I tend to crumble this time of year.
I love Christmas. I love the magic in the air, the love and presence of family and good friends. I love the sight of a Christmas tree glittering in a darkened room. I love the look on people's faces when they open the gifts I've gotten them. I love the snow, I love the music, I love the food. I love it all.
But Christmas is also the last time I saw my family.
The excitement for Christmas tends to come early. By the time mid-December rolls around, the excitement gives way to a conditioned dread. Some years I recognise it for what it is. Other years I can't understand why I have suddenly become so miserable.
This will by my 5th Christmas without them, as we approach the six-year anniversary.
I remember the first Christmas. I was so intent on having a nice holiday with my loved ones, but by the time the week itself arrived, I fell into a dark numbness. After ages of insisting that we still practice our Christmas traditions, I bailed completely. It was too soon. I could not face it. I sat quietly with my eyes shut, counting the minutes, desperate for the day to pass. I tried desperately to pretend it was any day except that day.
I remember the emptiness of the dinner table. A family halved. Three quiet survivors and a mass of food waiting for consumption. I remember the toast. I remember that I had held myself together quite well, until the toast. With my glass lifted in the air, I shattered.
They have gotten steadily better since then, and our last few Christmases have been some of the best of my life.
But the emptiness is always there. Those three empty chairs are always conspicuous. The relative quiet is a reverberating shout.
My Christmases are haunted by ghosts.