Coming home for the holidays, whether actually, physically, or even in the imagination, is not always as easy a task as it might seem. It is at times, for some of us, a project of negotiation. A negotiation that we have with our family, maybe even with old friends. It is, in part, a negotiation we have with ourselves.
We have on occasion found ourselves, perhaps, sitting at our desk after everyone has left. Everyone has left not only for the day, however, that has happened before to be sure, but for the holidays. We feel a little alone in the world. We are alone at the very time when everyone else is on their way already to gather with friends and family.
It will be a while before the busyness and hum of the workplace resume in earnest. The halls are quiet. Lamps turned low. The blackness of the evening has beset the building. Even it whispers to you of an obligation to travel home. It speaks to an emptiness that we stare down each year. We look out the window to see the long line of car lights that trail into the cover of night and snow falling. And we think to ourselves that they are all doing what they should be doing and what we should be doing: Going home.
A solitary colleague down the hall passes you, smiles, she is almost ashamed of her presence there too. Shared struggles. There is a silent acknowledgement that you are embarking on a time that is bittersweet, an odd mixture of expectation and joy, on one hand, and hesitation and resistance, on the other. You are glad you are not completely alone. There is some comfort in even this modicum of company and shared circumstance.
We are torn, at times, not every time perhaps, but sometimes, some years, some Christmas times, between wanting to go home, the need to go home, and resisting going home because of knowing what we will find there when we do. It is, we are told, why people will choose to go to the beach for Christmas. Never could understand that before, and suddenly you do.
But don’t get us wrong. Don’t misinterpret ambivalence for not caring. We are no Scrooge. We do not proclaim ‘Humbug!’ We might be caught on the horns of a dilemma, but there are two truths here and one truth is that we do, indeed, love. We love the welcome. We love our family and friends. We love the way the house is bathed in snow and white light. We love the way our old time neighbour knows our name and will smile, and wave and welcome us home. We love the smile on their face brought there by our very presence. We love the idea of home and we love coming home. We know how fortunate we are to have this place to come back to.
But we also know that the terms of the return can be problematic. Terms which can be reminiscent of old and well-worn issues that lay at the heart of things. At times we find ourselves in the space in between remaining true and giving in.
Thinking about coming home for the holidays we can in our imagination see our loved one at the door...
Coming home for the holidays,
I see you looking out the window,
Like you used to do,
when I was coming home from school.
Or in from play.
Scarf wet with breath.
The slish slosh of snow pants
Trying to climb the stairs.
The blanket of wonder
Waiting for me inside the door,
I’d spot you looking,
The curtain pulled back enough to reveal
your nose curled-up in benevolent judgement,
but judgement still,
As if you were never quite pleased.
There was always something I hadn’t done,
Or done too long or too short or too in between.
There was always something waiting to be told once inside,
Once past the sentry of your smile,
and check point of conditional love,
About how the imaginary-me-in-your-head
should have been.
A little hunched over.
You are older now.
But up at the window just the same.
Love and critique mixed like salad,
French dressing smothering it all,
I am like turkey sliced,
Lying exposed on a plate by candlelight
for everyone to see.
And you open the door to greet me once more.
And once more there is no other place for me to be.
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.