It's Christmas Eve, and I woke up to rain in Austin. This is different than any Christmas Eve I've had in over twenty years (perhaps I had a Christmas Eve like this when I was kid and I lived in Austin with my parents, though I think by this time we'd usually already at least be en route to Iowa). It's also my first Christmas without Brian since 1995. We started dating in January of 1996 and have celebrated Christmas together ever since. I remember that in 1996, I got Brian a Jewel CD. I don't remember what he got me, but some years do stick out -- a sapphire ring in 1997, a tanzanite ring in 1998, an autographed Bon Jovi CD a few years ago that he bought with his credit card points after we set a low price limit on our gifts because we had just bought something for the house, a mustard-colored leather purse last year (the last tangible gift he gave me). I've been carrying that purse this holiday season, a simple way of making me feel like he is with me and that I can carry his memory, his essence with me hanging on my shoulder.
It doesn't even feel like Christmas -- it is warm and raining, and I have no Christmas tree or decorations this year (aside from a pile of gifts my mom and Brian's mom sent down for me that is serving as a holiday centerpiece on my dining room table). I'm alone in an unfamiliar place, still getting used to the sounds of my new plumbing and heating/air conditioning systems, the placement of light switches, the way my bathroom lights gradually warm up to brightness. I am thrilled to be here and definitely excited for the good times that I know lie ahead, but it is not yet "home." I don't even have any living room furniture yet, and the TV in the living room is currently on the floor.
Still, I don't regret my decision to spend Christmas in Austin. I've traveled thousands of miles on multiple trips between Austin and Des Moines this month, and it seemed a little silly to make the trip back to Iowa again just because the date on the calendar for tomorrow is December 25. I've already celebrated Christmas with my entire family, and I have plans to do the same with Brian's extended family in January in Pocahontas, Iowa. So it's not as though anyone won't see me for Christmas, though it won't be on Christmas day. I do feel a bit guilty that I'm leaving my parents alone on Christmas (my sister will be at her boyfriend's house) and that I won't be spending the day with Brian's parents and his brother, and I worry that their celebration will seem small with just three present. But I needed to be in Austin this year.
Practically, I need to spend more than a few days in one place and need to do things like unpack, set up internet and cable, and pick out new living room furniture. Emotionally, I'm not sure I was ready for the traditional Christmas celebration in Iowa without Brian. I think if I was in Iowa this December 25, I'd feel his absence even more. Of course, I felt it and I hurt at my family celebrations that have already taken place -- hence the breakdown on the drive to Des Moines that followed. I think, though, that I'd feel it more intensely if I was to spend a quiet Christmas with just my parents, or just Brian's immediate family. I don't think I could handle that. When it is a larger gathering of extended family, there is the hustle and bustle of trying to talk to a multitude of adults, teenagers, and children about what has been going on since you last saw them; there are dozens of homemade goodies that have been brought and that must be tasted; there is a crowd of people in every room in the house; card or board games might be underway. I can get through that -- it's the prospect of a smaller gathering that is frighteningly daunting to me, and that I am glad to be avoiding this week. I will be thinking about Brian's family as they have such an experience this Christmas.
It is not as though I am going to sit here alone in my apartment with my cats, mind you. (Though if that was what I chose, or if I change my mind and do opt for that at this point, I hope people would respect that decision too.) I went to a happy hour with my friend Erin last night that turned into a last-minute shopping trip to Target for kids' Christmas gifts, then pizza and beer at my apartment. Erin & Chad ended up crashing in my guest bedroom, so it didn't take long for my place to feel like home in that way. It sounds silly, but I was happy to have them stay for that reason. Today, we are thinking of going out for lunch before they take off for Dallas to spend the night with family. I plan to go to a Christmas Eve party/open house at the house of some friends in south Austin tonight. Tomorrow, I'll head to Burnet, Texas (about an hour north of downtown Austin) to have Christmas dinner with Uncle Bruce, Aunt Kay, and their Boka clan. I'm happy to have family around, to be able to share in another large family gathering, something that feels like Christmas to me. I'm also looking forward to seeing Brian's cousin Jessi, who has been in London for a few months on work (her total assignment is 2 years overseas). I will also finally meet baby Thayer, the baby boy Brian's cousin Val and her husband Andy had this fall. I also look forward to seeing cousin Vanessa, her husband Eric, and their adorable daughters Taylor and Brooke.
In some ways, this Christmas is totally unlike any I've had in my life. In other ways, it will be very much the same. Different family members, different state and climate, but I'll still be surrounded by the love and warmth of family and friends. I think it will be as good as any Christmas without Brian can be. I think that by choosing to spend Christmas in a new place, with different faces, that it will help me get through the day that much easier. It's harder to miss someone in a place where they've never been, where I won't look at the spot he always sat at the table, or where I don't have to deal with the empty spot on the couch where he and all his presents should be. I feel the hole of his absence so strongly in my heart that I don't need to see it in front on me on the furniture too.