Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.
Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.
Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday. For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.
Part I • Part II
…and after all this fun and games I sort of broke.
Living with an invisible chronic illness that limits your energy means that there are limits to your energy. (In)conveniently, I never remember that until the red lamp is not even blinking in a warning, but is the only part of my body and mind that remains functioning. I can’t rest in advance and I can’t just “push myself”, I know it never ends well when I try, that I must take a break. I even know the definition of insanity. I always do the same thing. I am yet to gain any benefits from that.
Surprisingly, this time was not an exception. I pushed and pushed until I reached the absolute, unbreakable limit, then broke it too. That was it for my participation in the move, as I became a near-literal deadweight. Husby took care of the rest whilst I was plopped on our new sofa, staring melancholically at the garden outside our window. But I did get an unexpected benefit. A magical one.
I kind of lost track of chronology due to sheer exhaustion, so this instalment won’t be neatly divided into days of the week.
My dear friend G arrived on Saturday and ensured that I will remain grateful forever by offering to paint ceilings. My spine makes various things impossible – painting ceilings is one of those things. So I spent the first few hours tearing off the remaining wallpaper in the living room. Finishing the task coincided with G and Husby beginning to sand various parts of the room, which created so much noise that I ran upstairs and made sure not to get any rest anytime soon. Some wallpaper there was coming off, so I grabbed a corner, thinking about nothing in particular, and pulled at it.
Old Vumman, as it soon transpired, had three hobbies. One was placing motivational texts along the lines of “If you dribble when you piddle, be a sweetie and wipe the seetie” (yes, SEETIE) everywhere. Those are gone by now. Another was putting nails in every wall, at random spots and random angles. Those are mostly gone. The third hobby, however, was wallpapering. The living room had one layer. The gym room and my future office had six. Using the steamer helped only partly, because the last layer was something between plastic and paper, just thick enough to refuse to come off, and just paper-y enough to tear off some of the wall, which is made of something that may or may not be cardboard. If I had known, I wouldn’t have pulled at that corner, just tried to glue it and told myself that I adore Old Vumman’s wallpaper choices… but… well. See the picture above to get an idea how far I got after two days of doing this. Layer four was actually quite pretty, looking as if some graffiti artists came over, sprayed paint in the air, then sneezed (many times), but all of the many wallpapers formed a semi-whole that would neither come off all at once nor one layer after the other.