I was raised in a home and religious community where girls weren’t good enough, gays were Satan’s pawns, and Christmas was never celebrated. Neither did we observe birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s day, or any other holiday, but Christmas and the other winter holidays always seemed to be the ones that mattered to me. No singing in the grade school Christmas concert for me. No secretly shopping and wrapping. Of all the holidays, the ones that brightened the winter night were the hardest to endure from the outside looking in.
As a girl I walked down the street and eyeballed lights—only fat, rounded bulbs back then, no such thing as LED. I silently oohed and aahed house after house, my favorite being the odd one out, with eaves and doors and a bright Star of David all decked out in brilliant blue. The lights were enough to make me feel a little left out, but it was the Christmas trees set up inside, set to be seen through windows, that left me with a hollow kind of loneliness. The trees themselves came in a mystifying variety! In the ‘60s in Los Angeles County—an almost-desert megalopolis with no snow and more palms than pines—some people set up red and blue and even pink artificial trees, with matching garlands and ornaments all one color. I admit I liked the pink ones, even though I thought the idea of a pink pine rather odd.
But sometimes the trees were green and just imperfect enough for me to be sure they were real.
Those, the green ones, were the hardest to pass by. I wanted to run across the yard from the sidewalk to stand in the flower bed and peer inside. The lights on those trees glowed like colorful balls of family love. Their ornaments suggested years of haphazard collecting and maybe romance. Realistic assessment? Probably not, but from the sidewalk, a child looking in, I felt it—felt warmth and chocolate with marshmallows and some lavender-scented grandmother hugging me whether I wanted her to or not. I was sure those homes must have held large, laughing families and pampered pets. They must have been the scene of board games and bedtime stories and a table laden with sweet and savory foods no child should go without.
Oh yes, I’m all grown up (long ago), and I know better now. I did not adopt my parents’ religion once I was old enough to make my own, separate mistakes and, in fact, they stopped practicing that cruel faith about the time I left home. I make Christmas now with and for my children and grandchildren and my remaining parent, for friends and even sometimes for strangers. I know Christmas from the inside out.
Yes, there’s a ‘but.’ I’ve learned something disturbing, and if it isn’t true for everyone, I believe it is true for many. This is it: no matter how wonderful our holiday, there’s a little piece of us, a shadow, that remains outside, gazing in to imagined warmth and light with some combination of bright wonder, dark contempt, loneliness, and love.
For those of us who love books, that shadow might be the part of us that wants stories of holidays, wants characters to live all our conflicting emotions, wants word-built houses, metaphorical trees, and presents that symbolize all the miracles and sorrows in our dark-solstice dreams. Sometimes we want stories of inclusion, stories that feel so good, so sweet. But sometimes we want to also see the darkness. Maybe we are, in whole or in part, outside looking in—lonely or grieving or depressed or hurt or sick or inexplicably afraid. Or maybe we really do feel good, feel included and loved and joyful, but we remember darker days.
Wherever we stand, whatever our need stories fill it, feed it, nourish us.
I write mostly, these days, male/male romance, and I read a lot in the genre because I love it—love the characters and the romance. One holiday story I read some time ago that was particularly nourishing was Isabelle Rowan’s short novella, Twelve Days. I wrote a review of this story for Goodreads back in January 2012. I kept it pretty simple, referring readers to my review of A Note in the Margin, the full-length novel that started the sometimes bittersweet story of David and John, of which Twelve Days is like a coda. Here’s what I said about Twelve Days.
In this forty page holiday story, author Isabelle Rowan continues the well-written narrative, creative story, and interesting, well-realized characters that she introduced in A Note in the Margin. She takes them through the holidays, which, just as in "real life", present both joys and pitfalls for the men. Mostly, they're in for some surprises from people they had relegated to their past. This is well worth a read. Even though Rowan didn't leave me with a feeling that the story was incomplete, I was sorry that it ended.That brief review doesn’t really do justice, I realize now, for a story that takes Christmas head on, even though it occurs where December is summer. Decorations, homelessness, loss, love, and new chances are all in there. Some lighter seasonal reads I’d recommend in the M/M genre: The Christmas Wager by Jamie Fessenden (historical), A Walk in the Dark by Kate McMurray, and Winter Rescue, by Dawn Kimberly Johnson.
I’m going to close with a Christmas day excerpt from one of my own books, Yes: A Vasquez and James Novella. For those unfamiliar with the story Luki and Sonny, who have been together about six years, are struggling with Luki’s lung cancer, so the holiday is both wonderful shared tradition and scary reminder of everything that isn’t quite right in their world.
The tree stood seven feet tall, stopping just below the ceiling. An angel—clearly male—topped it. Every year, Luki argued that it was no angel at all, but St. Christopher. This year had to be the same; that was important to Luki. “St. Christopher,” he wheezed.
“Gabriel,” Sonny responded, his light-hearted smile catching. “Archangel extraordinaire.”
Sonny had cut and packed the tree from the forest surrounding the house, his own land. Sometimes he looked for a rare spruce, but this time he chose a Douglas fir because it didn’t have the pungent smell that might irritate Luki’s airways. Its branches hung heavy with needles and ornaments and light, and though it didn’t quell Luki’s sadness, it did give him peace. Maybe I don’t mind dying, he thought, knowing how horrified Sonny would be if he said it aloud. Maybe it’s just time… when Christmas is over. We’ll see. He knew, somehow, that if he chose to die he wouldn’t have to take his own life; all he would have to do is let go, and it would happen. Easy.
Josh and Ruthie would be late. They’d gone to pick up Jackie, Luki’s younger nephew, from the airport. Jackie had flown home from New York, where he was studying psychology in order to put his own horrifying experiences—which Luki had rescued him from—to good use. Since they didn’t know how late it would be when they arrived, and they didn’t know how long Luki’d be able to stay up, they went ahead with Christmas, just the three of them.
“Like the three wise men,” Kaholo said, swigging rum punch, and laughing.
“Where?” Luki asked, making the other two laugh. He smiled too. Sonny came over to his chair, stepping around Luki’s ever-present canine companion. He bent low by Luki’s ear, his breath tickling in a way that made Luki very sorry he was sick.
“Luki, that smile made my whole Christmas.” Carefully, he lifted the oxygen tube away and kissed him, very gentle, very sweet. A little more than a friendly peck, a little less than passion.
Luki met his eyes, wondering if the unlikely mixture of emotion he felt—gratitude and longing—could be seen in his own eyes through the glaze of drugs and fatigue. When Sonny took his hand, Luki gave it a squeeze, stronger than either of them expected. “Thank you,” he said, talking about everything.
Kaholo had a smile on his face, handing him a small package sloppily wrapped in paper printed with words in tiny writing, Peace, Love, Joy, over and over again. Luki started to pull the paper loose, but his uncle interrupted.
“Mili, you have to shake the package, see if you can guess! That’s a rule—you know that.”
Luki smiled again and made a show of shaking the package, which didn’t make any noise. “Wild guess: a DVD.” Because of course it was exactly the size and shape for that.
Kaholo said, “Darn!” slapping his thigh and swigging rum, again.
Paper stripped away, Luki found a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He smiled his appreciation. He and Kaholo had long since decided it qualified as the funniest movie of all time.
Sonny became suddenly shy, or worried, or reluctant, when it came time for him to give Luki his present. “I’m afraid you won’t like it, Luki.”
“It’s a tapestry, right? It’s what you’ve been weaving, these past weeks.”
“Have you ever woven something I didn’t like?”
“This is different.” But, having said that, he stood up and went to get the hung and weighted weaving. “I just don’t want you to misunderstand.” He turned it around, held it up, and let it unfurl.
As soon as he saw it, Luki knew what it was that worried his husband. Sonny was afraid that Luki would see the way the weaving depicted him and feel angry, think that Sonny had been insensitive. Because Luki hardly looked like that anymore, fit and strong and all but invincible. But he didn’t dwell on that, because both Sonny’s work and the memory it provoked held such perfect grace. “I remember,” he said, and the words brought home the feel of sea breeze, warm, damp sand beneath his feet, and waves rolling in over miles of beach deserted but for birds and Sonny, approaching as if conjured by the sun.
“You were teaching me Tai Chi,” Sonny said.
“Your hair got in my mouth.”
“The wind came up!”
“You kissed me,” Luki said.
Luki looked into Sonny’s deep, dark eyes, looked so intently that once again he saw that aura, that brilliance that surrounded him, or maybe radiated from inside him. “It’s perfect,” he said. “Thank you.”
He fell asleep with his memories.
About the Author:Lou Sylvre hails from Southern California but now lives and writes on the rainy side of Washington State. When she’s not writing, she’s reading—fiction in nearly every genre, romance in all its tints and shades, and the occasional book about history, physics, or police procedure. Her personal assistant is Boudreau, a large cat who never outgrew his kitten meow. She loves her family, her friends, a Chihuahua named Joe, and (in random order) coffee, chocolate, sunshine, and wild roses.
Visit her blogs at http://www.sylvre.com, and http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4873260.Lou_Sylvre/blog, or contact her at lou(dot)sylvre(at)gmail(dot)com.