The 13th full moon of the year, in the last week of the year, only comes along every 27 years. When you reach middle age, and numbers like that are tossed around – you wonder, will I be here when the next one rolls around? Hopefully. Paging through my alumni magazine, I saw a classmate had died – last year. I can still see him, in his food service uniform – just like mine – and now he’s gone. It makes you pause and remember that nothing is guaranteed.
These nights have been reminiscent of the cold winters of my childhood, where snow covered the landscape, developing a hard crunchy crust and glistening in the moonlight. One night, a large full moon rose, shining the brightest light through the trees. My mother thought there were poachers on the property, and it forever became known as a “Poacher’s Moon”, light so bright that in tandem with the snow, you could read a newspaper at midnight.
Late, late at night, I would put on my coat and boots and go out to sit in my dog Oscar’s kennel, and cry. He would lean against me, licking away tears. Sometimes I just walked, under that poacher’s moon, each step breaking through the surface into the powder below. I push those memories down, leave them in the past. We all have our own rows and baggage.
But it is not unfamiliar. This time of year is always challenging. Sunlight is fleeting, the nights are long and cold, and the memories of holidays and the people we love come rushing back. For years, we only celebrated Christmas in a festive way every other year – my father hated the month of December, as he grappled with the pain of losing his mother. I would decorate the ficus benjamina with paper garland and strung popcorn in his years. No tree allowed. In my mother’s years, boy howdy, we had magnificent trees, trees that had been planted and grown over the years on the farm, acres of ribbon, twinkly white lights, everything coordinated. There was the same routine every Christmas Eve – no presents until every dish was washed, order restored, and then my father would still say, “Aw hell, let’s just celebrate Christmas tomorrow!” just to hear me wail my dissent.
Then came the contentious years, and more often reasons found to stay away, and then one last Christmas where we had a battle of Epic Proportions. That was the final Christmas we were all together. They divorced a couple years after that, and I just learned to deplete my expectations. Of course, we never really do that, fully – we still hope, we wish, we want to believe that people won’t disappoint us, that they’ll follow through, they’ll treat you with kindness, they will have the wherewithal to set aside their own demons to give you what you believe you need. We give lip service to the words, “no, it’s ok, I understand, not a problem,” while inside we hope it might be different. But each year, I find myself in a situation or a memory and the tears fall with no restraint. Always relegated to the outside looking in. It’s ok, really, it’s where I’ve always been. And as I pointed out to someone online, who voiced a similar pain, if you’re outside, and I’m outside, well, that means we’re together. So I know I’m not alone. Rarely is one unique in one’s woes, pains or fears.
Oh dad. I’m living your legacy, it seems. Every December winds down with sadness and missing you. It is, indeed, a cold cold moon. I look forward to January, and the proverbial fresh start. Each year I try to invest less in people who don’t reciprocate the effort, and I believe in the tenet “Go where you are celebrated.” Each year I recognize what I do have, what is good and healthy and positive in my life. But in the moonlight, December’s darkness, sharp air entering my lungs, I still feel every winter’s heartache.