Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.

That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.

We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.

Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.

For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.

I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.

Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Two

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.

There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas.

I was the cute grandchild and my mother was the beautiful, independent, accomplished daughter. Our sole purpose on this world was to make my grandmother proud, I was starting to understand back then. What better time of year than Christmas for the entire community to envy her for her success as a mother and grandmother? What better time of year for the entire community to console her for the shame her ungrateful daughter put her through, refusing to get married? What better time of year to throw her to the gossip hungry wolves, thus punishing her for refusing to present her with a doctor or lawyer son-in-law she could brag about to all her friends?

We listened to the carols from outside, so the cold winter wind could protect us from the cold, vicious, judgemental ‘Christmas spirit’ inside the church. It had gotten particularly festive that year, when my grandmother brought the priest over, so he could better threaten my mother with eternal damnation for not being married… Words no man should ever address a woman, especially in the presence of her child, were uttered. Sharp, bitter, cynical, yet polite comebacks eventually left him speechless and with a proud demeanour my mother said goodbye, turned away and left, still holding my hand as I was struggling to keep up with her fast pace. She knew him as a child, I later found out; they used to play together and be friends; they were the same age, they were still so young, both of them under thirty, yet it all seemed so old and ugly…

Christmas is a time of giving, my grandmother taught me. Christmas is a time of giving, because that’s the only way to prove to those around that you have plenty to spare, maybe even more than them, therefore you are better. There was great bliss in discovering other ladies’ Christmas feast was by far not as rich or as well prepared as hers. It was her personal victory if another woman’s household wasn’t immaculate as hers; she really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that many of those women – her relatives included – also had fulltime jobs to worry about.

Christmas is also a time when you need to know how to receive, my grandmother taught me. It took a while for me to understand that from the many presents there were to be found under the tree on Christmas morning, none was actually from her. She was to receive presents from her family, not to offer them; and they had to be nice, expensive ones, the kind that would trigger her friends’ and acquaintances’ envy. ‘Why… you shouldn’t have…’ was the usual response… but god forbid you hadn’t done it. You were going to be in trouble for it until the following Christmas, when out of the goodness of her heart she would give you a chance to make amends for it. Proper etiquette had to be observed – no matter how nice the gift offered to her might have been, it would lose all its value had you offered something more valuable to someone else. Thus I learned about another Christmas essential – gratitude…

Christmas was about the tree as well – after all, it was the first relevant thing our guests would see, so it had to be nicer than the one any of them might have had at home. She would dramatically collapse on a chair next to it, sipping some wine from one of her crystal glasses, complaining about how exhausting it had all been for her. All the preparations were meant to make her family happy, but did she ever get anything in return? Did anybody ever show her any gratitude? Of course not… No matter who the listeners were, they were always quick to console the poor, unappreciated lady, and to praise her splendidly decorated home and her extremely delicious cooking.

From one Christmas to another, the mirage of that ideal family was more and more difficult to maintain. My mother started finding more and more reasons not to visit over the holidays. My grandfather finally retired. Times were changing rapidly and all of the sudden, she had to live with the idea that her social status would never be what it had been. There was no need to pretend to care about the less fortunate anymore. There was no need to have a wonderful Christmas tree, since there were no relevant guests to envy it anymore. There would still be baking for several days before Christmas, because much as she liked to pretend she was sacrificing herself for all of us, baking was something she actually enjoyed doing, just as she enjoyed the taste of those delicious treats.

Most of her Christmas traditions were still observed, especially when it came to giving and receiving gifts, but the situation became increasingly ridiculous as time went by. While somehow managing to maintain her aura of innocence and goodness to the outside world, the old lady was not able to forever frighten her own family into submission. One by one, most of us managed to break free and live our own lives…

I was presented with so many facets of Christmas over the years, both within and outside my family… so I could only do one thing, since I wasn’t going to deny the holiday and its positive symbolism: I had to make Christmas my own. I had to chisel my own traditions, if I was going to survive it; that’s what I learnt and struggled to accept early on.

To be continued…

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

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Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.

So when the baking also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.

Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.

Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.

Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.

Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.

 

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

Relaxing

7I have my little ritual every year after I decorate the Christmas tree. Once I tidy up and the empty boxes go back where they belong, I switch off all the lights in my home. Only the Christmas lights are on, the ones in the tree and those decorating the windows. I listen to sappy Christmas songs, just as I do while decorating. I just sit on the sofa, enjoying a well deserved glass of wine or perhaps a cup of hot coffee, whatever I feel like, and I think of past Decembers, good and bad alike. It’s just that calming tree and I, and even if I am practical these days and no longer get a real fir, it serves its purpose. Every year, it brings some joy and pleasure into my life, rewarding the child in me, awakening the child I once was. I… we… put such effort into setting the stage for Christmas, so we might as well relax for a moment and enjoy it, remembering how those lights seemed magical to the children we once were.

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And sometimes my mind just wonders off and I can’t help thinking of warmer days… 🙂

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax.