The Christmas Card By Drucilla Blood

I got a Christmas card yesterday from someone I have known practically my whole life. I guess I could call her a friend...certainly I have warm feelings for her, and I'm fairly sure there is a bond between us that would be difficult to break, even though it's thin as fishing line at this point.
 
This thinness has little to do with my fondness for her, and more to do with our seemingly divergent realities. It's weird, though...it's not like we have different politics or we clash on the topic of religion. Quite frankly, I am not even sure I would know what her religious or political affiliations are. I don't talk to her enough to know. Yet, each year, I get a Christmas card.
 
I opened the envelope to find a Christmas portrait of her with her family. There was the chubby smiling face of her youngest boy - with eyes and expression an almost exact duplicate of what I remember my friend had looked like as a child, the older child was more stoic, but there was a gleam in his eye that indicated this was a momentary compromise.
 
Then there was the husband behind the family, tall and husky with a stern, but not cruel expression. He had his arm wrapped possessively around J, my friend, who grinned beside and somewhat in front of him, one hand resting on each of the boys. J was sporting a cute and stylish short haircut, her blonde hair tinted red. Her face was lean and made up noticeably, but not excessively. She wore a blue oxford-type shirt with a string of pearls around her neck.
 
Now here's the part I can't figure out how to write without sounding mean and insulting. She looked...familiar. Familiar, yet so totally not like the friend that I remember. Her face was different, but the scene was so generic it could just as well have been a photo in a mirror you might buy in the store. The handsome family. Grinning children, smiling wife, stern husband. Make up. Jewelry.
 
This picture disturbed me. Not in any sort of negative way, but it rattled me into thinking about the path I have chosen in life, and how drastically different it is from the path that many of my old friends chose. And at the same time that I absolutely love my life, there are times when I wish it was my face in that picture, with that seemingly simple life. The ease of comfortable, stylish, new clothing, and the reassurance of the stern husband. The unfettered joy of children who can always be left at Grandma's house while I run to the store...or even the solitude of no children. No husband.
 
The picture left me with both a sense of regret and satisfaction. Regret because I always have and continue to make choices that make my life more difficult than perhaps it needs to be. Starting with the choice to skip college to move into an apartment in Chicago with people I had never met before. It was a great experience for me, and that experience so totally shaped who I am now, that I know it is impossible for me to know what my life would be like now had I not made that choice...but that was the first one. The first one that I had control over.
 
The choices I have made have led me to the life I now lead. I life that is simple, but sometimes frustrating. I don't have the option to wear a string of pearls, even if I could get past my ethical objection to them. I couldn't afford to have a family portrait taken for Christmas cards, even if I was Christian. My husband is stern, but in a surly rather than protective way. My children would never stand still for the camera. All of my photos are action shots.
 
This friend in the picture was the daughter of a wonderful woman who acted as a sort of second mom to me. My friend's mom had nine children, all of them with the same squinting blue eyes. I was her "brown-eyed daughter" and was always invited along and always favored company. This was not always my friend's idea of a good thing, as you might imagine. Therefore, much of the time I had to endure temper tantrums and fits and acts of cruelty that I am only now beginning to understand, as I interact with my child and his friends. While I was always invited and included, I was also not a member of the family, much as, in my weird conglomerated family, I was an outsider.
 
At any rate, there was my desire to be a part of something, and there was probably my friend's jealousy over how much a part of her something I actually was. I'm sure there was a great deal of competition in there about other things like grades and boys and etc - mixed in for good measure.
 
Somehow, even though we didn't really speak for much of high school, we found each other again. And continue to do so. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that her mom still lives in the same house, which is a block from where my mom still lives. But perhaps it has more to do with the fact that I probably still have a lot to offer to/learn from her. Perhaps I haven't really extended myself in her direction enough.
 
And then there's this feeling...looking at that picture. The feeling that, while I love my family and my life - it's so...different. So much of what I have here is a total struggle for me. I guess sometimes I'm just tired of struggling, and at the same time, I can't imagine giving up or giving in. Sometimes it feels like I should just be satisfied. I should just shut up, put my fucking nose to the grindstone, stop questioning things, and deal with it. And, of course, there are other issues in my life that will always prevent me from ever leading anything even remotely resembling the "ideal" or "norm." I hate to sound like a fucking whiner, but it's tough. It really is. I mean, I try to remember that it's tough for everyone, but I looked at that picture and it just OOOZED "ease."
 
The truth is, I don't have much of an idea of what family really means. Is family that peaceful aura in the Christmas portrait? Is it the gentle chaos of my current life? Is it the idyllic harmony portrayed in made-for-TV Christmas specials? Is it all and none of these things? I don't know. And so I am forced to invent my own definition. Create my own ideal. Never knowing whether or not I am living up to that ideal or what it will take to feel fully at peace with what I have.
 
Perhaps I'm being covetous here. I know comparisons are odious. And, quite honestly, I know that this is a transient feeling. Tomorrow I will wake up tough as nails and ready to just be and love and fight and rejoice. And I know I sincerely enjoy living that way. But for now there's something soft in me that just wants to be massaged. That wants ease. That wants to surrender. That just doesn't want to fucking have to be strong.