Afterthought

A motley of Yule paper promises lay rent in revelation, a fraction of their former wrapped dignity preserved by the stubbornness of iridescent bows that remained dutifully attached. My family lounged content as cats, their desires full from their holiday haul (a fullness their bellies were soon to replicate), while the aesthete in me cringed at the plight of the mutilated wrapping papers, torn to shreds as if by a school of piranhas. As I lamented the long hours spent in the perfection of pretty presentation, I wondered, “Is it worth it?”

In terms of The Five Love Languages (a book that analyzes five principal ways in which humans feel loved: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch), receiving gifts is the omega of my amore alphabet. Not since childhood days of an enchanted squirrel treehouse, toy typewriters and chemistry sets, and an ugly but perfect doll who had the dual honor of being my best friend and a karate black belt (so said my father’s best friend), has my heart thrilled to receive gifts. There is not much in the material that I want. And yet, I love to give gifts. As one inept at the verbal expression of her emotion, I allow time spent matchmaking gift to recipient to communicate my affections.

I basked in the cheer of delighted chattering and happy faces exploring their new bits and gadgets, until my mood dimmed upon inspection of my markedly smaller pile. There was nothing in my pile that was “me.” A puerile bracelet, strung in “look at me!” neon blue beads; save for my sports watch, I seldom wear jewelry (and neutrals are my default). A small, glass owl knickknack; originated from my weekly chore of individually dusting my grandmother’s hundreds of what-nots, my house remains knickknack free. A two-foot tower of sweet popcorns and chocolates and pretzels and nuts; I seldom eat sweets. And yet, I had laughed and smiled and purred in excess gratitude for each gift that I opened.

I fear that I seem ungrateful, still I must press on and state my revelation—in terms of Christmas gifts, I was an afterthought to my family. The reasons may be many, the principal being that I am a person of stripped-down interests; I read, I walk, I daydream. And yet, when asked what I would like, I provided easy and affordable options; pretty pens and pencils and stickers, gift cards to buy books, and I adore scented candles. I received none of those things. Of course, I can buy those small items for myself; the issue is not the thing, the issue is the thought, the thoughtlessness.

I reflect on the time and care that I spent in selecting my family’s gifts, in wrapping their presents à la Martha Stewart precision, and then the true horror strikes—the problem is not that I am an afterthought to my family, the problem is that I am an afterthought to myself! I rewind the years and see how, time and again, I abandon myself for the most trivial justifications. Christmas is but a convenient, annual excuse in which to escape from myself. I am not the self-sacrificing sort who lives to please others. No, I abandon myself because it is easy and familiar to inhabit this unassuming and extravagantly benevolent role. Were I to be here for myself, to truly commit to my interests and desires, who would I be? It is that unknowing that is my terror.

Here I sit, on New Year’s Day 2016, a survivor of the 2015 holiday season, in the realization that I have made of myself an afterthought. Yet, I am not lost in punishing rumination; I am not even sad. I occupy the power of my realization. If I am the author of this story, myself cast as a dispensable background character, then it is I who may rewrite this story—Prim as protagonist, the heroine’s journey unbolted before her.

Cheers and luck to all of you heroines and heroes in your 2016 journeys!

Photography:
The forgotten one” by Niko Notibär is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.