12 Epiphanies

iv. Loneliness is part of the human experience.

When Kate woke, she felt a stitch in her heart, in that scarred part that had torn when her dad died. She thought it must have a fissure in it, that hadn’t properly sealed, because when the weather was cold, it still hurt.

She missed her boyfriend. He was out at the far station, so his Internet access and cellphone coverage were spotty at best. He might be out there for weeks.

She missed her mom.

She wasn’t supposed to be alone at this time of year. Was this loneliness? Was that what this feeling was?

Kate pulled on her winter fleece and fisherman’s knit hat. The apartment building’s furnace had been wheezing lately, and though the landlord kept promising to fix it before the cold set in for good, it hadn’t been fixed yet, and her place was cold, especially near the single-pane windows.

What was loneliness, anyway?

She decided to google it.

It was, apparently, quite common, and quite commonly perceived as a fault.

Every self-help article she read made it seem like she was to blame. She should spend time with family. She should get together with friends. She should volunteer. She should engage in a hobby. She should exercise. And if she did all that, and still felt lonely, then she should get it checked out. Maybe it was anxiety. Or depression. Or some sort of social disorder.

She began to suspect that she wasn’t correctly handling the job of being human. So now, in addition to feeling lonely, she felt guilty, and a little bit ashamed.

Turn toward.

And then she found a post on facebook from last Christmas by Lee Harris, the Lee Harris, guru-and-all-that, about “Christmas Weirdness.” Which he felt. And which, judging from the 3.5K likes, 1.6K shares, and 682 comments, struck a chord with thousands.

And he confessed to feeling this way even when he was with others. And it wasn’t his fault. It was simply how he felt. For whatever reason.

The big shift came for me several years back, when I realized I should just EMBRACE that ‘weird’ feeling if it hit me. Not judge it, or try to get away from it. Just acknowledge it was there, and own it. Either sit with it for a while, breathe and let it move through me, or change my focus and do something else.

(Harris 2017)

Turn towards.

The feeling hurt, actual physical pain, around her heart. And her pulse began to race a little bit, and she wished she could cry to release the pressure somehow.

She felt it, sitting there in her chest, the cold having entered her and settled. She breathed around it, without trying specifically to talk herself out of feeling it or to distract herself from the pain and discomfort. She just sat with it. So this is what loneliness feels like, at this moment.

And the next moment, it felt different, a bit lighter, a little space around it.

…close your eyes and connect with anyone else who feels lonely this christmas. 

(Harris 2017)

She saw her mom, walking barefoot along the beach, thinking of her, thinking of Kate’s dad, and, even though her new husband grilled steaks on the lanai, she felt that her mom, too, felt lonely, just then.

She saw her boyfriend, analyzing trends that his measurements revealed. He missed her, too. He was lonely, too.

A girl in London played with a doll in a cardboard-box dollhouse, and, at that moment, the doll was lonely, taking the girl’s pain. A lonely boy in India sat beside the river. In Africa, an old woman watched a single cloud’s slow progress against the dry sky.

And Kate, through the fading ache inside of her, felt connected with them all, joined in this shared experience. Even as the pain dissolved into warmth, Kate thought it wouldn’t be so bad if it remained, for it joined her with everyone who lived, and everyone who had ever lived.

Loneliness didn’t mean that Kate wasn’t being human right. It meant that she was fully human, for loneliness is part of the human experience.

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12 Epiphanies

iii. Moments aren’t repeatable.

The next day, at the end of her jog along the wharf, Kate stopped at the square. Another musician played, and she anticipated experiencing transcendence again.

She’d woken up happy, hopeful that, even if painful emotions arose, she could face them, “turn towards” them, and then it would be OK. Maybe she would even get through the Christmas season and the week after, before New Years.

She drank deeply from her runner’s high, relishing the tickle of sweat thick with dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, down the small of her back. She was primed for a repeat of yesterday’s performance.

But this violinist presented an entirely different experience.

The tones his instrument produced were choked, strangled, stretched tight until they veered off the harmonic and into unsettling dissonance.

He didn’t turn towards; he turned away, and Kate had to pace the courtyard to try to find that sense of peace again.

They’d strung up lights in the courtyard–pink, this year, for some reason. Pink was the new white. When she’d been a child, her father brought her to the city for a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and afterwards, they came to this very courtyard where a 30-foot Douglas fir stood, strung with white lights and thousands and thousands of paper cranes.

“You see, Kate,” said her father, “it’s a peace tree. Even at Christmas, which to you is all about candy, fancy dances, sugar-plum trees, and gifts, we think of peace. That’s all it is, really, though to you, it is all about excitement.”

There was no tree in the courtyard this year, and the lights were pink, and the fallen leaves still dotted the cement, and the violinist grimaced and screeched out soured tunes, and it was nothing like it had been when she was a child, or even yesterday, when she had tasted the peace of the clouds, the wind, and all-that-is.

But maybe, it was OK, for it was a moment, too, even if a moment unlike others, and even if it was filled with noise. It was filled with something else, too, though Kate, on that morning, could not identify what that something-else was, a something that was both familiar and foreign simultaneously.

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12 Epiphanies

ii. It has something to do with music.

Kate looked out her window at the wide city, its streets lined with tenements, inside of which, she imagined, stood solitary people, like her, gazing out their windows onto the long avenues.

Maybe this was an entire city of solitaries, isolated in that way peculiar to the 21st Century.

If so, was it a city, then, without Christmas?

It appeared to be. The leaves were late-falling this year–climate change, no doubt–and they speckled the square with orange and red.

The loft-house on the bay, a converted cannery, usually decked with wreaths, lights, and a two-story tree before its tall windows, squatted nude on the corner without trace of festivity.

Kate watched the cars trail across the bridge and imagined families heading someplace more cheerful, someplace where Christmas resided, the mountains, maybe, though they had yet to receive winter snowfall.

She thought of her mom in Hawaii, her boyfriend in Antarctica, studying receding ice. All who remained, here in the city, were pretending or forlorn.

Down in the courtyard square, a musician played a violin, without an audience.

Kate wondered how the music sounded, with no one but the musician to hear. She could listen, at least, and then the tones traveling through the air would have something to receive them, something to quiver in return.

The violinist gave herself over to the carols she played, improvising complex variations and interweaving a dozen tunes into a single fabric of sound. She seemed not to care if she played for herself or for an audience, for it was clear she played for the music.

Kate didn’t feel alone, at that moment. She felt… she wasn’t sure what she felt. Something opened inside of her, and she felt her five-year grief for her father, her missing-her-boyfriend, her annoyance at her mom, and she felt… what was it? Happiness. Excitement. A little joy, even. She felt all of this, and all of it was carried on the interwoven carols, played by a solitary woman on a single violin.

“That was incredible,” she told the violinist when, at last, she set down her instrument and smiled quietly towards Kate.

“Do you have tears in your eyes?” the woman asked.

“I–yes,” said Kate. “I don’t know why. I’m just…. It’s so much.”

“Oh, was it the music, then?” the violinist asked. “It has that effect sometimes. I’m not sorry, though maybe I should be, but I’m not, for it’s what it’s for, after all.”

“How do you do it?” asked Kate, who had never been moved that profoundly by music before, and who still, even in that moment, felt bare in her vulnerability before the woman whose engagement had stirred her so.

“Through turning towards,” she said.

“Turning towards? Towards what?”

“Whatever is there,” replied the woman. “It hurts worse when you turn away, you see. But when you turn towards, everything softens. And that’s where music is made.”

She began to play again, and Kate looked up at the great sky, spotted with clouds that had blown in while they had talked, clouds that threatened rain on a wind that brought whispers of frost from the north. Even if it were late, winter would come, was on its way right then. And Kate turned towards it. The wind, the clouds, the spotted sun, the speckled leaves, the haunting notes of a lullaby for a child who grew into a man who knew only to turn towards, towards it all, the solitude, the companionship, the betrayal and forsakenness, and a man who had met this all with the open heart of being human. Kate closed her eyes to the music, and she wasn’t alone anymore.

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12 Epiphanies

i. Christmas isn’t about family.

Kate’s boyfriend was in Antarctica studying ice.  He couldn’t make it back in time for Christmas, and she couldn’t travel there.

That left her mom and her mom’s husband.

“Oh, honey,” Kate’s mom said when she called. “Steve and I are going to Hawaii for the holidays. I’m sure we’d love to have you come along. We could set up a cot on the lanai.”

That was all right. Kate didn’t want to impose on her mom and her mom’s husband’s time in paradise, and, besides, she didn’t really like her mom’s husband, or even, if she were completely honest, her mom when her mom was with her husband. Kate missed her dad.

It never felt like Christmas without him, and it had been five years since he’d died. That made five years with no real Christmases, and it felt like this would be another, bereft of the holiday spirit.

Kate had two full weeks off. The university where she worked as assistant to the dean of students closed over the holidays, and she, like all the other classified employees, received time-off with pay. It made everyone cheerful.

Except she didn’t know what she would do with herself.

City Life Network aired a “Zombie Holiday Marathon,” complete with a zombie boy-band singing Christmas carols. If Josh were there, they’d fix buttered popcorn and spend the night cracking jokes and singing along while pretending their arms fell off and their heads twerked.

It wasn’t funny without him.

Another network showed old crime movies that had nothing to do with Christmas.

Kate didn’t know what was better and what was worse: Pretend that Christmas didn’t exist or try to celebrate it anyway, without Josh, without her mom, without her dad.

At any rate, she had two weeks off, two weeks to do what she wanted.

In her dingy apartment, in a crowded city, alone. For Christmas.

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A Box of Christmas Books

homecoming01

In the winters of my childhood, the holiday season began when my mother carried down the box of Christmas stories. We had scores of picture books, hardbound anthologies, and magazine clippings. It’s funny–I don’t recall our ever having purchased any new Christmas books. As the youngest child, I grew into a holiday library already established. The hours after school or on a rainy Saturday afternoon in December were spent with these books, who became close seasonal friends. December evenings, I snuggled beside my dad on the couch as he read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. When I read the novel to myself now, I still hear it in my dad’s voice, though he left this earth 16 years ago this month.

This year, I thought it might be fun to share seasonal stories from this anthology. Maybe you’ve read them before; maybe they’re new to you! At any rate, I hope you enjoy a few yuletide stories from the past few years! And when you’re ready for more, please take a look at the index on the EA Sims Forums, where you can find past December entries from the Short Story Contest and submissions by other SimLit writers!

Happy reading! Solstice Greetings! And peace and love and the warmth of a good story to you!

Holiday Stories from CT’s SimLit Anthology

From December 2016

Coming Home

Something for Dr. J from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2015

One Night, from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2014

Plum Day Celebration – From A Houseful Of Hippies
Let’s Celebrate… What?
Don’t Know Much
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Plum!
Gnome Kickers and Home Wreckers
What Does Plum Stand For?
Fangirl
Black and White and Boring All Over
Departures/Arrivals
IncogNunley
Touching Ground and Scaling Heights
Friends Become Family
Another Day, Another Plum
Can you add plum to garden salad?
Sentimentality
Sweet Plums Roasting on an Open Fire
Green Plums and Plum Blossoms
That’s Plum, You Genius!
Dr. Jasmine’s Guest Book
Reflections on a Bowl of Plum

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Coming Home 4

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Cinnamon brought her coffee and a dog-eared copy of Persuasion down to the basement where her grandchildren played.

Tomas had laid claim to Thalassa’s old red Ferrari.

“Drive like this,” he said, “up hills, down the ways, over the valley, round the curve. Don’t worry. You can’t crash because Master-Supremo-Driver-of-the-Year is behind the wheel! Together, we win!”

Marshmallow found Stellar’s pony, dragon, and princess doll.

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“This is a friendly dragon,” she said. “You can tell because he’s got tiny wings and a little grin. You’re friendly, aren’t you, fella? He lives in the back with the swamp buckets, don’t you, Bug Puff?”

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Cinnamon pretended to read while the children played.

“Do you like this house, Princess Spirulina?” Marshmallow asked the doll. “It’s huge, isn’t it? And everything is clean and it smells nice and it’s very warm, isn’t it? But don’t get too attached. You never know when there might be a new assignment and you and the pony and Dragon Bug Puff will have to move. But it will be OK. Because even if you move to some place crowded and smelly, and even if there’s no water and not much food and you have to pee in a bush, and everybody is standing around looking sad, it will be OK because you will all be together. And besides. You’re strong.”

“But I don’t want to leave,” said Princess Spirulina in a very high and sweet voice. “I want to stay here forever and always.”

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Jacques stopped by to see if Cinnamon needed anything from the store on the mainland, for he was heading in to do some shopping the next day, and he ended up staying the afternoon to play with the children.

“Your house never used to be so messy,” Jacques said. “You’ve got toys laying everywhere!”

“That’s because before you were the only one playing with the action figures,” laughed Cinnamon. “Now you’ve got to share! That’s what you’re really complaining about, isn’t it?”

“We’re good at sharing, aren’t we?” said Thalassa.

“I am not so good at sharing,” said Marshmallow. “I only pretend to be when people are looking. But when I’m by myself, everything is mine, mine, mine!” She laughed and Cinnamon had to join in with her.

“Well, as long as you’re honest with yourself!” she said.

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The children talked all through the evening meal. Tomas told the entire plot of a movie he watched before supper, where a mouse went to space and founded a colony until they discovered that the planet they lived on was made of cheese, and then he ate it, and they all fell into the sea. “But it was OK for there was a friendly sea monster who only pretended to eat them, for in reality, he spit them out onto the beach, and everyone was happy for ever and never went back to space.”

“But they did look up at the stars,” said Kumar.

Marshmallow was full of ideas for a puppet show that she wanted to put on the next day with her brothers, but the show was intended to be a surprise, so she spoke in riddles that nobody understood.

“It’s for the spoon!” she said, winking at Tomas. “Which rhymes with… ”

“Tune?”

“Agh! No! The Moooo… ”

“Like a cow?” said Kumar.

Marshmallow buried her head in her hands.

After supper, the family moved into the living room. Tomas found Stellar’s modeling clay.

“What’s this for?” he asked his uncle.

“Sculptors use it,” Stellar said, “to make studies.”

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Cinnamon gazed at her two children. It was quiet. Tomas worked the clay. Kumar and Marshmallow lay on their bellies on the rug, coloring in a Santa coloring book. Thalassa had put on Bob Dylan’s Christmas CD, and she sang along under her breath.

Cinnamon had so much she wanted to talk to her children about, and so much she didn’t want to talk to them about, and most of what she wanted to say and what she didn’t want to say revolved around the same subject: Steve. Or rather, the space that Steve used to occupy, which was now glaringly empty.

“I notice that Jacques’s been around a lot,” Thalassa said.

Stellar shot a quick look at his mom, then turned his attention back to the clay that Tomas was forming into what looked like the bust of an archaic military dictator.

“Who is that?” Stellar asked his nephew. “Castelo Branco?”

“Napoleon,” said Tomas.

“Mom?” asked Thalassa. “I said Jacques seems to be by a lot.”

“Oh, yes,” said Cinnamon. “He’s been a good friend. You know, he always was a good friend, even when you and Stellar were littlies. Do you remember his wife, Edie? She was lovely. Anyway, he’s been helping around, doing things that need doing, and sometimes, I return the favor and help around his place, doing what I can do, too. He seems to find comfort, knowing that Luna has a woman she can talk with, even if it’s an old woman like me.”

“You’re not old,” said Stellar. “And I’m glad you’re not alone.”

“What’s that you made?” Thalassa asked Tomas.

He handed her Napoleon.

“The ruler of the free world,” said Tomas. “Napoleon Bustanut.”

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Soon it was time to tuck in the children. When Cinnamon finished brushing her teeth, she heard Kumar and Stellar on the landing.

“Where do you live?” Kumar asked his uncle.

“I used to live high in the mountains,” he said, “where the wolves sing and the pines moan.”

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“That sounds interesting,” said Kumar. “And where do you live now?”

“Now I live here,” replied Stellar.

“I think you are very lucky,” said Kumar.

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Coming Home 1

homecoming01

Cinnamon Gran put on a CD of a Mozart string quartet, grabbed a collection of Cory Doctorow short stories, and sat to enjoy a quiet evening. This might be her last taste of solitude for a while. Her son was coming tomorrow and her daughter and three grandchildren the day after.

“I don’t know how long I’ll stay,” her son, Stellar, said. Her daughter, Thalassa, had been just as vague.

Feast or famine. Stellar and Thalassa had separately stopped by a few times in the years since Steve’s death, but, aside from the funeral, never at the same time, and never longer than a day or two.

Cinnamon hadn’t seen her granddaughter, Marshmallow, since Christmas four years ago, the last Christmas they’d had with Steve. She’d never even met her two grandsons.

Her daughter served with Doctors Without Borders, and she’d picked up two sons along the way, Tomas from an orphanage in Rio, and Kumar in Calcutta. How a single doctor managed to care for three young children, Cinnamon had no idea.

homecoming02

Her children had grown up here, in Steve’s family home. A painter, who worked mostly for commissions, she’d been lucky to stay home while the children were young. Steve was a professor at the university in town, and he, too, was home all the summer days and holidays.

Every Christmas, Steve took Stellar and Thalassa into the woods to select the Christmas tree. One year, they returned with armfuls of branches.

Stellar had decided they couldn’t chop down a tree.

“We’ll just top it off,” Steve said, “and then the next lowest branch will take off as the leader and grow towards the sunlight.”

But Stellar refused. “It’s not fair to the tree!” he insisted. So Steve drilled holes into an old shovel handle, and they inserted the branches. It was a beautiful tree.

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Another year, they celebrated Christmas in summer. Thalassa had been ill the previous winter, and so on Christmas Day, they managed not much more than veggie soup and the quiet opening of presents. By summer, Thalassa was healthy again, and one summer afternoon, Steve came into the house with the top of a pine.

“We need Christmas,” he said. They set up the tree outside, stringing it with garlands of birdseed and tiny apples. Cinnamon roasted chanterelles, potatoes, onions, and carrots. They took the feast outside, and while they ate, finches and towhees flocked to the tree.

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Steve taught her that every Christmas was different. After his passing, she couldn’t bear to think of the holiday for a few years. Then one year, she went to her friend and neighbor Jacques’ on Christmas Day, and last year, she pulled out the decorations once again, and now this year, it would be Christmas with family once again.

On the morning of the day when Stellar was expected, Jacques and three other neighbors came by to help string the lights.

“I’m a natural on a ladder,” said Joaquin.

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“And I’m naturally strung out,” joked Sergio.

“Then I guess we’ve got our light-stringing team!” said Cinnamon.

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While the younger men hung the lights, Jacques walked back to his house and returned with a plate of fresh fruitcake, just as Bjorn and Cinnamon finished setting out the last of the outdoor decorations.

“All this work builds up an appetite,” Jacques said.

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Cinnamon invited her neighbors inside.

“Let me dish up the treats,” she said, “your rewards for your hard work!”

Lovely neighbors, she thought. And if they are so lovely, then why does her heart ache so to hear the men’s laughter roll in from the dining room? Shouldn’t it make her miss him less to have the others around?

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“Would you like cookies?” she called to them.

“No,” called Jacques from the dining room table. “We just want you! Come get your fruitcake, ma cherie!”

“Speak for yourself, Jacques!” yelled Joaquin. “Yes! We want cookies!”

“It takes no time at all to bake them,” said Cinnamon. “Amuse yourselves. I’ll be right there.”

homecoming03

She felt grateful for the excuse of baking to let her steal a few more moments alone. This was all it took to shake the sudden onset of grief. By the time she pulled the tray out of the oven, she was smiling again. Her son would be arriving soon, and she had such kind neighbors to help!

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Joaquin and Bjorn had left. “There is a futbol match on tele,” Sergio explained. “They are at Bjorn’s to watch it.”

“Don’t you want to watch it, Sergio?”

“No. It’s not my team,” he replied.

“It is my team,” said Jacques. “But why would I watch the game when I could be in this lovely home eating freshly baked cookies with charming friends?”

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When evening came, Sergio had to leave to catch the ferry to town, and Jacques had supper to prepare for his own children.

Cinnamon went to her easel where she could settle her excitement with every stroke of the satin brush. The next ferry would bring her son!

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Author’s note: This story is inspired by a beautiful build, Joyeux Noel, by ShannonSimsFan. When I saw the home open house on Shannon’s blog, I knew I wanted to write a story about a family finding Christmas, and each other, in this home. The house is available for download on the The Gallery!

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