Christmas With Me / Without You

The night is dark, the air is cold, but my body stays warm wrapped in thick pyjamas and a blanket. I enjoy the quiet of this time – it’s peaceful. Despite this, I can’t help but find myself being more lonely at this time of the year.
I get out of bed to make my way to the kitchen, my blanket still wrapped around me, slightly dragging on the floor. I open the fridge door and let the artificial light shine over my face. It fills me with nothing, just as this small amount of food would do. I close it without taking anything to eat, just a few cans of beer, and make my way back to my bed before it loses too much of the body heat that was residing within. Comfortably, I lay down facing the ceiling, holding my beer can above my head.
“You know there’s more you could be doing, right?” a young voice uttered from across the room. Bewildered and surprised at the company of someone else, I turn to find an oddly familiar face looking back at me. “What would she think if she saw what you’d become?”
I look back to the can above me. “She’d think this was exactly what I was destined to become,” I bitterly reply before sitting up to indulge in my drink.
“That’s a lie,” the eleven year old opposite me barks. “She thought the world of you – you know that.”
“Sure. I know that at your age my nan believed I was going to become something great. But when you grow up to become this, you’ll eventually realise that, though she still loves you unconditionally, there’s always disappointment sitting at the back of her throat, muttering into everything she says.”
The small ghost of my younger self said nothing, and when I finally looked back to her, she was gone.

Living alone and seeing friends few and far between, I’ve lead myself to become something I’ve never quite liked: a bitter adult with an issue of self-loathing that shows itself through sarcasm and cynicism.
“Y’know, it’s a typical trait of someone with small self-worth to take out their self-loathing on others,” another recognisable voice says from the doorway of my living room. “It makes them feel more comfortable with their own shortcomings when they think they’ve brought someone else to their level.”
I close the laptop sat in front of me; clearly I’m not going to get any work done right now. “Who died and made you a philosopher?” I ask, sarcastically as ever.
She looks back at me with a vaguely smug, but mostly bothered look. “You did.”
I can’t help but roll my eyes intensely. “No, nimrod. I’m still alive – my nan’s the one who’s gone. Besides, the question was rhetorical; no one made you philosopher but yourself – at fifteen I went through a stage of thinking I was smarter than most others because I looked into things that we didn’t study in school. Newsflash, you’ll realise in a year that researching mental health disorders and the outlooks of Nietzsche doesn’t make you a smarty-pants.”
The younger me walks over and drops into the space next to me. “Good to know I’m not an ass, yet.”
I chuckle without looking towards her, before repeating, “Yet.” We both smile for a moment as I realise what oddly enjoyable company I’m bringing myself.
Yet again, with no notice, she was gone.

Two weeks passed with no sign of my former selves showing up. There was a handful of days between the first couple, and a week later another arrived – but nothing since. The air was colder, and my wallet tighter. No heating this week, I think as I try to budget myself for the remainder of the Christmas holidays. I guess it’s another week of wearing my Chewbacca onesie 100% of the time I’m home, giving me no time to wash it. Shouldn’t matter too much – it’s not like I have anyone to impress.
I check the voicemail left on my phone and let it play on loudspeaker as I make myself a hot chocolate.
    “One new message, at 4:18 PM,” the voicemail robotic voice announces.
    “Hi sweetie,” my mum’s voice trills through the mobile speakers. “Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. I’ve been thinking about Christmas plans and what to do this year. I know we agreed on no presents, and that’s still fine by us, but what are your plans for the day? I was thinking, since we’re…” her voice slowed down, not entirely trailing off, but clearly building to something she doesn’t want to talk about. “Obviously not going to nana’s this year,” she continues, “but I thought it would be good for us all to still spend it together. Your dad and I have recently found that pushing the sofas together makes a HUGE bed fort for us to snuggle up in, so we thought it’d be nice to us to do that on the day and just relax together. What’d’ya say?” The dawning reality came back to me, as it does each time I’m reminded of the day. “Call me back later, sweetie. Hope you’re alright. Love you!” She send the message off with her classic three goodbyes, before the robotic voice notifies me I have no more messages.
The almond milk boils in the pot, bringing my reaction back to reality. I add the chocolate powder and stir it in. Smells delicious.

As I climb into bed, hot chocolate in hand, I bring my mum’s name up on my phone and call her back. I look up as she answers and see my mirror reflecting myself from across the room.
Hi sweetie, how was work?” she asks from the other end. I tell her it was fine, my eyes still on myself. “That’s good to hear. Did you get my message?” I give a small yes, clear my throat, and tell her the plan for Christmas sounds perfect. “Oh, that’s great! I know it’s going to be hard without her – believe me, it’s been difficult our end, too.”
“I don’t doubt that for a second, mum. I know this is tougher on you than me.”
Aw, that’s sweet of you, kiddo. We’re getting through it, like I imagine you are. Though it’ll be weird not visiting her this year, I want us all to still find some joy in this holiday, together.”
I take a long, enjoyable sip from my mug, before looking myself in the eye again. “Yeah,” I chime, “I’m sure this’ll be great.”
Looking back at me, sat right beside me, is the ghost of my younger self. She holds the face of innocence and the eyes of knowledge. She smiles at me, comfortingly, before her face falls to a stare, and I wonder if she’s here to stay.

 

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