Ever since the first time a boy said, “I’ll call you” and didn’t, I’ve had trouble coping with disappointment. I figured like other things in life: learning how to balance a checkbook, checking the oil in your car, knowing what RSVP means, I’d get better at it.
Yeah, not so much.
The past six weeks have been the ultimate “I’ll call you, babe.”
Instead of a phone call, we’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting, then losing hope, then worrying, then wondering what legal action we might pursue, to get money owed to us. Money earned for hard work. Money that was to finance our Christmas. Big money. Money to pay bills. Money for milk and cat food and gas for the car. Money to get us through the lean, post-Christmas weeks.
While I waited for the mail every day, I moved through the spectrum of emotions: denial, anger and depression. I suppose I’m at acceptance. Maybe.
Isn’t this The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Aside from the first Christmas after my father died (which felt hollow and forced as we went through the motions) and the one following my divorce (not having my only child on Christmas Eve was hard), this has been a bleak season.
Before we knew, we began planning an amazing Christmas. We plotted one really nice gift for each family member. We ordered tickets to Greenfield Village, we decided to host dinner on the 25th, something we haven’t been able to do in a few years due to our financial hardship. We even talked about getting away for a few days.
My husband bore the brunt of this disappointment, as he’d planned it all out so carefully. I bore the brunt of the added stress, as I’d spent so much of the money before it arrived. Neither of us could have predicted this outcome. Anyone who has ever been on shaky footing financially knows that one bad turn of luck picks up speed at a scary pace, especially when you are slowly rebuilding your safety net. It doesn’t take much to rip it to pieces.
I said yes to social events, but I felt myself entangled in the growing web of white lies. I lied to spare other people the story during this happy time of year. I lied to protect myself because such stories are inadvertent invitations for constructive criticism and suggestions on how we might “do it next time” or worst of all, some veiled appeal for money. I was very careful to stay sober. Once not too long ago, lubricated with alcohol, I talked.
I retreated to reflect. I was all over the place. One day happy that I could have a simple, low-budget holiday, relieved of shopping mall and tree trimming duty. The next day I was bitter with disappointment. Every Facebook post, almost very blog entry, was of something wonderful happening to someone else. I felt like I was watching it all through a one-way glass.
Finally, we had to concede defeat. We called to cancel, reschedule, decline. We pared the holiday down to its roots: candles and stockings and gifts only for the children (thankfully I’d shopped in advance). Our hosted dinner became a potluck. We confided in our closest relatives and they came through for us. I suppose that is the real meaning of Christmas. I have gratitude for these acts of kindness.
Throughout all of this, I’ve been reminded that it could be so much worse. This is true but it has not helped ease the disappointment.
I’d like to say I was able to take the long view here and see that this is just a blip on a continuum of constant change. I think both my girls sailed through OK. One is old enough to understand; the other still young enough to enjoy the simple pleasures. Even my husband seems to have moved on.
So much more could be said about fiscal responsibility of families as well as businesses, the excesses of the holidays, unrealistic expectations and my own stubborn behavior.
But I am done. For now.