The first Christmas I spent alone was four years ago. I’d just gotten a job, the job that would soon fund my move to New York, though I didn’t know that yet. The job had me scheduled to work nearly every day in December, so I did, and thus didn’t have time to go home. I was making a lot of money at the new job, more money than I knew what to do with, so I spent Christmas in a hotel. I read and thought about the direction that my life was going in, which seemed like a decent one, and drank and napped.
It was only three months later, three months!, that I realized, as we so often do, that the direction I’d believed my life was going in was a facade predicated on a person who I’d imagined into a belief that he wanted the things that I wanted. The only thing that was concrete in the fantasy of that direction was the job, the job I’d been very lucky to get, the job I probably didn’t deserve. I decided to repurpose that money from building the life I’d thought I wanted into dismantling that life and building one somewhere else, somewhere I could easily fail, but failure somewhere else seemed like an acceptable alternative, and so, I ran.
Sometimes I think of this girl, (me! I can’t believe it,) and marvel at how quickly she saw something that was wrong in her life, that was not going to become right, that she could not will into changing no matter what she did or how badly she wanted it, and took that energy and turned it into something she could change, mustered that energy in a single evening, (I decided to move to New York in the late hours of March 3rd and the early hours of March 4th 2015, and I never wavered, never considered changing my mind,) and spent the next nine months focusing on that change in a way that I’ve probably never focused on anything else in my life, and then the change happened, and I was gone.
I was only 24. I think I was smarter then than I am now. Or perhaps it was just a once in a lifetime moment of luck. Now it can take me months to recognize when things are wrong and additional months to figure out how to change them.
By the time the next Christmas came around, I was already in New York. In retrospect, it all happened so fast. I worked nearly every day for nine months and I left California after six years and I may have cried when I looked out the window of the plane the day I left but I wasn’t crying because I wanted to stay.
That next Christmas, I pitched a piece to the Washington Post about spending Christmas alone, and it was accepted and published online and in print on Christmas Eve. I think about this now and I laugh. It’s hilarious! It’s absurd! That’s not to say it wasn’t cool or meaningful, but it’s….it’s also funny.
When you work in service, it’s impossible to not spend some holidays alone, even if you aren’t working. It’s the same when you live far from home. It’s the same when you’re a single woman. When you’re all three of these things, it comes to be so natural that it’s almost not worth commenting on. Holidays are for the bourgeoise. Holidays are for people who tweet that you should tip service people extra on holidays, not the people who they themselves work on said holidays. I’ve worked at restaurants where I made extra money on holidays, so I’d be like, sure, I’ll work, I’d love six hundred dollars. Now I work at a bar where it’s dead on holidays, so I get fussy about working. It’s all circumstance dependent.
The year I wrote the article, on Christmas morning I Skyped into Canadian television to give an interview about spending Christmas alone (LOL.) Then I went on a run. I think I got dinner with my uncle. The next year, I was able to go home for a few days.
The year after, I did something dumb, which was last year. I spent the day talking to someone about something that had gone wrong between us, and instead of accepting, like I did when I was younger and smarter, that when things are wrong you should cut your losses and pick a new direction even if it is one that you have no viable reason to be on, instead of that, I sat in the burning room with a person on fire saying ‘this is fine, this is fine,’ and doubled down on an idea that was already destroyed, and I didn't know that I was doing it then but I now see that decision as an invitation to a lot of self harm that I could have avoided, and I can’t hate myself for the decision I made because I know why it happened, but I can look in the mirror and say, please, please, don’t ever do that to yourself again.
As this year ended, it was very important to me to try and eradicate some old habits (letting the olddddd ways die,) and create new ones that will, if not make me happy, at least provide a foundation for stability, which is the only thing I think you can guarantee yourself in a world where the whims of the people you sleep with will, almost always, hurt you.
This Christmas, I woke up late, and talked to my mom and sister on the phone, and then I went to one friend’s house, and then I went to my new apartment and talked to my dad on the phone, and then another friend came over, and together we went to another friends house where more friends also were. I was barely alone at all.
Which makes sense, because even though I spend a lot of time by myself, I’m never really alone. Not on Christmas or any other holiday. If I want to spend an entire day alone, which I often do, I have to explicitly tell usually at least three people that I’m spending that day alone working and I’m sorry but I can’t do anything else. I no longer see the glamour in purposefully spending holidays alone to make a point. I made the point, several years in a row, and now I feel allowed to relish in the joy of the people I’ve met, who want to spend time with me.
The life I’ve amassed here is the opposite of being alone. I have so many places I can go at any given time, have so many people who have welcomed me into their lives. I live a life of community and fraternal intimacy, which is what I hoped I’d find again after college, and I’m still shocked that I’ve found it in such plenty.
The people I’ve met here seem so natural to my life now, but I couldn’t have imagined them four years ago. Of course I could not. I thought that I would never have more friends like my college friends, let alone thirty friends I consider to be as close as my college friends. I wanted to make writer friends, I wanted to make friends who I shared interests with, but they’re so much more than that. They’re the thirty morons I never knew I needed, they’ve saved me countless times, they’ve made me realize that amorphous goals about writing aren’t even really what I wanted when I moved here, what I wanted was just a life, an interesting and full life, and I have it now and it’s hard for me to believe that those days in the past even existed, when I didn’t know if another life would ever happen.
This is all to say that my concept of what it means to be alone has been skewed in ways perpetuated by the cultural focus on romantic partnership, by my own lack of intimate contact and how it has skewered my brain, but in reality, I’m so very far from alone, and I’ll be incredibly blessed if this abundance of companionship lasts me the rest of my life, even if nothing else changes.