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Last Christmas

by Crystal Torres on December 12, 2017

On December 14, 2016, I was studying for my Spanish 102 final. It was a night class, and I spent my afternoon studying. I’m not good at studying. My mind wanders and I have to constantly pull it back to the task at hand. Studying is exhausting, but not necessarily effective. 

Part of the problem with studying is that it seems to trigger a lot of my personal demons. I am quick to remind myself that I suck at this. I suck at school. I am not smart. I have no self-discipline. I don’t belong in college. I don’t deserve to be here. I am a fraud. All of this hard work is going to be for nothing. I am never going to graduate. I am wasting my time. I will only disappoint the people who care about me. Yeah, that’s what the inside of my brain sounds like when I’m studying. It can be maddening at times.

On December 14, 2016, my studying was interrupted. My father, who I hadn’t been able to get a hold of for a few years, called me from an unfamiliar number. He let me know he was being evicted and he had nowhere to go. He pondered aloud, trying to give an illusion of spontaneous thought, if maybe since I’d moved out of my ex’s four-bedroom house there might be room for him there. There wasn’t. In my absence, two other adults had moved in. So, I invited my father to come stay with me until his finances were sorted out again.

I didn’t post about any of this saga in my blog, because my father read my blog. That’s how he knew about the divorce. The short version is that he moved in with me on Boxing Day, in far worse health than I’d expected. With adequate nutrition, and other first world amenities, he seemed to be getting better for most of January and then he had a rapid decline. By February he was sick enough he could no longer refuse medical care. He was moved around from facility to facility, sometimes improving a little, sometimes declining a lot, until his death in April. As his only known kin, I got to travel to a lot of medical institutions and sign papers, in addition to answering consent calls at all hours. It was hard and it was lonely and I never wanted any of it.

I mean, I’m grateful for the time that I got to spend with my father. We had a lot of nice dinners. He really liked my cooking, even though it seemed to come as a surprise to him, night after night. He drove me crazy, picking fights about what toilet paper brand I bought, which way I turned the roll, what brand of ketchup I bought, where I allowed the cats to go. He wanted more control over how I ran my household. I wanted more effort from him to get well and seek out his own household again. I looked forward to bringing him treats and visiting him regularly, somewhere not my couch. That’s not how the story went.

After his death I was able to finish out the spring semester without anymore weekend trips out of town. When the semester ended I breathed an exhausted sigh of relief. Once my father’s affairs were settled, my life would be relatively calm again. I really looked forward to coasting for the rest of the year. I was still trying to figure out my father’s memorial when the management company let me know that my landlord was thinking of selling, and wanted to know if I was interested in buying. That’s its own saga, but yeah, the landlord sold my house. 

I found another house, a fine house, with a great commute. I’m living out of boxes and my father’s boxes are shuffled in with my boxes now, and it all just needs to be dealt with, but not until after finals. Today, I was studying for my Spanish 103 final. Studying brings out the worst of my self talk. I was dealing with all of the usual self-loathing, but with an extra helping of anxiety, ghosts of Christmas Past reminding me that this is when my life began to spin out of control. Everything feels so out of control, and still I sit here, just studying. 

I posted to Facebook. Writing things down helps me to process them. Posting them to Facebook means they come up in my memories and remind me that this is normal for me, and more importantly, fleeting. Posting also means that I can get some support and encouragement from loved ones.

Today a friend reminded me that there are way worse things happening to people than just worrying about their grades. He was trying to be helpful, by giving me perspective. I felt shamed. I was already struggling with demons of self-doubt. Cue the isolating thoughts. Nobody wants to hear about your problems. Why are you like this? You’re so selfish. It’s not all about you. You’re such a spaz. Shut up and stop bothering people. Nobody likes you. You don’t deserve to have it so good. People would be better off without you. 

Don’t vent on Facebook. This isn’t the time. People are dealing with death and fires and politics and the holidays. Don’t add anything to their burdens. Okay. Fine. I shouldn’t be whining anyway. What are my coping mechanisms? What are my coping mechanisms that don’t involve leaving the house? I need to study.

I have a crush that makes me happy. I considered telling myself a happy daydream about hanging out together after finals. That backfired quickly. Suddenly, my quick little trip to Fantasyland turned into a horror show of insecurities. So, to recap, I started with I’m not smart/I’m a bad student. I was easily nudged into I am a horrible/selfish person. Then I dragged myself through a tour of all the reasons I am undesirable/unlovable. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough.

So I took a shower. It was something I’d meant to do today anyway. Clean my body, clear my head, start over. I ended up sobbing on the shower floor, ugly crying. I cried right past my romantic insecurities. I cried deeper than my fears about being a horrible person. I even cried beyond any concerns about finals. I found myself shouting out to a mostly empty house, with the exception of my confused dog and the overwhelming stacks of boxes, “I don’t want to move!”

That’s all I said, repeatedly, until it faded from a roar to a broken gurgle, “I don’t want to move!” It’s a ridiculous thing to declare to the house I’ve already moved into, but I suppose it’s a tantrum long overdue. I didn’t want to move, but I was always focused on the business end, trying to save my home, trying to find a replacement in a hurry, trying to keep my life running through crisis. It’s too late, but it’s still true. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to move. And then I heard myself say, “I don’t want any of this.”

That’s when it sunk in. This has been a really challenging year, starting with December 14, 2016, when I was studying for finals and got a phone call from my dad. Life has felt beyond my control ever since, no action, just reaction. This year’s progress has not been a march, it has been a continuous stumble in more or less the right direction. It has been really, really, really hard and it has taken its toll on me.

I’ve cried it all out now and I am weary. I don’t have the energy to be angry anymore, not even with myself. I have a terrible headache, and puffy eyes. I feel very fragile and very alone. I still have my concerns that I am not good enough. I also have a final tomorrow, and work, and parenting and life to take care of. It helps me if I write things out. I don’t want to bring anybody down, or compete for whose problems are more important. I’m just struggling and trying to do my best anyway. That’s all.


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