At Christmas time, near where I live, there is a giant wreath. It’s made from neon lights on the frame of a ferris wheel. With the exception of a year or maybe two, it has perched up on top of a river bluff during the holiday season for longer than I can remember. They used to put it up the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and must do it earlier now, because it’s already been shining up there for a little while this year (not too surprising, since Christmas encroaches earlier into autumn every year, it seems).
When I was a small child, I viewed it with such innocent wonder and delight. It was so big and so beautiful. Reflected in my young eyes it just seemed so magical. The wreath would show up, and other Christmas lights and decorations followed close behind, and Christmas itself could not be far off.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the year I was sixteen, a man that I had a crush on took me to see it up close. He drove us up the narrow, steeply slanted bridge, high above the ground to get to it. I was dizzy, and not just from the height. Then he took me back to his apartment and raped me.
I hated Thanksgiving after that. It’s still not my favorite day, if I’m honest, but there’s a lot of food, and I like food. I hated everything I had seen that day, every building I’d seen out of the car window, and every road I’d been driven on. But most of all, I hated that wreath. That damn wreath, shining like a beacon of holiday merriment from it’s lofty perch atop its bluff. It was a symbol for everything I couldn’t feel anymore. Joy, innocence, wonder, warmth, safety.
I couldn’t look at it. When I went to college, and then moved away afterward, I would drive miles out of my way when coming home, just so I wouldn’t have to look at it. As the years passed, I wanted to try to take the shorter path home. My heart would race as I approached the fork where the bypass separated from the interstate, and my palms would sweat. Still, I kept choosing the bypass. Eventually, that path lost any solace for me as well, and I would have panic attacks, because I knew I was only on the bypass to avoid driving past my trigger.
Eventually I moved back to the area, and as more years flowed through the river of my life, I came to an uneasy truce with the wreath. I could look at it, and driving past it no longer caused me to white knuckle my steering wheel. After the passage of still more time, I even grew fond of it again. The child like innocence and magic of it had been stolen away, never to return again, but it was pretty, especially if there was snow on the ground.
Then I tried to have children. The holidays are incredibly hard for many struggling with infertility and loss. First there’s thanksgiving, which is all about family. Like the family you’re trying to have. I imagine it’s even worse for people who are keeping the infertility private. I’m sure there are a lot of, “so when are you going to have a baby?’ questions from nosy grandmas at dinner tables all around the world. And then Christmas.
Lets start with the fact that Christmas is undeniably a holiday about the birth of a baby. To a virgin. The virgin Mary could get pregnant and carry to term, but I couldn’t. Not for a long time. Also, Christmas is a time of year when everyone expects you to be happy. Nothing is quite as depressing as forced merriment. O Come All Ye Faithful makes me burst into tears whenever I hear it. Why that one? I have no idea.
Then I had my daughter and I learned the hard lesson that the intense joy I feel for her doesn’t make all of the bad feelings go away. But now there’s a heaping spoonful of guilt to go along with it. I’m happy, but am I happy enough? I get upset, and pressure myself to cheer up. I really struggled to get into the Christmas spirit last year, just a few short months after another miscarriage, and I hated that. I knew things would be exciting for my living child, and I wanted to be excited for it too. I only get a few Christmases with her while she’s little enough for it to be magical. I’m supposed to soak those all up. I worry that I’m not present enough. Not enjoying the moment enough.
I was walking out to the parking deck after work last night, and I could see it. The wreath. That fucking wreath. Mocking me. Deck the halls, you sad asshole. Tra la la la la, la fucking la. Be cheerful. Don’t have that dead expression on your face. You know, the one that makes your toddler say to you, “Mommy, don’t be sad.” Get into the holiday spirit! Go Shopping! Sing some carols! Don’t think about tomorrow being both yet another due date that never came to pass, and the dreaded Saturday before Thanksgiving. Don’t think about the fact that you are supposed to be seventeen weeks pregnant right now, and exactly twenty three weeks on Christmas Day. Fuck you, wreath. Fuck you.
And you know what? That wreath is both beautiful, and painful to look at now. Like a lot of things about life after you’ve had to walk your path in darkness for a time. The joy and the pain exist side by side. Sometimes they even hold hands. I wish more people understood that, but I’m glad for them that they don’t.