December 18, 2012

My Christmas last year was pretty awful. ~ Thandiwe Ogbonna

Photo: Noah Coffey

The holidays aren’t always happy.

I won’t lie; my Christmas last year was pretty awful.

I spent the day alone, minus the company of my newly adopted kitten, Bella. I ate a dinner of asparagus and garlic potatoes (I was trying to be vegetarian). I watched Christmas movies that only made me sadder that I was alone. I awoke in the middle of the night to a gut-wrenching pain in my belly that had me in and out of the bathroom for hours. I assume it was an ulcer (I say assume because I didn’t—and still don’t—have health insurance, so I never went to a doctor).

You might be asking, “Why didn’t you just spend it with family or friends—someone, anyone?” Well, it was my first Christmas away from home. My mom had recently moved to Colorado to join the majority of my family (I was going to school in Virginia—where we’d lived—at the time), and my father had moved back to Nigeria, his homeland, years before. I didn’t have the money for a plane ticket to either place, so being with family just wasn’t possible.

What about friends? I had this idea in my mind that I didn’t want to intrude on anyone else’s Christmas. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t going to be with their own family, and I didn’t want to be the sad sucker who was tagging along on someone else’s holiday. I thought, if anything, it would just make me miss my family even more.

So, I suffered through the holiday, trying to convince myself that I was okay—telling my mom that I was okay—when really I wasn’t. I have a hard time admitting my pain to others and I didn’t want her to worry, which I knew she would. I also didn’t want pity, which I can sometimes confuse with genuine concern, and having someone feel bad for me often unleashes a flood of tears that I just couldn’t handle. (I’m the one who’s supposed to feel bad for others, not the other way around.)

This year, I still can’t afford to go home. In October, I moved to Florida with my boyfriend to be with him while he attends school (not something I’d ever have thought of myself doing, and yet, here I am). Finding a job has been rough, and I’m still unemployed, so my mom’s been helping me out financially. She wanted to buy me a plane ticket, but with how much she’s already been doing for me, I didn’t feel right letting her do it (it’s not like she’s rolling in the dough). I don’t have a car, so driving is out of the question, and besides, I’ve got no money for gas.

So, I’ll be going back to Virginia to spend the holiday with my boyfriend’s family. It won’t be the same as being with my own, but it’s certainly better than being alone. His parents have been nothing but welcoming; they even helped me with my part of the move. I still worry about being the odd-man-out and intruding on their holiday, but I know my worry is rooted in my own fear of rejection and isn’t grounded in reality. They’ve been asking about what kind of gifts to get me, which makes me a little sad because I feel I can’t offer anything in return.

But, through all the have-nots and can’ts, I am grateful.

I am grateful for my mother’s love that stretches across the country, that finds me wherever I am, that allows me to be myself and supports me in my endeavors. She has been there for me my whole life, and always knows how to cheer me up when I’m feeling down on myself or lonely.

I am grateful for my boyfriend and his family and all the ways they’ve helped me through this time of transition, as I attempt to become a better, more-fulfilled person.

I am grateful for my friends, who remind me that struggle is just a part of life and there’s always something good on the horizon.

I am grateful for my (now two) cats. They make me smile, laugh, and remind me that I’m needed and blessed.

I am grateful for all the ways I’ve grown and all the things I’ve gained since my move:

  1. The knowledge that my past, exactly as it is, has helped make me the person I am today, both good and bad.
  2. The realization that I am responsible for changing my circumstances. They don’t make me; I accept and work around them.
  3. The strength to stop letting the things I don’t have and the ways I feel I’ve been slighted keep me from using the gifts I do have to improve my life.
  4. The belief that I am a person of worth who has something beautiful to offer this world, regardless of my employment status.
  5. The will to cultivate my inner light.

This season, if you have the opportunity to be with your family, don’t take it for granted. If you can’t, spend it with a friend or help out at a nearby shelter. Even though my holiday (or my life) may not be exactly the way I pictured it, I now understand that things will only get better if I work at them—in the same sense that when we hike a mountain, though we may at points find ourselves on a decline, we are not going backward, we are progressing toward a peak, a breathtaking view, a moment of enlightenment.


An aspiring hoop dancer who dreams of flying, Thandiwe Ogbonna is a recently graduated, sometimes aggravated, partially animated and fully fascinated editor, who timidly ventures into the minefield of writing. You can read her blog at m2the4th.blogspot.com or email her at [email protected].




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