We are in our thirties now, most of us, but when we come back to Jersey for the winter holidays, everyone still goes Christmas Eve night to our old spot in the woods by the beach. Under the starless sky with the bonfire gleaming, the shards of crushed cans and broken bottles in the snow, with the sound of the surf just barely audible beyond the fire, it’s almost possible to forget that we aren’t teenagers anymore. Things seem unpredictable again.
My husband and I agreed when we got married that we’d trade off holidays. Last year we spent Christmas at his dad’s in Michigan. It was a flurry of stepchildren, sisters-in-law, and traditions I didn’t know. The year before that didn’t count, as we got stuck in an airport during a snowstorm on our way back from a funeral. So it’s been a couple of years since I came home for the holiday, and I’m reminded today of how poorly my family plans. My brother’s with his wife’s parents in Bethesda. My dad’s in Tampa with his girlfriend and her kids. So my husband and I spend the holiday with just my mother, in the apartment she rents half an hour from the beach.
She gives us each a Memory Foam pillow. We give her a motion sensor alarm; living alone still frightens her. We try to install it, but get frustrated and leave it lying in a tangle by the front door. Afterward we eat spaghetti and meatballs and drink the beer my husband and I brought while Christmas movies play at a low volume on the TV. We chat tensely about real estate, student loans, fertility (ours), and alimony, credit card debt, adult education classes (hers). Eventually, out of sadness, my mother and I grow quiet. Out of boredom my husband falls asleep in front of It’s a Wonderful Life. My husband is a sweet and generous person. He can be selfish in just this one way, really. He falls asleep whenever he feels like it.
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