My family fakes it. This fake feeling is usually what drives me into hiding during holidays. I’d rather read than think of what to say and the tone in which to say it. I flinch at too-tight hugs from my mom. I smile awkwardly because I don’t know what else to do while my sister confidently assumes her hand-on-hip, head cocked a little too far to the right signature camera pose. My parents’ home is picturesque, so damn inviting though it rarely invites anyone inside. I blame the fireplace for luring me in. And the garland of twinkle lights on the mantle. I even blame the tables and the cupboards full of food. And I blame myself for my own hunger and the emptiness of knowing I’ll be seven hours instead of seven minutes away from my mom with her too-tight hugs and foot rubs and the way she covers me with an extra blanket, seven hours from my dad rolling his fists to the music and sliding in his socks while unloading the dishwasher. I’ll be seven hours away from my beautiful sister, her fieriness, her laughter, her “let me paint your nails”, her ironic little-sister ways of sticking up for me. So this Christmas I pretended that the other kind of distance hadn’t seeped in years ago, and I gorged myself on mashed potatoes and memories and moments. I will miss my family. I will miss my church. I will miss my Memorial. I will miss my friends.
My favorite moments during mass are when the priest says “Peace be with you” and when the choir gets a wild hair to sing the bluesy version of “Alleluia, Give the Glory” and I close my eyes and pretend I’m a member of a Baptist church in the Deep South. In all seriousness, I savor the blessing of peace. I love the way “peace” finds its way into my Catholic friends’ salutations whether the occasion is happy or sad. Not every day was peaceful at Memorial High School, but ultimately, I am taking peace with me. I’ve chosen peace as my word for 2012 in hopes that I don’t unpack Depression as I unpack boxes labeled Melissa’s Books and Winter Coats and Kitchen Supplies.
I did not pray without ceasing in 2011. I did not find peace in all circumstances. I held grudges. I hated. I sobbed. But somewhere in between getting handed an enormous glass of my favorite moscato while dancing in the kitchen and snuggling into old quilts in the cabin, I realized I had people. Real people. And these people who have always celebrated with me in the form of Taco Tuesdays, two-year-olds’ birthdays, fishing trips, autumn, or first days of summer are friends who transcend time and distance and who will find more reasons to celebrate. So I woke up. I woke up to 2012 and lingered over love and breakfast and three cups of coffee and decided peace.
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I knew God provided this house for us. We wrote a check for the deposit and decided to eat at Longhorn, our favorite, though our bank account was practically drained. We were celebrating. And with my mouth full of salad, I looked up at Josh and said, “We have got to pray.” And he looked back at me, put down his fork, put his hands in my hands and his forehead on my forehead, and we thanked the Lord until our steaks were cold. The house is beautiful, sturdy, warm, and so clean. While I’m not fond of the retro mint green and black bathroom, I adore the finished attic. When we walked upstairs, my eyes lit up as brightly as when I had seen the beautiful shops, cafes, and cathedrals of Galena which is merely twenty minutes away.
Virginia Woolf insisted that in order to write, a woman needs money and a room of her own. I agree with her. The problem is that if I stop teaching, I don’t have money. I don’t feel excited about interviewing for a new teaching job. I feel excited about a room of my own, the one God knew I needed for writing, for worship, for dreaming, for refuge. I offer my blank-canvas future to Him, waiting for the divine and inspired splashes of color as I fill my attic with art and listen to the whisper, “Peace be with you.”