Listening to all the Christmas songs that were impossible to escape on the radio this past month, I realized something for the first time in my 26 years: about 95 percent of holiday songs focus on home. “Baby please come home,” “I’ll be home for Christmas,” “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” yada, yada yada. But what happens when there’s no longer a home to return to? How do you deal with that, during a holiday that is supposed to serve as a magnet for families to reunite?
The rented roof over my head is a sanctuary for me and my ginger tabby cat, Annie (who was a Christmas present from a friend two years ago). And about 30 minutes away from my rental, the brick twin-home where I spent my entire childhood still stands. My parents still live in it. But over the past two years, the walls and people inside them have continually become more foreign to me.
Physical and mental illness have turned the mother I grew up with into someone more unpredictable than a roulette wheel. When I return for a visit, acid reflux, rather than a sense of familiarity and peace, tends to be the main feeling I experience. However, it’s more painful to see the ways that the unhappiness and unhealthiness have taken a toll on my father, who never gets an opportunity to jump off my mother’s roller coaster.
For years, I felt that as their only child, it was my responsibility to drag my parents, kicking and screaming, towards happiness. But two years ago, after hitting my own breaking point, I made the conscious decision to stop trying. Doing this required setting new, healthier boundaries that pushed me to figure out new ways to approach many different situations and relationships — including the holiday season.
Last year marked the first holiday season in 25 years that I spent without my parents. Though the logical part of me knew that I was better off spending Christmas away from two people who were completely miserable, the emotional side felt my heart strings tighten with every mention of family during the month of December. Truthfully, the entire ordeal felt as if I was wearing a new sweater that wasn’t yet worn in.