After pouring myself a glass of cheap wine, I sat in front of my Christmas tree and cried. It was the first holiday I had ever spent alone and away from home. I wasn’t just sad, I was bone-wearingly exhausted from my overnight shift at work. It left me wondering if the relentless sacrifices I was making (the crazy hours, aggressive work load, being away from my friends and family) all to pursue my dreams of being a television journalist were even worth it.
Earlier that week, my mother had sent me a box full of goodies to cheer me. Despite dreading the approaching holiday, I carefully placed each present under the tree and waited to open them. My usual tradition was to enjoy the most amazing Christmas Eve dinner with my family. My mother always prepared her yearly feast of steak and lobster. It was a treat all of us anticipated and relished; feeding a lot of kids that kind of food was expensive and my parents saved all year to make it happen.
After we devoured our meal, each person at the table would become the center of attention as they opened one allocated gift. Naturally, everyone oohed and awed at the reveal, but the rest of the presents and overstuffed stockings were saved for a joyful Christmas morning, one that was celebrated with pastries, eggnog, Christmas carols and a huge Mexican-style dinner served later in the day. The highlight of the meal was always my mother’s famous “Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas.” It’s still one of my favorite meals to date.
It all seemed like such a distant memory as I sat in front of my Charlie Brown Christmas tree (which was actually more of a plant,) with a huge bottle of “Gallo White Zinfandel” and a Burrito Supreme (with extra sour cream) from Taco Bell. It was the only thing open when I got off of work. What’s more, it was the only thing I could afford on my paltry 12-thousand dollar a year salary.
Christmas morning was even worse. I woke-up with a hangover and a hole in my heart. My gifts seemed obsolete. I called my mother and cried into the receiver, explaining how depressed I was. I tearily confessed: “Not only can I barely function, I don’t think I could make it to work today.” I also admitted that I had stopped showering and doing my own laundry. I begged her to come to Texas (where I was living and working at the time) and help me as soon as humanly possible. What my mother did next was something I will never forget.
“Shireen, listen to me carefully,” she said. “Get out of bed and clean yourself up and do your own laundry. You’re a grown woman, for the love of God. Start taking care of yourself, because if you don’t do it, NO ONE else will.” I fell silent. She then told me that she loved me, wished me a Merry Christmas and hung up the phone. I was nothing short of stunned by her response. She had always been so supportive and kind.
I cried again, but this time I did it while putting a load of laundry in the washer. Matter of fact, I was still crying by the time I got in the shower. I have to admit, though, it felt pretty good to wash away the West Texas dust that had built up in my hair. It also felt good to mourn what Christmas had once meant to me. I knew that if I truly wanted to be a journalist, life as I had once known it was not an option.
Christmas came and went. Actually, a lot of them did. I’m not going to say it got easier, it just got different. Some years I celebrated with different co-workers, other years (if I was working on location out of town,) I celebrated with different strangers. Eventually, I married and celebrated with different families. After I divorced, I found myself alone and celebrating differently, once again.