Thanks Santa

The neti pot. Gross, but effective.

We had grand plans for celebrating Christmas and the New Year. Grand by “parents-of-a-4-year-old” standards, that is. I was to leave work on Christmas Eve and not return until January 5 — 11 days of peaceful baking, gifting, going to the spa with my best friend, Lisa,  playing with my daughter, Emmy, and reacquainting myself with my husband, Jon. We intended to spend Christmas at home in Brooklyn and then head to Jon’s folks on December 30 for a little Connecticut Currier & Ives action (rumor had it we might get to go to a grownup movie while Emmy hung out with Gran’ma).

We needed this vacation, bad. It had been a rough year and change, kicking off in October of 2008 when two terrible things happened. First, my friend Sheryl moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. (And not even to work in show business. She moved to LA to be a big shot in the Los Angeles library system. So unless Colin Firth needs to check out a book, I’m no closer to meeting him. And by “meeting,” I mean “making out with.”) I was 39 when Sheryl moved, but it was absolutely the end of my 20s, the slamming shut, locking, and throwing away the key to a chapter of my life that I knew was over but still got to visit when we sat over coffee for hours in Park Slope or went night driving around Brooklyn in her dilapidated JEEP. She was my single gal pal as no one else had been, my Saturday night movie date, my Sunday morning brunch date, the one who assured me I wasn’t gay that time I accidentally gave a girl a lapdance at the MTV Christmas party (and then offered to buy me a wallet with an attached chain if it turned out I was gay, no judgements), who insisted there was NO WAY I had AIDS when I got home from that ill-conceived trip to New Mexico. (Her exact words were: “Everyone does stupid things and gets away with it. Why shouldn’t you?” And she was right, I was fine.) We saw every Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movie together. And then she was gone.

Oh, and also? At the same time? The project I had been hired to run at work was put on “permanent hiatus,” and it seemed I was not far behind it. Unemployment is scary under the best of circumstances, but there was that whole economic meltdown thing, and my husband is a SAHD (a Stay at Home Dad. He’s the one WITHOUT a blog). If I lose my job there goes our sole income, all our benefits, and in my worst nightmare, we have to go live with my parents. Or in a box. It’s a toss up.

I thought I was fine, in the late autumn of 2008, I really did. Yes, I was crying half the day, and freezing in place like a deer at the watering hole anytime someone at work talked to me, but I was fine. Eventually, Jon intervened and he and Lisa orchestrated a visit to a modern shaman — a psychopharmacologist. Two days on Wellbutrin and I was a new woman. It was marvelous for six months, until I started to go bald. Yes, one of the side effects of Wellbutrin is hair loss, and given the choice between happy and bald or depressed and lustrous, I choose hair.

But Wellbutrin did something to me, something good, and it stayed that way even when I went off it. Obama got elected, which somehow made the world more hopeful and less terrifying, and Jon got to watch the inauguration at Emmy’s sweet little Montessori school. Sheryl and I still go meandering when she visits, and she frequently mocks me on Facebook. I got a new job (a fantastic new job, a dream job in so many ways). And, glory to heaven, my dermatologist put me on a miracle drug called Spironolactone that GROWS HAIR. And now I have highlights.

So yes, we needed our long luxurious break, but when I got home from work on Christmas Eve I felt like someone was baking me, that terrible feverish feeling of icy fingers and toes and a hot head. Jon put me to bed and wrapped gifts, and I managed to rouse myself for Christmas day to help Emmy open her presents. Sunday I slept while my parents took Emmy for the day, and Monday Lisa and I went to the spa, and I thought I’d turned the corner. On Tuesday, the hammer came down. I woke up with my eye sealed shut, unable to breathe through my nose, certain that a mouse had crawled into my right ear. The diagnosis: Sinus infection.  Ear infection. Pink eye. The doctor wrote me several scripts and sent me home to bed. And so Jon and Emmy went to CT without me, and I spent four days alone, eating soup and watching movies on cable.

It was wonderful.

Yes, I felt like hell and looked worse. And yes, I had to keep to a fairly busy schedule of swallowing pills, putting drops in my eyes, squirting things up my nose, and irrigating my sinuses with salt water. And Liv Tyler is in a shocking number of movies, given her limited range. But it had been years since I just sat, quietly, without a list of things I should be doing, without an alarm about to go off, or Emmy’s nap about to end. I just sat there. Slurping chicken soup and eating vanilla ice cream directly from the container. On Friday Lisa came by for a while with two kinds of matzoh ball soup and far too much orange juice, and I was so happy to have her company and peaceful when she left.

Things don’t always fall apart. And gifts come in the strangest packages.