Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sort of an emotional Christmas this year.

The other day I was washing off some kimchi....

Wait. Back up.

Yes, I was washing off kimchi. (Don't know what that is? Google it. Koreans eat this stuff by the pound, and they swear it has all sorts of digestive elements, antioxidants, and other such health benefits I don't understand, even though it smells like feet and is hotter than the devil's crotch. Either way, they eat it with every. single. meal. And I've been trying to do the same thing.)

But Brooke, why do you wash off the kimchi? Well, friends, it's because I am a giant America wuss. I grew up in the land of lentils, wheat and apples. The hottest thing I ate prior to moving to South Korea was Taco Bell with one of those sauce packets. But Korean food is hot. As in, it hurts hot, and I usually find myself in restaurants, sweating and crying and begging for ooyoo (milk)...while the table of locals next to me stares. (Usually with an infant in a high chair, eating the same kimchi with a nary a flinch, and a bored expression.) make a long story short (though it's already gone on for too long) I buy kimchi at the store, and then I put it in a strainer, and rinse it for a good, long while. I try to get as much of that horrid red pepper off of it before I put it into my fridge to permeate the rest of my food with its pungency. (usually this results in milder, albeit still dreadfully hot fermented cabbage that makes our fridge smell like a dead body.)

Back to the subject at hand.

So I was rinsing off my kimchi, and (of course) I was listening to Christmas music, because around our house, we love Christmas. So as I am rinsing, U2's holiday tune comes on, and I found myself in the middle of a Yuletide Meltdown. Tears, snot, mascara everywhere (it was one of the rare days I actually put on makeup--as it hasn't been much of a priority since my dad died. Though I'm sure I could pull off my current bright red wig much better if I sported some bold makeup to go along with it. But alas, sleeping, reading, and crying were my focus at the time.) I had to stop what I was doing, lean against the counter, and have a nice, long cry while that song--which has been my favorite Xmas song since I was a kid, I'll explain why later--played in it's entirety. Twice.

So a million years ago, when I was around ten years old, my oldest brother graduated from high school and joined the Marines. He left for boot camp, and never came home, except for small visits here and there. But he never lived with us again, and it effected me more so than I ever realized. It wasn't until I was an adult, with children of my own, that I realized how traumatic it was when my oldest brother left.

At the time, he was the steady, reliable man in my life. My dad wasn't very stable. He went to work, paid the bills, but overall--at that time, at 10 years old--was generally just a scary, volatile dude who happened to live in our house and lose his temper all the time. He was my dad, yes, but not at all the loving father he so desperately wanted to be. He was sick. And for reasons I don't understand, though it's becoming clearer and clearer to me as I read up on alcoholic families and the roles each child plays in said family, that my older brother had become the responsible, reliable male role model in my life. In all our lives. And when he left--because honestly, who could blame him for turning 18 and getting the heck out of there?--it threw my whole world off-kilter.

My middle brother did not play the same roll in my life. He was a good kid, yes, and he was funny and reliably witty. He was a strong kid, and a talented kid, but he did not fill my older brothers shoes when my older brother moved away. He couldn't have. He was too busy surviving, as we were all doing. But at ten, when my oldest brother moved away to boot camp, it felt (as melodramatic and unnecessary as it was) like a death. My whole family had to find new roles, new survival skills, and new ways to exist with that new dynamic. And because I was ten, it had a massive impact on my life, one that has stayed with me all these years.

I mourned the loss. I cried, a lot. But I kept it secret. I hid my sadness from my mother, who was sad, too, and from my middle brother, who seemed to busy and popular to notice (though I'm sure he mourned in his own way, I mean, it's his brother,) and also from my father, who was too dysfunctional to offer any comfort, because he was too busy taking care of himself, which, I am learning, was infinitely more difficult than I ever knew. I prayed he would hate the Marines and come home. I prayed that he would be stationed in Fairfield, WA, because then he would be able to be a soldier, but still able to take care of us. Newsflash: there are no bases near Fairfield, WA. It was a time of major adjustment. And all in all, we were sort of a hot mess.

So when my older brother left, and we went into Christmas season as a family of four, instead of five, this song debuted. We saw it first on a Christmas Special on TV. We didn't have MTV at that time, and so I'm pretty sure it was one of those NBC/CBS/ABC Holiday variety shows they used to show way back when. You know, where the "it star" of the moment comes out and sings a few ditties while Carol Burnett hosts, etc? One of those. Anyway, as it was playing, my mom commented that the drummer reminder her of my oldest brother, and so I checked out the cassette tape from the local library...

Yes. A cassette tape of "A Very Special Christmas." It also featured Madonna singing "Santa Baby" and "Winter Wonderland" by Eurythmics. It was epic. Don't judge me.

And then I proceeded to listen to it again and again and again......for months. I listened to it in March. May. July. I still listen to it now. Usually on repeat. And here's why:

Because that song just gets me. Despite my not being close with my oldest brother at all, there was a time when I felt the loss of his presence with my whole being. I missed him desperately. And in the years since I was that ten year old kid missing the one stable guy in my life, whenever I hear that song, I miss the years that've passed since he moved away, and the closeness we haven't had. And now that I'm facing the first holiday season post my dad's death, I'm feeling that same desperation. I miss him. I'm feeling the loss of his presence. I'm feeling the loss of his life, and the loss of those years prior. I'm grappling with that sensation of missing him, even though I never really had him to begin with...and for whatever reason, that song just strikes a cord with me. Every. Single. Time.

I wish I were home...home being Washington State, even though the closeness wouldn't just appear out of thin air, and I would likely feel these feelings regardless of what continent I were on. I'm homesick for a place that doesn't actually exist: a functional family, siblings as tightly bonded and as close as the ones on Parenthood, and two healthy, happy parents who weren't at all sad and sick and afflicted with struggles they couldn't overcome.

I know, I know. I may as well be homesick for my pet unicorn, too. Because this scenario doesn't really exist.

I guess this Christmas is just going to be an emotional one. We watched Home Alone the other night. The kids loved it, my younger boys were cracking up at all of the rebellious antics of Kevin Mcallister, but I found myself feeling guilty and angsty afterward. I was agitated and emotional, and had to remove myself from our family time, to go into my room and read for a while. It took me a couple hours to figure out why I was so out of sorts, but then it came to me: the elderly neighbor in Home Alone (the one who Kevin is originally afraid of, but then he rescues Kevin from the bad guys) is alone and lonely at the holidays, because he and his son had gotten into a fight years earlier and no longer spoke to each other.

Yeah. Punch to the gut.

Spoiler alert: at the time of my dad's death, he and I had not spoken more than 4 or 5 sentences to each other in about 2 years. And the conversations prior to that were angry, demanding, degrading, belittling, curt, and tense. It was not a functional relationship--and both my father and I were to blame for that. When my dad died, I was able to make peace with him, through a bonafide miracle, and while we've mended things now, post mortem, I'll forever carry the guilt of letting that resentment fester too long.

And frankly, that's okay. It's okay for me to carry that. I think it makes me a better person. I'm not sure how or why or when, but at some point, I'll be able to use that agonizing situation to help someone.

The first Christmas after someone dies is always the worst. I've been told this at least 67 times in the last three weeks, and I believe it. I'm very, very emotional. I know that my dad is with me now, and that he is very proud of me, and loves me very, very much, but...there's always that lingering sadness. I had the chance to have a last Christmas with him, and I passed. I declined the opportunity, and then I lost any chance of doing it again, and it makes me sad. Add in that d*mned song by U2, and I'm a total basket case. I will likely cry a lot this Christmas season. And I've accepted that that is the way it's going to be. I lost my dad. A long time ago, really, but more recently in the physical sense, and that's sad, there's no two ways to look at it. I'm going to cry a lot this year, and that's okay. In a way, I think it's sort of good for me.

And that song? Good grief. Now that song has two reasons to make me cry. I think I'll go listen to it on repeat.

Merry Christmas, reader and writer friends.