Christmas Alone

This is my first Christmas alone. During my 20s I lived near my family and spent Christmas Day with them. But I was single, so I went home alone after the family festivities, glad for the solitude. It was fun and peaceful to unload my presents, pack the refrigerator with leftovers and sit down in front of my own Christmas tree and the twinkling lights of the Harman-Kardon stereo system I'd bought at a discount when I worked for Audio Times.

This year is different. It's the first since my husband and I separated after 20 years together, and he has our son today and tonight. I've been alone since noon and will be alone tonight. I've been looking forward to reading by the fire, and brought down a stack of new books, gifts for Christmas and my December birthday. I'm simultaneously reading Then We Came to the End, Born Standing Up, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and Why Is Sex Fun? as well as a couple older ones I've been meaning to get to: Saving Stuff, Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How to Talk to a Widower.

I put the Christmas Story marathon on TBS, stacked up the firewood and dug in. I started slowly with a magazine and a catalog, while munching an upscale version of Chex Mix my Aunt Geri gave me last night. Soon I had cruised through two books, one and a half showings of the movie and about a pound of snack food. I made a couple of calls about competing dinner invitations for tonight, for which I need to get dressed (yes, I'm still in my Paul Frank flannel PJs). And then I got depressed.

I'm not depressed that I'm alone. I've always liked being alone. As the eldest of four children, I craved peace and quiet and growing up felt fortunate to have my own bedroom while my younger sisters shared. When I finally got my own place with no roommates, I was never lonely. And I'm not lonely now, just reflective.

I look at my Christmas tree and see more than 25 years of ornaments, some predating my marriage (sequined orbs made by my grandmother, gifts from years of tree-trimming parties I hosted in my various New York hovels), others from trips we took together, or marking the birth of our son, or all the various Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations we shared, whether I wanted to or not.

I'm thinking about how much changes in life. People come and go, sometimes leaving a deep impression, other times barely a memory. Parents die, sometimes friends too. Relationships and marriages end and with them certain types of connections and traditions you took for granted. The major life changes get a lot of attention for a reason: they're traumatic and gut-wrenching, calling into question the very foundation upon which your life is built. They leave you permanently changed.

My divorce was a mutual decision and I don't regret or second-guess it. But I do need to adjust to it. I enjoy time by myself. I just never figured I'd have so much of it.

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