I love Christmas, but I am dreading the inevitable questions from my boyfriend’s well-meaning midwestern family that always seem to come up about what my family is doing, what they’re up to, how they celebrate, etc. Even though they know that I don’t talk to my family, this always seems to come up and it can turn a great day into a teeth-grinding panic attack spiral. It’s hard for normal people with healthy families or at least only mildly quirkily sitcom-dysfunctional families to understand why me or you or anyone we know would want to remove themselves from their Family. Families stick together! Blood is thicker than water! My family is my everything! My mother is my best friend! Sisters are special! Number One Dad! Live Love Laugh! Dance like none of your creepy uncles are watching!
If you don’t understand why you might want to not spend the holidays, or any day, with your family, try to imagine surviving in a cave with a pack of wild, angry dogs. At first you’re like, “Oh, cool! I love dogs!” and you reach out your hand and a dog bites your finger off. You’re like, “Wow, that’s terrible, but at least I have nine more fingers.” Throughout your time together, the dogs growl and snap at you more often than they are nice, but you still try to reach out to them when you are lonely, afraid, or sick, and then the day comes where you only have one finger left. You can try with the dogs again, and hold out hope that maybe this will be the time they come around to you. Or you can try to protect yourself and keep that finger, because you might want it someday to press a power button on a TV or to ding a bell in a hotel lobby or to point at something or maybe even just to fill out one of those foam hands at a sporting event.
I chose to leave the cave of wild dogs and to keep my one finger. I try to surround myself with people who love me and care enough to say, “Holy shit! You only have one finger! I’m so sorry. Can I help you with that Cat’s Cradle?” when I am struggling. It’s not easy to get by with this much damage, but my life has improved greatly knowing that I am no longer putting myself at risk by trying to be a part of a pack where I don’t belong.
Cassie is an artist living in NYC. Check out her blog
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