I’ve made no secret around here of my struggles with social anxiety. I’ve made some major strides in the last year, but I’ve still got some work to do. And, even once that’s done, I’ll always be an introvert.
That means I have trouble in highly social situations. Even when they’re fun, and packed with people I like being around, they wear me out. After a couple hours, I need to escape. After a couple days of social stuff, I start to shut down. After a couple weeks (like one might encounter around the holidays), I really start having problems.
This year we came back from Thanksgiving with my family, then had a Christmas party with friends, then had a big Consortium Christmas party at our place, and then headed up to Wichita for Christmas with Trish’s family.
Trish’s whole family.
We got in Thursday evening, had a nice dinner with her parents, and then on Friday afternoon I drove out to the west side of town to reconnect with one of my best friends from high school, Brad. Dan met up with us, too, and we had a grand time for several hours.
I drove straight from there over to the traditional big family Christmas Eve dinner at Golden Corral, where thirty Charboneaus (10 of them under the age of 10) were gathered around a single, long table, laughing and having a good time.
We left the restaurant around 7:30 and headed back to her parents’ house (all thirty of us), to open presents. With the exception of my little family, all the rest of them live within maybe a dozen miles of each other. It’s amazing how close and connected this family is, and that showed as we all gathered in the huge basement family room, talking and joking while waiting our turns.
It was bright and cheerful and fun, but by the time it was over I was worn out. We all were, really. Everyone else went home, we got the kids in bed, and then we all crashed.
Saturday morning rolled around, and we had a quiet moment with just the six of us while Annabelle and Alexander discovered their presents from Santa. An hour or so after that, people started trickling back in. We put twenty people around folding tables for a big Christmas lunch, and started talking excitedly about the evening plans. Everyone was coming back (everyone), for snacks and games into the wee hours.
And that was when I said my goodbyes. It had already been the plan — Trish and I are both well aware of my limitations in situations like this — and by that point in the afternoon it was absolutely necessary. I hung around to help put the kids down for their afternoon nap, waved goodbye to everyone, and slipped away.
Trish’s dad had offered to bring her and the kids home later in the week. That gave me two full days of sweet, blissful silence and alone time to recuperate before I had to go back to work. I’d had a wonderful Christmas, but I was really looking forward to a couple days of quiet.
When I got on the road, though, that sweet anticipation quickly fell away. It was cold outside, heavily overcast, all the stores were closed and dark, and the roads were deserted. After all the cheery bustle of two straight days surrounded by family, those two hours driving toward an empty house felt incredibly lonely. Several times along the way I thought about turning around and going back.
It got worse when I got home and realized there wasn’t really anything in the pantry or fridge to make a decent dinner. It was still Christmas day, so I passed the empty Homeland parking lot on my way to Wal-Mart and found that closed, too. I ended up stopping in a 7-11 and buying a can of chili and package of saltines for my Christmas dinner.
I decided to console myself with a little bit of entertainment. I’ve piled up a long list of movies to watch over the last six months, when I didn’t really have the time to do it, and these two days made a perfect opportunity to get caught up. So I threw my chili in the microwave, turned on the TV in the living room, and popped in the first movie in my list.
Zombieland. It’s the story of a handful of survivors left, alone, in a world ravaged by a zombie apocalypse. The protagonist is driven by a desperate (and impossible) desire to have a strong, supportive family around him, in spite of the almost certainty that all the family he had left had been wiped out by the monsters.
It’s two hours of desperation and toil in a world built of loneliness. (Although I have to admit, it’s pretty hilarious at points.)
Still…what a choice. I mean seriously. That might have been my most depressing Christmas ever. I should’ve gone with It’s a Wonderful Life.