If you haven’t had a Christmas breakdown yet, THERE IS STILL TIME.
I had a minor one when I decided I would run into the mall and pick up a pine-scented candle. Having a pine-scented candle is part of my Christmas celebrating.
It had already been a day of near-misses: friends I was supposed to meet I did not meet, the art gallery I tried to spend a minute in closed early, and this was my last-ditch attempt at getting things straight.
I parked, noting carefully where I was, and the minute I got in there, I realized this was a mistake. I will never conquer The Mall. I walked up to a kiosk that used to be a map, and it was just pictures progressing, pictures of people who had the money to buy things that made them very happy and secure in themselves all the time.
I took my spidey sense in hand and went upstairs. I believed the candle place to be upstairs. I walked down the mall hall, following people who were walking so slowly, I thought we were in Birmingham Alabama in July in the afternoon. I looked at the various storefronts, and realized there were many I didn’t even know what they were about. They sold clothes to teenagers? They sold… makeup? They sold… sleek bodies without faces?
I saw a familiar soaps-and-goos place, and I ducked in to see if they had candles. Just in case. If someone asked me if I needed anything, I would lose it. I hate that more than anything. DO I LOOK LIKE I NEED HELP I DO NOT. This is something I love about thrift stores, and The Dollar Store. They will never ask me if I need help. I will be free to make my own mistakes. I AM FINE.
The candles there were not cheap. I am going grocery shopping when I get paid, and feeling rich when I don’t add up what’s in the cart, I just recklessly buy a bunch of food. I felt I could get a candle cheaper than this.
I decided to go on, to the candle store.
I reached out with my feelings, and saw that indeed, the candle store was where I suspected it was. A man immediately asked if he could help me, of course I said no. I saw the pine-scented candles. There was a whole display. All sizes. Big babies, tiny babies. I turned one over. No price tag.
“Ah, so it’s… free.” I always say this to myself when merchandise lacks price tags. It’s a little joke between me and me.
I looked around for a sign that had prices. I get it, you don’t want to relabel the things over and over, especially if they go on sale. Nothing. I wandered to another display, hoping a sign might be there. No. Nothing. They COULD NOT EVEN TELL ME HOW MUCH THINGS COST.
I could… NO. FINE.
I whisked myself out of the store, down the mall halls, down the stairs, to the car, which was just where I remembered it.
A friend told me: I drove into a narrow street, and another car faced me, and we couldn’t pass, and we stayed there and yelled at each other, and yelled, and yelled, and neither one of us would move, and I was like, I have more insurance, and finally she started to move, and she took a picture of my license plate, and I was like, “I’LL TAKE A PICTURE OF YOURS!”
And I was like, ah, yes, Christmas meltdown.
You may have refused to attend a gathering, and instead sat alone at a bar, thinking, AT LEAST NO ONE IS FUCKING WITH ME HERE.
You may have stomped off in the snow, and the cold felt good because THEY CAN GO TO HELL.
You may have been at a dinner where someone sat at another table in a restaurant BECAUSE I CAN’T STAND YOUR BULLSHIT ANYMORE.
There is still time to wonder bitterly why you work and end up with not enough money to not worry about money every minute.
There is still time to curse the universe for leaving you without a soul mate, or even a companion who occasionally makes dinner.
You can still wonder why other people have perfect families, why other people aren’t having trouble getting out of bed, or knowing it’s The Last Christmas That Something Happens.
Plenty of time.
But: may you also have some moments of genuine happy-to-see-you, and real what-a-nice-gift, and relieved the-sun-is-coming-back-now.
Merry Whatever and Happy This-and-That.
Image: “Preparing for Christmas,” Francis William Edmonds, Metropolitan Museum of Art.