At midnight on that sharp edge between the end 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I was standing on Montmartre in Paris, right below Sacré Coeur. Since the summer of 2010, I was single again, and – as most singles know – the festivities at the end of the year are always the most difficult to navigate when you do not have your own family to celebrate with. (They are also difficult for people who do have their own families to celebrate with, but for vastly different reasons.) As a single, you always try to figure out: “How can I get through these times without feeling like the worst failure, feeling like you still haven’t managed to get that one thing in your life right, the one thing that eventually gives your life purpose and meaning – the idea of togetherness that replaces loneliness, so that you can finally share happiness and grief, the way we, as humans, need to.” That is an issue in everyday life as well, regardless of whether it’s Christmas time or not. But during the dark months of the year, all people on the Northern hemisphere and in the Western world seem to agree that “love”, “being together”, “happiness in the children’s eyes”, “warmth”, “tenderness”, and a whole host of other things that are completely impossible for someone who does not have a relationship are on the programme. So there is hardly any escaping.
This past Christmas had been difficult already. My brother had passed away at the beginning of December 2010, at the age of 38. So my parents and I had a loss to deal with. This sounds much much darker and sadder than it actually felt. My brother, adopted when we were both four years old, had been very remote from our family for about two decades. He was a troubled person who had spent years of his life with heavy drug abuse, in conditions that I cannot begin to imagine. In 2008, he got back in touch with us, it was like a miracle. When he was reaching out to us, he chose to call me. When I received the call, I almost dropped the receiver. I hadn’t heard from him in some 18 years, or so. We slowly started to make him part of our lives again, if only carefully, and tentatively. Mainly also because all three of us tend to be busybodies, never standing still, always with something going on. And we didn’t quite know where to fit him in. The life he had led had taken its toll, he died suddenly, but not unexpectedly – he was extremely fragile.
A year earlier, we had all celebrated Christmas together at my … our place. At the time, I lived with my then girl-friend, M. We did not have an exactly perfectly well-working relationship, but we had one that allowed us to organize Christmas for everyone. Of course, in the night between the 24th and 25th of December, I had to get ill, high fever, etc., so Christmas wasn’t really a pleasureable experience. But it was a Christmas that I was not afraid of.
Unlike this year. I knew that my parents were more burdened by the loss of my brother than I was. But more importantly, once again I was retreating back into the child’s role of the kid that comes home to celebrate Christmas with the parents. Because he has no other person to celebrate it with. A role I had really begun to hate. I felt so clearly that it was now my role to provide everyone with a happy Christmas, to give my parents the chance to kick back, and to celebrate with ease, not only with me, and whoever I would be with, but also, finally, with their grandchildren. And yet there was nothing I could do about the fact that the opposite was happening. I had to crawl back into my childhood home, relying on my parents to organize Christmas, celebrating with only the three of us. When I saw the Christmas tree that my father had set up – my parents always, in great secrecy, organised the whole Christmas room – on Christmas night, there was a painful revelation: my father’s pride had always been that the tree would be tall enough to reach up to the ceiling (if with the help of the straw star that they put on top of it). This time, for the first time, they had gotten a much smaller tree. In order for it to have the right height, they’d brought in a little table, so the tree stood on a table, to reach all the way up to the ceiling.
Somehow, for me, it was the saddest sight to see. It so drove home the message that this type of Christmas always communicated to me: your parents can no longer really do this, it should be you who is doing this, your parents are slowly fading, there is not much time left to allow them to be grandparents. I had tears in my eyes. And said that the tree was wearing a prosthetic limb. Something I felt very sorry for later.
I made it through Christmas, not being as friendly and patient with my parents as I should have been, and returned home on the evening of the 26th. In the following days, I hadn’t taken time off, so I worked (I work for a company on the other end of the country, I work from home). And then flew to Paris, to celebrate New Year’s Eve with people I didn’t really know. A colleague of mine (our company is also active in France) shares a flat with three other people in Paris, and they were putting on a party. I thought this could be fun – there is a cute girl who also lives in that apartment, my French is good enough to even flirt and chat, and who knows what sorts of other people would show up. The night before, I met a friend for dinner and a beer. Unexplainably, that same night, I got a really sore throat, just like that, all of a sudden. Despite my little afliction, on the morning before the New Year’s celebration, I went to the Cité des Sciences at Porte de la Vilette, and I saw an exhibition about Science Fiction which I really enjoyed.
However, the party was not the most fun thing for me. For one, I felt that this infection I had somehow caught the night before was weighing me down. But also, everyone at the party was about 10 years younger than me. People in their twenties, getting a kick out of lots of drinks and smoking joints. Neither are favourite pasttimes of mine, so I couldn’t join in. And even though my French may be fine, it’s quite the acid test for anyone’s language abilities when lots of people are trading jokes and inside stories in a fairly crowded room. To celebrate the New Year, we went up to Montmartre. And I learned, once again, that celebrating the New Year without people who are really dear, and who know what it means to wish you all the best for the next year, is not really worth it.
I snuck out early, returned to the bed & breakfast where I was staying, and left them fairly early the next morning. Mainly because they were making a lot of noise, as they were refurbishing the place. Also on New Year’s day, no problem, Sir, people who work on the black won’t mind that day to labour on. I found myself in the same Starbuck’s on Avenue de l’Opéra where I’d worked already on the day of my arrival – I went there for a second breakfast and a general taking stock of the situation. It didn’t take me long to decide that I just wanted to go home. It was a Saturday, originally my travelling plans had been to go back to the apartment where the party had been, to hang out with the people there, spend one night there, and to travel back home on Sunday evening. But all of a sudden, the prospect of being home already on Saturday seemed like the only thing to do. I changed my flight, and to my delight, my old friend ‘Rum’ who lives in my neighbourhood was free that evening, she was delighted to hear from me, and we decided to get together for Pizza and a screening of Kill Bill 2 on my home projector, which we’d been wanting to see together, after we’d watched the first Kill Bill a few weeks ago. It was a fun evening, and a relieving alternative way to start 2011.
On Sunday, I got organised, did some work, did some fun stuff, and then launched into the first week of the new decade. The week was one that I spent entirely at home, without travelling. I travel a lot for my work, but this week was, gladly, travel-free. And during the week, it felt like my throat infection – or whatever that was – seemed to be going away. Until it came back with a vengeance on Thursday. That Thursday was a bank holiday, I wasn’t supposed to really work, did a little, and just felt pretty wretched. So much so that I had to cancel a lunch appointment that I had with a fairly prominent figure in my line of work, always interesting for networking purposes, and to be up to date with what’s going on. Instead, I slept some, and then drove to the airport, to pick up M. We had seperated in a very civilised and friendly way, realising both that it would not really work between us, long-term. She had stayed with her brother on the other side of the Atlantic over Christmas, and was now returning. Since the apartment that she was living in temporarily was making her depressed, she had asked if she could stay at my place for the month of January. And I had agreed. At the airport, I got in trouble the moment before M came out of the security zone. One of the airport staff was excessively unfriendly to a traveller who was trying to return to the security zone to pick up more luggage. He treated him in a way that outraged not only myself, but other bystanders as well. At some point, I said fairly loudly, “Asshole seems to be in your job description”, which had him make the Police – who were already dealing with the situation – also interfere on my behalf, take my ID and inform me that I might get a legal complaint.
In the evening, I had a dinner appointment with three guys whom I all knew through my activity on Twitter and the Internet. I did go, because I felt that I had to leave my place and get some solid food into my stomach, but I stayed only for a couple of hours and then returned home.
And eversince, it’s really gotten worse again with my throat. I tried to do my work on Friday, but since Friday evening, I have basically been acting like a vegetable on the sofa, drinking gallons and gallons of tea, trying to make that stupid annoying infection go away. And while I was hanging there on that sofa, I started this blog and wrote this entry. Let’s see where it goes.