It happened as I was washing the dishes. A mindless endeavour and, as such, one that enables the mind to detach itself from the activity and wander elsewhere. I don’t know where exactly my thoughts anchored themselves, but all of a sudden, I was crying. But, no, I couldn’t be crying… maybe I got dish soap in my eye, I reasoned as I dried my cheek on the shoulder of my sweater. Or maybe water splashed onto my face from the soup ladel I was rinsing, I juxtaposed as more trickled down to my chin. But after these frivolous attempts to pin the origin of my “tears” elsewhere, I conceded. These were not the tears of an agitated eye or the ricoched water droplets off of a kitchen utensil. These were day-care baby tears. Something was missing, but like the babies, I couldn’t really verbalize what it was.
When Kevin kissed me on the cheek on his way out the door for practice, he noticed I was upset. It’s embarrassing enough to be caught crying while watching The Last of the Mohicans for the millionth time. But, crying for no apparent reason, even at this point in our relationship, was a whole new brand of humiliating. When he asked what was wrong, I copied the response of the babies. “I miss my family”, I muttered between childlike sniffles. It was the response I needed to reassure Kevin that one, there was a legitimate excuse for my crying other than my being emotionally unstable and, two, he did not do anything wrong. But even as I said it, I knew I was using homesickness as a scapegoat. Sure, I missed my family. And, after having talked to one of my girlfriends the night before, it was clear I was missing my friends as well. But this was different. When he reluctantly left me in the little kitchen nook, I rinsed off the dish in my hand, and I sat down with a cup of tea to figure out what emotions were responsible for the attack.
I thought about the significance of the day, one week before Christmas….
I remembered that at this time in the last three years, I was surrounded by students who were anxiously anticipating their winter vacation. How their excitement was contagious and that I, too, could barely wait for a week off. A week off to celebrate Christmas, no less!
I thought about our dog. And how, for him, it’s the season of retrieving the Christmas Teddy Bear from its display on the mantle, table, or tea cart. His prideful dance around the apartment at having snatched up the one stuffed animal in the house that is not one of his toys.
I envisioned my father sorting through the ornaments, meticulously repackaged at the end of last Christmas season. How he would complain about the process of decorating the tree, but clearly relish at the task of putting every piece in just the right place.
I thought of my mom baking cookies. LOTs of cookies. And how I would normally be helping by rolling the dough into little balls, and dipping them into a bowl of sugar, or unwrapping what seemed like hundreds of Hershey’s Kisses, or, more likely, just hovering around the kitchen ready to fight with my sisters over the last of the cookie dough in one of the bowls.
And that’s when it hit me. Of course I was missing the individual characters in each of those recollections. But, more specifically I was missing their contributions to the feeling of Christmas. There were Christmas lights beautifully strung throughout all of Italy. I had been eating a chocolate a day from our advent calendar. I had sipped Vin Brulee at a Christmas market in Florence. But the fact of the matter was, it did not feel like Christmas. Though I cannot bring all of my loved ones here for the holidays, I can certainly re-create the feeling of my most beloved holiday of the year.
So, that’s what I set out to do. Starting right then and there. I selected Christmas Classics on an online music player playlist, and turned up the volume. I pulled out the little tree my sister brought, lined the Christmas cards we’d received along the top of our hutch. I strung lights around a little plastic tree that one of the wives had lent us for the season. I put colorful ornaments in vases. I made a shopping list of ingredients for my own cookie-baking session. I strolled through a thrift shop for a festive sweater. And that night, I watched Elf.
This morning, when I woke up, I already felt better. That’s not to say that I felt bad to begin with. I guess my holiday cheer just needed a little jumpstart. Now in full gear, I am ready for Christmas movie marathons, the smell of molasses cookies in my miniature stove, and my first Christmas in Italy!