Listen. On this road trip of life/death, sometimes you gotta share the AUX cord with a ghost. Readers of The A+ Insider know I recently recovered my bluetooth speaker only by promising the ghost in my house I’d throw him some “Freebird” and other similar tunes once in a while because it’s true that as a roommate who probably does not share my taste in music, he’s putting up with a lot.
And speaking of ghosts, the Yule/Holigay/Christmas season sure is a time for them. Famous guy-who-attempted-to-get-his-wife-committed-so-he-could-have-guilt-free-time-with-his-younger-mistress Charles Dickens re-popularized the Christian holiday with a ghost story, after all. Then, there’s the fact that the time between Christmas and The Epiphany (Three Kings Day) is also the most haunted time of year according to European tradition, something I love to remind everyone of when they start to lament that Halloween has passed. Things are just getting started!
So, what better thing to be haunted by with the turning of the seasons and the marking of special days on the calendar than the ghosts of relationships past? A lot of things. There are a lot of things that would be better than this.
My ex and I mutually proposed to each other on Christmas last year. This year, it’s the anniversary of a broken engagement. Last Christmas held the promise of an entirely different future cradled in the plastic boughs of the tiny, artificial potted pine tree we displayed in the center of our living room. There’s a sense you should maybe be collecting ornaments, marking the years of your relationship, the milestones crossed together, the places you’ve visited. I still have a Sasquatch ornament from a visit to the Pacific Northwest with my ex. That’s the only one we accrued.
There have been other ornaments, other trees. When I left my marriage before that engagement, I did not take any of the ornaments we’d carefully collected and curated. Some of them were my ex-husband’s family heirlooms, which of course should stay in the family I was no longer part of. I remember some of them, the way his grandmother had crocheted doily-esque covers for glass ornaments in snowflake patterns, a beautifully old-fashioned touch. Others were gifts we bought each other, or multi-packs of things we thought were cute, and all of them were tainted.
My dad warned me about getting married on Halloween. He seems to think Halloween weddings are actually cursed, set up to fail because of the choice of day. He’d gone to one when I was a kid, wearing a pirate costume that then made its way into the dress up box my mom kept for me. It was a plastic tub she’d put old Halloween costumes and discarded yet interesting pieces of clothing into (from an old prom dress of hers to outdated hand-me-downs like flowery Polish lady headscarves). At some point, each of us wore the pirate costume. It got a lot of use. Our family loved Halloween when I was young. It was all fake cobwebs and plastic spider and skull rings and the special treat that was dry ice. My mom hosted Halloween parties for kids my age a couple years in a row, sweetly peeling grapes and cooling cooked spaghetti so we could stick our hands into shoe boxes she’d cut holes into so we could feel the “eyeballs” and the “guts.” Sometimes, my parents really did things right. It would have been impossible not to notice I adored horror and the supernatural. I asked my mom to check out the entire nonfiction section on monsters and ghosts from the library when I was only three, and it just never stopped. They leaned into my special interest by making sure we went all out for the holiday in the kind of DIY way they could afford. The Halloween marriage, though, that hadn’t worked out. My dad would only shake his head and say “it went wrong” when I tried to press him about what exactly had occurred with the couple, which was very Stephen King Character of him.
So it happened. On Halloween of 2017, I was standing in my living room in a vintage red prom dress because I was going as Lydia from the wedding scene in Beetlejuice to our small Halloween party that was the actual, real, official wedding. There’d already been a wedding ceremony and party, all in the same location and relatively secular, all for our extended families, coworkers and friends, but we hadn’t gotten around to signing the papers, yet. It was almost certainly a portent that we were both, perhaps, dragging our feet, that things would not work out. We’d invited our close friends to our house and had prepared the marriage license, a self-officiating type available in Pennsylvania due to the legacy of Quakers’ leader-less ceremonies. We scrawled our names on the paper just before midnight, and two friends signed as witnesses. We celebrated. My ex kept his fox mask on the whole time which was, in retrospect, creepy.
And then the marriage? It went wrong.
What had started as a queer partnership full of bisexuality and gender fuckery descended toward a place where my ex became increasingly aligned with cis-heteronormativity, and I was continuing to make my bisexuality known and let myself slip back into a gender fluidity I’d ignored for a long time. During one of my more masc moments, he yelled at me, “You LOOK like a boy!” I yelled back “So? You FUCK BOYS!” To which he had no answer. As the gaslighting came to a head, to the point I wasn’t sure whether I’d made up entire conversations, agreements, scenarios, events in my head, to where I’d actively started contemplating suicide, I found a way out with the help of a few friends, and stumbled into the sunlight just shy of six months after Halloween.
The first Halloween that came around after this, I don’t think I dressed up. I don’t remember what I did. I think it wasn’t anything. It was a reminder that my best friends of a decade who’d signed the marriage license stopped talking to me when I asked for a divorce, that I was rebuilding, that I was tired. But over time, it got easier, and I kind of forgot that Halloween ever would have been my wedding anniversary. This year, when I was tits out as The Slutty Grim Reaper at the punk bar, I certainly didn’t recall, or if I did, it pinged and flew away again, like a fly in the room, a little nuisance but nothing interesting, nothing I’d remember. Time’s like that.
But I have to say, it really does ruin a holiday if you go and make it a special day for a relationship that ends painfully. Why, why, why did I do it twice after doing what I did to my beloved Halloween?! I’m also a Yule Gay! I love this season and all its gingery, nutmeg-laced, Krampus-whippin’ goodness. What have I done??
I feel like the answer is twofold. On the one hand, I can really be romantic about holidays! I’m a seasons person, someone who wants to mark the turning of the year. Smells — fallen leaves and rain and the first snow and wood smoke and cinnamon — unlock memories and I get this urge to smush all of the comfort and delight I’ve always wanted holidays to hold together with people I love. On the other hand, sometimes, romantic gestures are a last-ditch effort, and the trappings of a holiday are perfect for disguising the cracks. On Halloween, you can wear a mask and hide in the candlelight, and in December, you can warm everything up with glowing lights, smooth over difficulties with the sheen of wrapping paper.
I hope I don’t do this again. I really have to quit. On the other hand, it would be delectably cursed to go with any of the holidays I have left. A St. Patrick’s Day engagement? A Leap Day Las Vegas wedding? ANYTHING on The Fourth of July or Thanksgiving — ugh. What if I just keep getting engaged/married/divorced and I decide to keep picking holidays to do it on in order to punish myself but also because I think it’s kind of funny? I do appreciate that I have a lot of potential ahead of me in this life, including the potential to continue to make some truly messy decisions. But I also hope I don’t!
And as for this year? This tree? This Yule? I got myself a Mothman ornament recently when I visited the (very caked up) Mothman statue and museum in West Virginia on a solo trip. I’ve got a friend with a truck who’s agreed to take me to a tree farm, and I have a tree stand I joyously thrifted. I think it’s time to get a small, evergreen tree, to decorate it with dried orange slices and lights I got from the flea market and exactly two cryptid ornaments, and to say that, of all my decisions, I’m happy that I’ve slowed my roll.