Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Christmas: A Novel

When I took this job back in early September, I knew I'd be working Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. It was part of the appeal, actually. I was supposed to be spending the holidays with my new husband in Arizona. Since that was no longer happening, I wanted to be as far away as possible. I wanted to escape. I wanted to have adventures.

It was a pleasant surprise when I had Thanksgiving off. I was pleased as punch to be spending it hanging out with family, coloring the annual turkey in the paper, and stuffing myself silly. I was even more excited to discover I had the entire weekend off to go shopping and nap.

I was a little disappointed but very unsurprised to see I was, in fact, working Christmas, both Eve and Day. I had (er, have) settled down considerably in the months since taking the job, and I no longer felt the need to run away from Christmas and pretend it didn't exist. But still, I was resigned to be working. My schedule had me getting into Cleveland at 6.30 pm on the 24th and leaving at 6.30 pm on the 25th. Twenty-four hours in Cleveland? What was I going to do for 24 hours in Cleveland, on Christmas?

Luckily, I know someone in Cleveland. She told me that the hotel was within walking/cab distance from a movie theater. Great! I'll just go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button! I'll bring my laptop, a few books, I'll go to dinner with the pilots, it'll be great. Not ideal, not home, but not bad, all told.

And then the 22nd rolled around, the day before I was to leave for my 4-day, and I started getting sad. I couldn't stop thinking about Christmas being around the corner, and the more I thought about it, the sadder I got. First of all, I had no Christmas cheer this year. (I have a theory that it's because I'm no longer in school. I had no end-of-the-semester crunch, no finals to avoid studying for, no solid timeline to tell me, "Hey! Christmas is coming! Pay attention!") But more importantly, I started realizing the importance of Christmas traditions in our family.

I realized that I've never not spent a Christmas Eve at church, followed by dinner and presents at grandma's house, even in the six years we lived in Texas. The cousins have never not taken our annual picture, piled into the green chair that shrinks more every year. I've never not spent a Christmas morning opening presents and stockings with Pam and our parents. I've never not spent a Christmas Day with my dad's side of the family. I've never not eaten meringues (which I didn't even have the energy to make for Christmas Eve this year), and I've never not not had Christmas cake on Christmas morning. What was I supposed to eat this year? A fucking pop-tart in my hotel room?

I said good-night, good-bye, and Merry Christmas to my parents that night and started crying as soon as I'd turned away. I was coming down with something, which I suspected might be toying with my emotions, but I was also just feeling down.

And then things got worse.

I woke up around midnight, puking. About once every hour until around five am, I woke up and trekked to the bathroom to bow to the porcelain throne. By the time my alarm went off to tell me to start getting ready for work, I felt exhausted, but much better. Not wanting to use a sick call (I'm so new, and still on probation, after all), I acted the good little flight attendant and headed to the airport. I was congested and unable to take anything (being in the kind of safety-oriented field that I am, we're very limited on the medications we're allowed to take while on duty), but I figured if I could just get through the days, I could relax in the hotels on my long layovers.

My ears are pretty well used to altitude changes, having lived in Duluth with me for the last five years. I don't generally have problems with them popping on the plane, but then, I've never had such a cold while working before. On my very first flight of the trip, my ears acted up and refused to pop properly, leaving me pretty much unable to hear for the rest of the day. "Can I get you something to drink?" *strain to listen and attempt to read lips* "A Pepsi?" *wait for confirmation nod* "Sure thing!"

This wouldn't have been so bad on its own, but I was also constantly blowing my nose and almost constantly nauseated. I ate some mandarin oranges in my hotel room that night, hoping the vitamin C would help.

The next morning, I found myself puking again.

We flew back to MSP, and I spent the majority of the flight crouched in the corner of my galley, trying not to pass out or throw up. When we landed, I immediately went to talk to my manager. She was very sweet and understanding, and she gave me a Kleenex when I started to cry because I felt so guilty about being sick. She told me not to worry, it happens, and I have to do what's best for me: go home. So go home I did, feeling guilty all the way. I felt much better now that I was on the ground, and there was only one flight left that day, and some poor person on reserve had to come in on Christmas Eve because of me, and oh, why couldn't I have just pushed through? When I got home, put on my pajamas, and puked almost immediately, I knew I had made the right decision.

I turned out to be home for Christmas after all, but not on the terms I had wanted. I spent the next couple days in pajamas, making frequent trips between my bedroom and the bathroom. I felt better one day, and then spent all that night puking. I felt better again yesterday, and the doctor told me I don't actually have the flu, only a "flu-like illness." I hoped and prayed I'd sleep through the night last night.

I woke up this morning, after a full night's sleep.

Since I was supposed to be gone, we saved Christmas with our immediate family for today. We started the morning with Christmas cake, I ate some meringues (which I summoned up the energy to make Thursday night, for Friday night dinner at grandma's -- a dinner my oldest cousin insisted on so that we could all be together and take our annual chair picture), and we opened presents. We relaxed, had no rush to get anywhere else for the day, and just enjoyed each others' company.

Now I'm sitting here in my new white fluffy robe that's soft like a cloud, writing the longest entry ever and thinking about my Christmas. The actual Eve and Day turned out to be a bust, but I still got to spend lots of time with family that I love, I still got to eat Christmas cake, and I got to buy most of my presents on clearance the day after Christmas. I guess it was a pretty great year after all.

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