We rarely travel at Christmas time. The last time, in fact, was three years ago, pre-COVID. This year, our family of six will make two brief trips; one to spend time with family, and one to relax in the sun with dear friends. The pandemic took away our less-than-regular visits with family. We lost a trip to see my brother in Indonesia, and a Christmas with Luis’s family in Mexico. This year is an extravagance. I’ve actually held anticipation at arm’s length, mulling on what I’ll do if I need to stay home, watch the dogs, tend to house chores. I’m prepared.
I sit in my green arm chair. The office is semi-festive with candles lit. There are three poinsettias beautifully adorning the cedar bench.
I can see her smile, giddy and anticipatory, through our brief text check-ins. We are finally on the road. I stretch my legs in the front seat. Snow falls in thick clumps as we drive. Portland is a short, three-hour drive, but with snow falling, who knows how long it will take us to navigate the traffic collecting amidst the large flakes? I don’t care. I love snow.
Every year for the past 40 years I have hoped for snow on Christmas.
If you’re counting, I’ve been waiting for snow since my first Christmas.
I just finished my first semester of graduate school, and we are due for some rest and relaxation. Money is tight, but that’s typical. In fact, we used a gift of some cash from other family to buy presents for the kids and my dear Portland friend. Luis and I don’t need presents. Gifts are presence, driving, stressing over schedules. They are also good food we’ll enjoy. All of this will be enough. And there are extras for my husband and kids, but I’ve kept those surprises to myself.
Our children have long had a tradition of making homemade presents and recycling toys, clothes and art projects into creative combo new presents and fancy wall decorations. I even let my daughter paint a nativity scene on our dining room wall. So, our car is packed with wrapped gifts for one another and our host….
A knock at the office door startles me. Luis and I fought wildly through angry texts and silence this morning. Did all of that just happen? I question. I stretch sore, achy muscles complaining about the COVID booster shot from Wednesday. Cracking the door, I find my husband with coffee in hand, and two pastries.
“Ahhh….” My sigh is noisy. He looks distraught, apologetic. I’d just texted the same friend in Portland about how I’m at my wits’ end with navigating the pandemic, and with more related relational dynamics. These dynamics started long before COVID, but we didn’t have the time or money to seriously address them, or so I told myself. Therapy is expensive. Time is consumed by working in order to eat.
And revelations continue, following the beginning of having enough funds to pay our mortgage and buy food, which tell both of us those times weren’t all “full bellies, electricity, and a roof over our heads was enough.” It wasn’t. To be honest, our bellies weren’t always full and the electric bill is just getting caught up. The mortgage needed extra help from family, then COVID relief to set it straight, too. December 2021 will mark the first time in a decade those expenses will be paid as they should be.
He says, “I’m sorry I was defensive. I don’t want to fight.”
Can I take back my stubborn “I’m done negotiating this” feelings?
I do. And, I don’t.
Christmas passes with the fireplace burning hot, as hot as we wanted. With plenty of firewood, we keep it roaring, enjoying the smells of wood burning, in toasty pajamas. The puzzle on the coffee table is center-stage. We each work on edges, or corners, between eating and napping. I don’t know why I am so tired…
The entirety of COVID started before I knew it, and continued past when I had fixed my mind to endure it. It still hasn’t ended. It’s as if the pandemic gave me words to describe the way my partner and I are trying to turn the corner against our own deadly trauma responses, carefully laid defenses contra-love, and other random shit threatening to undo us. It’s a pandemic cocktail which led us here.
I reply, “I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry for my stubborn attitude.”
We try an awkward hug. Our romance hasn’t sunk into an abyss. Love is slowly kindled by genuine regard, sweet and awkward hugs that linger after nearly 20 years together. We were married in a rush of romance, bonding over soccer, playing cards into the early hours of the morning. This romance endures, both because of our stubbornness and in spite of it. We know better how to return to one another—to love more specifically the quirks and beauty.
I love you, Luis. —Danielle
Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identity, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Levels 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and the Externship. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.