ghosts of christmas past

CW: mentions of discrimination towards non-binary people

The early-morning winter sun forms tiny pools of light across your bare skin. The warm, golden hue makes your freckled skin glow. Sleepy-eyed, your gaze meets mine and my cold heart instantly melts; a small flame flickering in my chest. Wrapped up in each others limbs, I find myself struggling to find a reason to pull myself out of bed. After all, it’s just another day right? Running my hands through your hair, I feel the contentment in your body as you slowly relax into me and a sigh escapes from your lips.

“I could stay here like this forever. Just imagine, no job, no responsibilities. Just me and you forever, what do you say?” you whisper, looking up into my eyes.

“I’m finding it difficult to give you any rational answer as to why that isn’t practical because honestly, I don’t disagree with you, but I don’t think we could really stay like this forever!” I scoff, whilst slowly pulling away from you to shuffle to the bathroom and brush my teeth.

Peering in that bathroom mirror, I slowly analyse my appearance. I glare at the person staring back at me. Fairly short, slim with broad shoulders. My black hair cropped to a boyish mullet with shaven sides; allowing a small birthmark to peak through the grade one on the sides of my head behind my ears. The longer, waved hair on top spiked up in every direction: styled by a night with my head against the pillow and your fingers massaging my scalp whilst I drift off to sleep. The toothbrush moving left to right across my top teeth in time with the song you’ve started playing from the radio in the kitchen. I run a hand down my torso and stretch upwards to click my back and release the tension in my muscles. As I stand there, I wonder whilst I listen to the lyrics of the song playing from the other room what my parents are doing for Christmas this year. This thought is immediately disrupted as you run into the bathroom with a wooden spoon covered in pancake batter and sing Elton John into it like a microphone.

“C’mon babe, it’s Christmas Day! I want you to open your presents, like, right now. I’m too excited to wait for you to open them in your own time. I already know you’ll love them” you say, pulling on my arm and leading me to the living room.

“Alright okay! I’m following you!”

“Right, open this one first!”

As I peel the wrapping back on what I would soon learn to be a new jumper, I glimpse upwards at the pure joy and anticipation that was building on your face. Your smile is forever infectious and heals a multitude of wounds. Clapping your hands together to further signal your uncontainable excitement, I lean in to kiss your rosy cheek as a small thank you for my presents. Despite not having much money or materialistic objects between us, our apartment feels so full.

Roughly two years ago I remember the day I turned up on your doorstep; all my belongings in an assortment of black bags with tear stains across my cheeks. You pulled me in and held me in the longest hug I can remember. Dropping the bags at my feet, I wrapped my arms around your waist and sobbed into your shoulder. You soothed me, rubbing the small of my back and perfectly placing kisses on my forehead. Together, we slowly sorted through all my things and put them in place next to yours. The bookshelves twice as full, cupboards holding doubles of all cutlery and a wardrobe bursting at the seams trying to contain the mess of clothes within. ‘His and Her’ sides of the bed and just about everything else. The flat that was once yours, became ours.

This flashback is abruptly jolted from my mind by the smell of sweet pancakes being flipped in the pan. I know that you’ve made breakfast to try and start the day that bit sweeter as the memories of earlier Christmas’ have tarnished my love for the holidays. You douse my breakfast in maple syrup and icing sugar; cutting assorted berries up and somehow placing them perfectly on top of a neat stack of buttermilk pancakes. After placing the plate down in front of me at the table and making small talk over breakfast about the snow falling on the rooftops down our street, I catch you checking to see if I’m enjoying myself.

“I’m okay,” I say flatly, “I know you worry about me this time of year, especially today, but I will always love Christmas because I can spend it with you. I don’t need to worry anymore about what they’re thinking of me”

Despite reassuring you, the ghost looms over my frame. Hovering over my head with their black, thin arms trying to encapsulate me in utter darkness. I’m pulled from my seat at our kitchen table with you and the homemade pancakes. Falling, a pitch black abyss swallows me whole; engulfing my soul and extinguishing the small flame in my chest. As I try to open my eyes, the weight of horrific memories pulls down on my lids and forces me to relive experiences I had fought so long to repress.

Christmas Day: 2 Years Earlier

“Imogen! Come downstairs! It’s time for Christmas lunch otherwise we’ll start without you!”

When I look into the mirror today, it’s not me looking back. A small, blonde girl stares back with agony in her eyes. Long hair curled perfectly and swept over one shoulder to lay on my chest. Red, cherry lipstick highlight my white teeth as I fake a smile to the person in the reflection. I take slow steps down to the kitchen table from my bedroom and silently place myself onto a chair next to my mum and dad, who are already practically inhaling the hot roasted vegetables coated in gravy. No one bothers to look up from their plates to wish me a ‘Merry Christmas’ or even to register the fact my cheeks are already stained with mascara and I’m visibly shaking from anxiety.

My breath is quick. Unable to control my heart rate, I’m writhing in my chair. C’mon. It’s just a few words. You don’t even have to look at them when you say it. C’mon, it’s now or never. Do I bother? It’s Christmas Day. Why would I say anything today? You know you would ruin the day. God, why couldn’t you be normal? You’re so stupid. Right, no. Just say it. You know you’ll never be able to live with yourself otherwise.

“Mum. Dad. I don’t think I’m a girl. Well, I don’t think I’m a boy either but that’s irrelevant right now. What I’m trying to say is that I’m non-binary.”

Both their mouths stop moving. My dad places his cutlery on his plate and uses his hands to push himself away from the table. In silence, he stands up, turns on the spot and walks into the lounge and closes the door behind him. My mum continues to stare at the placemat in front of her. Tears well up in my eyes that I try and force to not roll down my face to further ruin my makeup. My mum meets my eye level, goes to speak and then places a finger on her pursed lips as her shoulders shrug in small sobs. She blinks the water out of her eyes and then simply says one thing before joining my dad in the lounge.

“I cannot love you as anyone or anything but my daughter Imogen.”

Crashing into my bedroom, I throw all my clothes into black sacks. Jeans, jumpers, socks, my childhood teddy and a multitude of objects are shoved into the nearest bag in a blind rage. I’m not even paying attention to what I’m grabbing. All I know is that I have to get out. Bags in hand, I storm to the front door and slam it behind me without taking a second to look back.

——

“Hey babe, are you okay? Do you want a hug? We can take a break from all the Christmas stuff if it’s too much? Please don’t cry.”

Before I can register what’s happened, the ghosts release their long talons from my shoulders and draw back into the corner of the room. You pull me into an embrace and shush me as silent tears roll down my face and you remind me that I’ll never be alone again. I have to stop myself from crumpling onto the floor in an all encompassing, overwhelming sadness. The tall figures hover in the corner of our kitchen and wave a skinny hand to say goodbye to me for yet another year; haunting me annually before they quickly depart. The pain eases with every day that passes. Yet, these ghosts reappear today to mark my life with a black streak; making my ‘perfect Christmas’ not-so perfect. You remind me of the light and happiness in my life, no longer scarred with the trauma of my childhood. Slowly, the little flame ignites inside my chest once again and the black cloud is swept from above my head by your unwavering love.

“I think I might take you up on that offer right about now”.

Image courtesy of Hide Obara

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