Believe it or not, every single year of my life thus far, I've spent Christmas in Syracuse, New York.
We never traveled as a family.
When my parents kicked me out of their house, I found friends to take me in, and when my friends' families kicked me out of their houses – or I fell out of favor with my friends – I found other friends to take me in.
My senior year in college, I had nowhere to go and thought I might stay on campus, despite the fact that the small, rural town would likely be buried in snow, and that the dining halls and most student facilities would be closed. I would need to find a way to eat, and I would need to find people to hang out with. I was prepared to be alone, until my friend Chrissy took me in.
After graduating, I never spent a Christmas Day in New York City. It was close enough to Syracuse, and even at my lowest income level, I could usually afford at least a Greyhound bus ticket back. Even though I was estranged from my family, I would still see them at least once, and even exchange gifts with them – though I was no longer welcome to sleep in their house (and nor would I want to).
In years when all of my friend invitations dried up and I was making a bit more money, I stayed in cheap motels by Carrier Circle. Walked through the mall by myself. Called upon ex-lovers. Went to the movies.
I always found a way back, by bus or train or plane or rental car.
Around 10 years ago or so, I found my place at Christmas with the family I now consider my own, though I was not born unto them. I've spent Christmas morning on their living room carpet emptying my own stocking and opening gifts from Santa. I've snacked on rye boat dip way too early in the day, buttered toast for everyone's to-order egg breakfasts, and eaten way too many Buckeyes for dessert. After years of practice and training, I've learned to recognize love when I see it now. I'm still learning to receive love from them.
The best part is, all of us – now in our 30s and 40s – are still the kids, for now, until one of us procreates. So, in the meantime, at my advanced age, I'm making up for lost time by getting the Christmas experiences I never got as a kid, when holidays were fraught with guilt and jealousy and disappointment and contempt.
Except I can't do that this year.
This is the first year ever that I can't go home for Christmas.
It's not that I don't have a home to go to. I just can't get there.
Nearly four years ago, I moved so far away from everyone I loved in order to try to build a new life and, for once, find happiness. I've doubted that decision many times since. I wonder what I've done to myself. I may be better than I was in New York, but I'm still not so happy. I'm not sure what it will take. But then again, it's been a rough year.
So now, in this holiday season, I'm on the opposite coast, with no airline points or miles left for redeeming, barely any credit left for charging, no cash for spending and no income for saving. I just can't swing it.
And I wonder what it will be like to spend Christmas alone, no tree, no cookies, no kisses. No jingling bells or wrapping presents or braving the mall or playing games or staying up all night talking while A Christmas Story plays for 24 hours on the TV. No one will force me to watch Star Wars – again – and no doggies will lick my face.
What will I do?
A package arrived from back home yesterday, so I know I'll have something to open Christmas morning. But I don't need gifts. I need that feeling of walking into a room, and everybody being really genuinely happy to see me. And walking out, knowing they're really truly sad to see me go.
I know I'm not alone in LA, per se. There are a lot of what we call "orphans" around the holidays – people just like me whose loved ones are just far enough to be out of reach. So many of us give up everything to come out here, and then we have nothing left to get ourselves back.
Apparently, this is living the dream.
Maybe things will improve enough for me to go back home in May. Or maybe next Christmas. I have to tell myself that nothing is forever, and that one Christmas away from home does not equal "never again."
But the first time is always the hardest.
So This Is Christmas
Open Letter to Santa
Upon the Fourth Thursday of November