It’s almost midnight on December 24th. I’m in the new apartment, and about 75% unpacked. It took ten friends eight hours over two days to pack my things for transport. Despite an aptitude for number-crunching, I successfully labored under the delusion that I, alone, could unpack all of it by Christmas (three days after the move-in). That delusion was officially laid to rest this afternoon, when so many half-unpacked boxes and garbage bags and piles of stuff to store or donate were strewn about that I had blocked myself off from the bathroom, and needed to crawl over a mountain of crap just to get to it.
A couple of hours ago, I forced myself to redirect my efforts towards making the place livable (or at least, uncluttered enough that I could get out in a reasonable amount of time should the building catch fire). Anything that has yet to be assigned a permanent home has been compressed and relocated to near where I expect that eventual home to be, and it’s actually looking pretty good, so much so that I have promised myself I will not do any unpacking tomorrow.
Most important, I have located my hair dryer which, despite the fact that I am only able to use it for a few minutes at a time, is one of my most cherished possessions. I’d emptied countless boxes and bags over the last three days and it was nowhere to be found; I had grown worried it didn’t make it here. When I finally found it in a black duffle bag I’d chucked up on a shelf the first day I arrived, I literally hugged it to my chest.
Now, seated with my laptop – I’ve been on my feet all day – and I can see that I have, in fact, made considerable headway. When the movers left Monday afternoon, there were dozens of boxes and bags piled up to my head in every room. This evening I took a cart of the largest of the broken-down boxes down to the recycling area and tossed them one at a time (I couldn’t manage the lot of them all at once) into the bin on the loading dock six feet below. I counted twenty, and that didn’t include the smaller ones I had taken down yesterday and the day before that.
I realized that today I had unpacked more or less non-stop (there were breaks, of course) for twelve hours straight. As I pushed the empty cart back to the parking garage elevator, I was as exhausted as I could ever remember being. I can’t imagine what it must be like to do this for a living. In fact, the only reason I’ve gotten as far as I have is because I haven’t had anything else to do. Exams are over, and my lab position doesn’t begin until January 5.
So I’ve thrown myself into the unpacking (admittedly at a far slower pace than I would have before my shoulder disablement), staying up until midnight every night doing “just one more thing” and waking at 5 AM every morning to start again. And while it’s too much work even for someone fully physically capable, after being in intimate company with throngs of friends for three days straight, I am loathe to invite another human into my space right now.
Despite the needed solitude, once I no longer have unpacking to distract me, the fact that I am incredibly depressed and lonely reasserts itself with a vengeance. It’s Christmas Eve, and here I am by myself in a half-unpacked apartment, too tired to go out and too embarrassed to call someone and pull her away from her family just to listen to me whine about being alone again. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides, the voice in my head reminds me. I usually do a decent job of that, but over the holidays, other people’s outsides look really good, and my insides feel really lonely.
Just – less than a week – before I moved, I started seeing someone I was more physically attracted to than I’d been to anyone in years. Our first few dates went well, or so I thought, but after the last one, he abruptly vanished. (I believe the term is “ghost.”) His disappearance came hard on the heels of the packing weekend where all hands were on deck and I was not exactly at my most charming or solicitous, but still, I’m ticked that someone in my age range would choose such a cowardly way to express his loss of interest.
But what I’m more upset about is that I had done a lot of internal work these last several weeks, preparing for another holiday as a single woman in a lot of pain who is unable to partake in much of the festivities and has little companionship because of it. I had actually gotten myself to a good place, choosing instead to focus on how nice it was to have so few obligations during a time of year when most people are redrawing the boundaries of space and time in order to cram in as many as possible.
Christmas used to be my favorite holiday, but in recent years, I’ve come to dread it, especially the long, lonely Christmas Eve, the one night a year when nearly everyone has the following day off and can be with someone they love, if they so choose. It’s been a while since I had someone to spend it with. I used to go to midnight mass, to enjoy the ritual and community following the service, but now pain keeps me home.
Tonight, undaunted, still trying for a little Christmas magic, I turned down the lights, lit a candle, set myself a small plate of cookies, and stood by one of my enormous windows looking down at the streetscape below. It was utterly beautiful, the tall, half-lit buildings, streetlights twinkling in the wet pavement, a horizon of trees separating me from the city proper. I should be grateful, to be here, to be safe, and warm, and to have friends and loved ones, even if I’m not with them right now. But instead, I’m overwhelmed with sadness.
The excitement of being attracted to someone – and having someone attracted to me, broken-down as I am – had lifted me up after what had been a long, dark autumn of so much pain and stress it had reduced me to mind-numbing malaise. For five days, I had a spring in my step and a smile on my face. And then, just as suddenly, it vanished. Like so much else in my life, a hope presented for the briefest of instances, and then gone. For it to happen now, right at Christmas, seems pointlessly cruel. I didn’t even get a chance to try my hard-won contentment on for size; the sting of dashed expectations is still too fresh to reestablish my center. Why, just when I had managed to make some peace with my life as it is right now, did I get that bauble presented and then yanked away? Haven’t I spent enough time sad and alone this past year? How many more nights will find me crumpled in a heap on the floor, wracked with frustration and despair?
This injury has changed so many things about me. The things I find important now have little in common with the same subset from a couple of years ago. But I’m still me; human, sensitive, flawed, and apparently, easily hurt, at least emotionally. I still want to have what I designate as a good life: close family, a career, a partner. The first two are working out, but not so much on that last one.
It doesn’t help that I’m not exactly a hot commodity, disabled, underweight, my child-bearing years likely behind me. But for a brief few days I allowed myself to believe that maybe I could still attract a mate. Now that, too, it seems, can be placed in the ever-widening category of things I thought I could still do but can’t.
I wish this holiday would disappear. I wish it was January 5.