Exactly three weeks into the darkest December that I had ever known, my dad called to tell me that the war was ending, and it didn’t look good.
(Just 9 months before, when my mom was planting her begonia bulbs in the garden, my dad would say, “And here we are, the allied forces of chemotherapy pounding the hell out of the Nazi cancer cells. We are on the beaches of Normandie, and we will win this.”)
My dad is a World War II history buff, and when shit gets real, he switches to metaphor. And I guess there ain’t nothing more real than your wife fighting cancer.
Well, apparently the front lines had now shifted: “The cancer just dropped a series of firebombs.”
“And Sarah, you better come home now.”
So I took the 4:03 BART train from the Downtown Berkeley Station to Oakland International Airport on the darkest day of the year four days before Christmas to say goodbye to my mom.
Now, airports are funny. Not funny-haha, but funny-strange. (And sometimes funny-sad.) People who would never in a million years share the same space at the same time are thrust together for all sorts of reasons as they hurtle towards their gates clutching their Starbucks Gingerbread Lattes: Maybe a warm winter vacay lying topless on a beach in Cancun. Or a snowy ski weekend in Vale. Or a romantic getaway to Paris. Or a wedding in Connecticut.
Look. I know I couldn’t have been the only one walking through Oakland International Airport to fly home to say goodbye to someone for the last time. But it sure felt that way.
Because when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you. But when you’re teetering on grief’s slick and icy ledge, then you are all alone with no one to catch you.
And you know what made it even harder and made me feel even more alone? In December, the airport looks like Santa Claus blew himself up smack dab in the middle of the terminal: Everything is all red and green, and there’s tinsel and colored lights and reindeer shit everywhere, and Christmas music is piped in against your will on a steady loop when you are sitting at gate 23 and texting your dad to make sure your mom is still alive.
Man, it sucked Santa’s balls.
And in that moment, I hated Christmas.
Hell, let’s be real: I was always kind of a Grinch when it came to Christmas. I never wore red and green – or, like, OMG! – red and green together in December. You would never in a million years catch me wearing a Santa hat. And this one time, I even yelled at my high school principal for allowing a Christmas tree to prominently decorate the main office without so much as a menorah for religious parity.
Well are you ready for a slice of irony with a side of figgy pudding? Now that I’m living in Israel, I miss Christmas.
I miss the holly wreaths, and the red and green everythings.
I miss Gingerbread Lattes from Starbucks.
Hell, I even miss jingle bells.
It comes down to this: Once Hanukkah is over, December in these parts is freaking depressing:
The blue and silver decorations have been packed away.
Everyone is suffering from latke fatigue, and ain’t no one going to fry up nothing no how.
(Ditto for sufganiyot.)
The candles have long ago burned low into a puddle of rainbow wax.
And as we’ve reached that critical mass moment of darkness, and we stand in the shadows of the Winter Solstice, I remember those long weeks that passed too quickly nine years ago when I last saw my mom.
I just really, really miss the lights.