Last Christmas I gave him my heart. He broke it the very next day, just like the song says. It may have taken him a little longer, yet the end result was the same; I fell off of my cloud and onto the ground with a great big bang, just like the one that caused the world to start, only in my case, the world ended.
I’ve been a wreck since then. I’ve made a habit of being a wreck so now being a wreck feels like home to me. I’ve been a walking disaster since he left me. Like a car without a driver, I go around bruised, crashed, hopelessly awaiting the next disaster to fall upon me. Disasters don’t fall upon you, you fall upon disasters, he says when we meet again on Christmas eve. I would avoid them if I could, wouldn’t I? Yet somehow Christmas reminds me of him and it looks like I’m going to make that same mistake this year as well; I know I’ll spend days running after me, like a mother runs after a naughty kid, cleaning the mess I’ll make. I’m good at it, making a mess, then cleaning it away. I don’t belong to that regretful – kind of “learn-from-your-mistakes” – generation, raised with George Michael’s songs. Instead, I grew up with wishful Christmas tunes like “All I want for Christmas is you” and all. In all truth, that’s exactly what I want for Christmas: him to break my heart once more. Or maybe mend it.
This is the place where we met, he says. He’s not talking about us. He’s talking about his current girlfriend. They’re obviously more compatible. At least they speak the same language, unlike us. You should be fluent by now, he says. I’ve been living here for over two years, yet his language is still strange to me. Then again, my native tongue also feels strange sometimes, as if I don’t speak any language fluently. As if I can’t truly communicate at all. Translating myself all the time is so exhausting, that I usually avoid talking.
The sign’s blinking above our heads, as we clink our glasses; King’s Arms is the name of the pub. He’s truly a king right now and his arms are big enough to fit her. They fit both of us, I think, yet I don’t tell him; I only talk about his current infatuation. He wouldn’t have noticed even if I did. He laughs out loud. He finds me entertaining, which is a good sign. It doesn’t mean “arms” like this, he says showing me his arms. So it means king’s weapons? He’s rolling his eyes, stating I’m a hopeless case. Lovely, he says, like he always does when I say stupid things and all I want to do is to keep saying stupid things so I can hear him say that with that wonderful accent.
He takes me to other pubs where they exchanged their first kiss, where they first held hands and so on. Although he has already explained, I still translate “arms” the way I originally thought. Swallowing another sip of the mojito, I already feel embraced by a drunk man’s arms, narrating his love life to me. It’s not that I mind at all.
He then remembers to ask: Did you fix the hole? If only for a second, I thought he meant the hole he created: the hole in my heart. He only meant the hole in my apartment though. The specialist I called took care of the mold but advised me to wait a little for the wall to dry. It’s not dry yet, I lie. He nods. These things take time, he finally says. The hole has been there for a long time. You know how it goes; you see it and you decide to fix it but the days go by and you forget, until you notice it again and say – this time I’ll do it – but something comes up which is, or isn’t, more urgent, which doesn’t really matter because in the end you once more forget about the hole. Until sooner or later you get used to it, it doesn’t really bother you after all, and then imagination takes over and you begin to wonder: Is this a portal to an alternate reality? Is this a rabbit hole? Is it a cliff? Is it my broken heart?
He introduces me to his friend. His name’s Leo, but I hear “pleo” which translates as ship in my language, so at first I see a huge ship in front of me. I then force myself to see him as a person and we spend some time fighting over cats. He insists they have nine lives. They only have seven in my language, I say. They’d rather live here, then, he says and I nod. It’s better to have more lives to spend, even if you’re a cat. I could use a couple of lives more, to learn from my mistakes. I could waste this one away with someone I love but doesn’t love me back. Leo looks me up and down, but I turn away, making it clear that my intentions don’t include a ship tonight. They only include the object of my affection.
Leo salutes us as he leaves and we’re alone again at last. Christmas reminds me of heaven, he says. I wonder if he’s a faithful Christian, only he isn’t, he explains, but that’s what heaven would look like if only it existed, he adds, showing me the blinking lights of a Christmas tree. Would heaven look like a Christmas tree? Heaven would look like happiness. I nod, yet I’m not sure I agree. Christmas only feels like nostalgia to me. Nostalgia is the closest to happiness I can feel. I can remember joy, yet I can’t taste it.
You know that film? It’s a wonderful life? In my case it’s the opposite, I say. I only matter in dreams. In real life, nobody gives a damn whether I live or die. He’s glaring at me as if he doesn’t understand and I blame the language again, only to realize it’s not about the words at all. It’s a miserable life, not wonderful at all. I go on ignoring his perplexed gaze. You’d be better without me, I finally say. He nods as if he already knew. He already left me after all.
I can’t hold back my tears now. I didn’t expect him to agree on this. He could at least pretend, if only for tonight. He could have been the angel who earned back his wings. Instead he chose to nod and for a little while I wish I was her, the girl who stole his heart away. He wipes my tears with the back of his hand. I also want to be someone else, sometimes, he says. Not to escape myself. Just for the fun of it. Just for the fun of it, I repeat. I could try that. The grass is always greener on the other side, he tells me. The grass is truly greener on the other side. They say I should ignore it and focus on my grass which is green enough for my standards. They say it like it’s my fault my grass isn’t green enough, like I didn’t try hard enough to feed it, water it, or even paint it. And I mostly believe them. Or else I wouldn’t be standing here now, in his arms, wishing I was someone else. Wishing I was her. Just for the fun of it, I remind myself.
We don’t walk long before he shows me the hotel. This is the place we first fell madly in love, he tells me. I realize he’s still talking about her. You mean you fucked like bunnies, I tell him. That included some “bunny fucking”, yet I didn’t mean only that, he says grinning. He seems offended. I wouldn’t use that kind of words in my native tongue. They don’t sound that offensive in a foreign language though. Translation is sometimes liberating.
I ask him if he thinks about settling down. I’ll only settle down when I reach middle age, he says. I’ve been middle aged since I remember myself. At that age when if you wonder – how much left do I have? – you don’t mean drugs. You don’t even mean money. Nor the food in the fridge. You talk about time and the answer is always the same: not much. Or even not enough. So you either hurry or you sleep. As if time could stand still if you’re comatose. You try to “take death out of the moment”, like photographers do in my language. They capture the moment forever. So, you move into pictures your mind’s made up, in order to stop time.
Time shouldn’t matter at our age, he claims. He means we have all the time in the world to make up our minds. All options are open. We’re young for god’s sake, he insists, yet I feel old enough to almost hate him.
We’re at his place now and that’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all night. He softly caresses my face and kisses me. For a moment, I believe I’m the one. Yet the connection grows weaker and weaker, until I feel nothing. I stand there frozen, like a castrated cat, hearing his moaning, wondering what this fuss is all about.
Say my name, I tell him. He doesn’t hear me. The more he ignores me, the more I persist. As long as he doesn’t say my name, I’m nameless. I could be anybody, or even worse; I could be her. I don’t want to be her. I want to be myself again. What’s a girl supposed to do on Christmas, but be her authentic self?
Cheer up, he says. It’s Christmas eve. It doesn’t look like the proper time to reclaim my lost sense of identity, yet I can’t help it. A piece of me is shrinking while nothing grows bigger to replace it and fill the empty space. I feel empty, yet whole. Like my love for him is dying right this very moment, like I’m a balloon floating for too long which now lands slowly as the air leaves my inside, and for a while I fly higher, like balloons do, before they touch the earth. An empty balloon is still a balloon though. An empty balloon is still a complete balloon.
It could be a Christmas miracle. It could be my guardian angel, clapping his hands. For he earned his wings. I frown harder just to annoy him, yet he doesn’t notice. Which annoys me in the end.
Christmas isn’t about him anymore. It’s not about heaven either. Christmas reminds me of that long-forgotten utopia I’ve been dreaming of, since forever. Where people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, never needing to translate their soul. I’ll now go home and live a piece of Christmas magic. Three ghosts will visit me during the night, or maybe Santa will come, or I will fly over the clouds beside a snowman, or even take the Polar Express to North Pole. I might fall into that hole in the wall and travel to Wonderland where I will meet him. He will be the King of Spades, hunting me down. He won’t be after my head, it’s my heart he’ll be chasing after but the Queen of Hearts will be kind and gentle and come to my rescue and she’ll teach me the art of mending hearts. Like all magic I will forget all about it in the morning. It will only leave behind the feeling of a good dream.
Only the hole in my heart will no longer be there.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in many journals, such as the Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Asymmetry fiction, the Sunlight Press, Ghost Parachute, Gone Lawn and others. https://www.facebook.com/milevaanastasiadou/