It's Christmas. I'm in hell. He is there...across the room.
There he is…across the room from me.
This scene is feeling a little tired. But yet, there is so much comfort in the familiarity that we keep doing this over and over again. This is how we see each other all the time – among warm bodies in a small room, imbibing insane amounts of alcohol and huddled close to form a human ring of heat against the cold outside.
It is Christmas day. I sometimes wonder if there would be as much cheer during the holiday season if we didn’t have so much alcohol around. Will I feel closer to him, or more distant? Wait…we won’t even be in this room.
It is also his birthday. I watch him, perched on a barstool and presiding over the giggles and guffaws gathered around him. Most people take him very seriously. But some prefer to rely on humor when approaching him. As for me, I just like talking to him. But that is not a privilege he accords me all the time.
It has been the same scene and the same old story for a few years now. He is always across the room. He is always there – just near enough for me to see him, and feel as if I can touch him if I just reach out. But I’ve never really been able to reach him.
I know that he knows I’m watching him. I know his name and I think he knows mine. We’ve been friends before. In fact, we’ve known each other for a while now. Or, at least I think so. Yet he is always across the room from me.
Perhaps it is all in my mind that I knew him for a long time, and knew him well. Some of these people here tonight probably knew him longer, and better. What did they do to earn their stripes in his company? Did they just stick around long enough until he decides to let them into the inner circle? Or did they say or do something special, exciting or amazing?
I don’t know. I would like to know. It seems so easy for them to talk to him, and him to them. Yet, I can’t seem to talk to him, and him to me. It’s as if there is this huge chasm between us, and if either of us should try to venture forth, we would plunge headlong into a deep valley.
I move over to the bar. It’s time to get another drink. It’s also time to make my move. I keep trying. I have to because he doesn't seem to be able to. Or, maybe he just doesn't want to.
I’m too late. He had just passed out the wine. Everyone is raising their glasses and clinking and sipping. I stand there, watching, not quite at the bar, but not quite away from it either. Am I just unlucky to miss the celebratory round? Or has he timed it so that I wouldn’t be in time to be included, but will still be near enough to witness the cheer. Am I just not worthy?
Last Christmas, I made the same move to approach him. He left me standing an arm’s length away and didn’t invite me to his table. I stood there for a long time – the eternal outsider, watching. I left without supper.
I open my mouth to speak. But she is jumping in front of me. She grabs him and plants a big kiss on his lips. That sparks off a chain reaction of affection for him. The women are hugging him and the men are thumping him on the back and shaking his hand.
He is like Bacchus, with the revelers all surrounding him. But the scene feels more to me like Italian divine comedy than Greek drama. Once again, I feel like I’m in hell.
Or, perhaps it is purgatory that I’m in. For this state of sub-existence, hanging in his peripheral vision is truly the worst form of torture. I’m not quite engulfed by the infernal flames, nor lifted by redemption. I get the feeling that this is where he wants me to be – hanging out in this awkward mid-space, neither outside nor inside, but still there…somewhere.
But this is not where I want to be. I am leaving. I say it out loud. I’m going. He seems surprised. For a moment, it even seems as if he doesn't want me to go. I walk towards the door. He's not stopping me. I’m not surprised. I’m across the room from him. I open the door and walk out.
This is the last year I spend Christmas in hell.
I still want to be with him and to know him But I will not be looking for him in a roomful of people anymore.
I’ll be looking for him in solitude, rather than in a crowd, in silence rather than in a cacophony. I’ll be looking for him on a walk in the woods, rather than a restaurant or a bar. I’ll be looking for him in the smell of the breeze on my cheek, rather than the taste of wine on my lips.
One day, I will find him. Or maybe, he’ll find me. And we won’t be across the room from each other anymore.