I always always always always loved Christmas. Well, maybe not the year the dog ate the guinea pig—that one not so much. But the others were magical times. I adore it, revel in it, deck the halls, and all that jazz. I love the lights, the trees, the wrapped packages.
That’s the one time of the year I remember Dad actually playing the piano, and we’d all sing carols. Mom would nip the eggnog a bit too much, but it was a happy time.
Cyndi hated Christmas. It got so bad that she’d go to some beach in Thailand with her latest guy for the holidays. She couldn’t avoid Christmas altogether there, though, because the hotel owners would put up trees, thinking the farangs (foreigners) would want a touch of Christmas and home.
“If I wanted a touch of Christmas and home, I would’ve stayed home!” Cyn would grumble.
I never left LA over the holidays—I got more auditions from the middle of November to the beginning of January than I would in the six months before and after. Most actors go home to lick their wounds and come back refreshed, due in part to the accolades from their friends and family. As I said before, my circle back in Wisconsin would just look at me with that why-haven’t-you-made-it-yet look. “I might be a hometown beauty,” I’d want to tell them. “But I’m average for Los Angeles.” That might not have been taken too well, so I just kept that to one myself.
On Christmas Eve I’d go to a special service at my spiritual center. One time the band played “Breath of Heaven” while an eight-month-pregnant woman danced. I’m not much into the story of the Virgin Birth and all, but that was one enchanted moment as she whirled around celebrating life, love, and new birth. On Christmas Day, my latest huggahunk and I would pick up Cara, and we’d go off to a huge orphan Christmas party comprised of numerous folks who don’t have family in LA.
That year was a completely different story. Christmas sucks when you’re single and your BFF just offed herself. That year I was with Cyndi—with her hatred of Christmas, that is. I actually checked prices for overseas trips, but it was too close to Christmas to get any decent fares. Four thousand dollars to fly to India—wow! Luckily, Cara sent me on more and more auditions as my strength was returning…somewhat.
December and January are the two months of the year in SoCal when the heat might click on, bringing warm memories of home. That and the smell of a dryer running and baked goods coming out of the oven fill me with memories that are all misty and maybe even watercolored….of things that probably weren’t the way they were in my mind. Plus, the one baking the Christmas cookies and banana bread was me, not Mom.
Speaking of memories that are all misty and maybe even watercolored, as I told you earlier, I listen to love songs along with all those dedications between family members or couples who just met or were celebrating thirty-odd years. And I cry a little, or sometimes even a lot. Even when I was dating some guy, I knew there was someone special for me, and I wasn’t with him yet. But every love song brought me closer to him—whoever he was, wherever he was, doing whatever he was doing.
I’m so happy to hear that he’s just a single call away, that maybe once in my life I’ll find that someone who really does need me, that Annie replenishes his senses like I could do in the right place, in the right time, and with the right person. (You know the right words to all of those.)
One night near the end of her life, I arrived home singing that song. Cyndi was sitting on the deck, drink in hand.
“I want to know who Annie is and why making love to her was like a night in the woods or a sleepy blue sea or a walk in the storm,” I said, although I used the correct lyrics with Cyn.
“Been listening to your sappy station again, have we?”
“And why did they have two cats—why not two dogs in the yard? Why was he so happy Betty Lou was going out that night?”
“Write the story. Then you’ll know why.” After a few moments of reflecting, Cyndi said, “I want to know what Judy Garland thought in her last few minutes of life. I want to know if Marilyn really took her own life or if she was done in by the mob.”
After she died I thought of this conversation many, many times. How could I have not paid better attention? If I had, would anything have changed? Cyn, what was your last thought?
Oh, Cyn. What if your only job in this world was to brighten up the day of people you came into contact with? And what if you did that very well, without even realizing it? You lit people up just by looking at them. You gave them hope just by being in their presence.
Yikes—the wave was engulfing again. It was so bad, I had to turn it off somehow. Couldn’t I shift into overdrive with my work and workouts and auditions, if only just to ease the pain?
I did; it worked—for a little while. For a couple of weeks, I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. I trudged through day after day feeling....nothing. Nice try. One night I pulled the car over and leaned my head on the steering wheel and screamed. And screamed some more. And then I screamed some more. I screamed so much my face hurt. I had to hold my forehead to keep it from creasing, it hurt so much. This was way beyond an ugly cry. This was monstrous.
Cyn. Oh, CynCynCynCynCynCynCynCynCyn.
Some part of my brain started lecturing the screaming part. This is dreadful. But I am not. This is the worst. I am good. This is unbearable. But I can bear it. Somehow. “Oh, shut up and let me scream!” I screamed.
I love my family, but it’s a dutiful love. I’ve loved boyfriends, but nothing ever came close to this.
Cyn, I had no idea you were so everything to me. You were my favorite person on this entire planet. What would you have done if I’d ever said any of the things I regret not saying to you? Would you have done anything different? But I did say a few things. I told you not to eat garbage—it makes you feel like garbage. I told you not to drink and do pills. I told you to love yourself almost as many times as you told me to love myself. I suggested we both quit this crazy business and do something easy and soothing. Move to Venice Beach and work in a little tchotchke stall. Move to Florida and work in a greenhouse. Move to Maui and work in a surf shop. Life doesn’t have to be as hard as we were making it.
Remember that one gal I told you about, the one who came to LA, had one audition, and went home? Sometimes I envied her and wished beyond all get-out that I’d done that. No, life didn’t have to be as hard as we’d been making it.
Truthfully, I envy easily. I drive by a couple unpacking their car and obviously settling in for the night, and I want to be them. And when I’m in my house and I see a fun car loaded down with surfboards, I want to be free and playful like them. When I lived in an apartment, I yearned for a house with a yard. I’d live in a house with a yard, and sometimes I’d want the ease and simplicity and freedom of living in an apartment. I stare at a picture and want to be there, experiencing that. Then I’m there, experiencing that, and I want to go home to my palm trees. I see a successful actor and I’d want to be her—oh, the lights, the glamour. I’d see a salesclerk in a convenience store, and I’d want to be her—oh, the simplicity, the far fewer expectations. I was FOMO before it was a thing. (For those peeps thirty years in the future, FOMO is the feeling of missing out.)
I always wanted to be wherever I wasn’t…except when I didn’t.
After that ceerrrrraaaaarazy cry, and totally thankful that a cop didn’t stop to see what was up—or down, as the case was—with me, I drove home. Well, okay, I got it out of my system, I thought. I felt so much lighter, like a clear, blue sky after an earth-shattering, body-shaking Wisconsin thunderstorm. I can’t imagine anything else being in there. Maybe I can move ahead with my life now.
Ha! Grief doesn’t work quite that way. It came back. And then came back again. And then again.
At least I had my palm trees. I’m very possessive of them, as you can see.
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