‘Hey Babe, my boss is hosting the work Christmas party this year at his house. Partners are invited. So you need to come,’ Anne said to her boyfriend David.
‘Fine, when and where?’ David said without looking up from his computer.
‘It’s this coming Saturday. Party starts at noon and they live in Gordon,’ Anne referred to the email on her phone.
‘Fine,’ David mumbled as he returned his attention to the video game that he was playing.
The pair had been together for seven years. They had settled into a highly habitualised way of life, almost robotic. Each morning, they took turns to shower and dress. David would drive both of them to his workplace and then left the car for Anne to continue to her workplace. There would be one text message to each other during lunch time, and then another one at the end of the workday. In the evening, the routine would reverse where Anne would pick David up and drove home. They would prepare dinner, eat, clean up and get ready for bed.
This daily routine would change on Friday where dinner would be at David’s parents. David’s father, Robert, was a chef and his mother, Jayne, a homemaker. Robert loved cooking for his family. He would say that his cooking at home was not as flamboyant as his restaurant meals. ‘You see, I have to use healthier options at home,’ Robert would explain with a sense of both shame and pride. His speciality was a roast pork dish that Anne adored. She could not eat enough of it.
‘Come guys, don’t be shy. Dig into this,’ Robert would happily urge everyone to get into the food that he had prepared. He was all smiles and tickled pink when serving his family. He was also entertaining. He could talk about all manners of things, from something trivial about what product he used to cleaned the kitchen blinds today, to something that caught his attention in the news. He was the life of the party. Anne loved these Friday dinners. It made her feel safe and sheltered, a feeling that she craved when she was a child.
On the last Friday, Robert had already put up the Christmas tree. He told everyone how busy the shopping centres were and how he managed to get a park. Anne spotted Christmas wrapping papers around the living room and felt a tightness in her throat. She recalled how she had never received Christmas presents at home. Her parents just couldn’t afford it. Christmas was a low key affair growing up. It was a time of the year to remind her how little they had and how much better off everyone else were. It was not a favourite time of the year for Anne.
When Anne turned her attention from the animated face of Robert to check on David, she noticed how unimpressed her boyfriend’s face was towards his father’s capability as a provider, his generosity and graciousness. She figured that if David had grown up seeing his father this way, he could take all this for granted, instead of feeling blessed. He had no idea how lucky he was to be born into this household.
Anne had met David at university, He was cute, kind and gentle. He was also very attentive to her. Whatever she asked of David, he would make sure that he could deliver. David was different to Robert however. David didn’t have the drive that Robert had. David was passive and she had to be the leader.
Anne often pondered if David would grow up to be like Robert. There was a flicker of hope when she considered how much younger David was compared to Robert. But deep inside her, she knew that the chances were slim. They were different people altogether.
The day arrived for Anne’s work Christmas party. David drove the pair to the venue. If David was good at anything, driving was it. He drove competently and had no trouble finding the place. He could also drive for hours without the need to stop and rest.
As the couple walked up to the house, they were greeted warmly at the door by her boss’s wife. She took them through the living room where a giant Christmas tree was filled to the brim with baubles, tinsel and angels. There were elves on the book shelf and the couch was lined with Christmas themed cushions. Christmas songs blasted through the speakers along the wall. She led the couple to the backyard where everyone was.The beers were flowing and the boss was at the barbecue surrounded by smokes and a few of her colleagues.
‘Hey Anne, what would you guys like to drink?’ Anne’s boss yelled out when he spotted them.
‘Hi Chris!’ Anne and David walked up to Chris.
‘Oh, you must be David, it’s so good to finally meet you. Anne talked often about you,’ Chris beamed at David.
‘Hello Chris, it’s a pleasure to meet you too,’ David smiled shyly.
‘Please make yourself at home. The beers are the eski and the wines on the table. Please help yourself to whatever you like,’ Chris gestured to the drinks table.
‘Hi Anne!’ One of Anne’s colleague greeted her as she approached the drinks table.
‘Hi Julie, this is my boyfriend, David. David, this is Julie. She is our web designer,’ Anne smiled.
‘Hi David, it’s lovely to meet you.’
‘Hi,’ David nodded coolly.
Further rounds of introductions were made as Anne settled into the group. She was amused at how her colleagues came across so differently when they were with their spouses. It was a side of them that she had never seen. Her male colleagues looked so much softer and they also smiled more. Her female colleagues looked more feminine and motherly. Everyone was more tender and she liked them better this way.
The same couldn’t be said about the spouses however. The partners looked guarded and uncomfortable. A spouse’s work party was never a level playing field. The spouses only knew one person in the group while their partners knew fifty percent of the group. They also had conversations that the spouses could not understand. As far as the spouses were concerned, the conversations were so strange that they might as well be speaking a different language.
David was no different. No, he was worse. He sat stone faced on his chair. Even when others tried to engage him in a conversation, he was not keen to respond. Anne could see that others were not comfortable with him and he didn’t care. She was also taken aback by David’s negativity. She had not seen David like this and wondered what bothered him.
When Anne tried to figure out what was going on with David, she realised that this wasn’t the first time she had seen him like that. David had been behaving differently for some time. He was less attentive. He was also less enthusiastic about the places that they went to together, the activities that they had partaken in, and the conversations that they had. Well, he was less enthusiastic about her.
Anne’s heart sank when she made that realisation. The more she reflected on it, the colder she felt. Could it be true that changes had happened to their relationship? What happened? When did things start to change? Why hadn’t she noticed it sooner? Why didn’t he say anything?
Her hands started to shake and she had to collect herself. She wolfed down her glass of white wine and went up to get a re-fill. She gulped that down and felt her head spin. She turned back to look for David and she saw him moving back inside the house. She followed him and saw that he had left the house and walked to the car. He got into the car and just sat at the driver’s seat.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ Anne went up to the car leaned over the driver’s window.
‘Yeah, it’s just so boring inside.’
‘Do you want us to leave?’
‘No, it’s fine. You go back in there. I can wait for you out here, or I can go for a drive and come back.’
‘No, I think we should leave, just give me a minute,’ Anne turned and went back into the house to say her goodbyes to her colleagues. She felt embarrassed that she had to leave early and scrambled to come up with an excuse.
‘Chris, I’m so sorry but I’m afraid that we need to leave. David’s not feeling well. He may be coming down with something and it’s better that he doesn’t share whatever he’s got. Thank you so much for having us,’ Anne apologised.
‘Oh, that’s a shame. Are you guys okay?’ Chris gave Anne a concerned look. His eyes were soft and he seemed like he had sensed something.
‘Oh, yeah, we’re fine. It’s probably all the late nights. Thank you so much for having us. I’ll see you on Monday,’ Anne pretended that she had misunderstood his question and avoided further discussions.
‘Alright, I hope David feels better soon. Take care and see you on Monday’ Chris gave Anne a wave and went back to attending his barbecue.
Back in the car, Anne felt the chill in the air. She knew it. Whatever she was feeling about David’s change was real. The dread inside her was building. It was difficult to breathe but she was too scared to take a deeper breath. She thought she might break if move. All she could do was to stare in front of her. She decided to be quiet and wait for David to make the first move.
David started driving. She looked at his side profile and the unhappiness was so clear now. But David was not going to say anything. He remained silent. Anne closed her eyes and reminded herself that she had to lead.
‘Is there something that you want to tell me?’ Anne’s voice shook when she decided that she could no longer win the standoff. Her volume was weak. It was the sound of someone just about to cry. This was Christmas. It was meant to be a time for connecting with her loved ones, not losing them.
How did things change so quickly? Anne’s legs started to shake as well. They were having dinner with his parents just last night. There was no way that she could see today coming. What did she miss? When she replayed the event of last night in her head, all she saw was Robert. The way he looked, what he talked about and the way he made her feel.
‘Jesus Christ!’ She closed her eyes and her face blushed when she made that realisation. I was in love with David’s family, not David. She craved the shelter that Robert provided. He made her feel like a child again. She could be the child that she wasn’t allowed to be in her own childhood. There was never enough of anything. Not enough money, not enough status, not enough affections. She had to be on guard and fend for herself.
Being part of David’s family was like being Christmas. She was with people with means, people with smiles, people with love. She was with were people who could give, who could enjoy Christmas. Christmas wasn’t for people like her own family.
It was not David that she fell in love with. But did David figure it out before she did?
‘Look, I think we’re done. I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore, I’m sorry,’ David finally uttered the words with a sigh.
‘I know. I’m sorry too,’ Anne started to sob.
‘I should be the one that is sorry. I am the one leaving after all,’ David stole a glance at Anne. A tear was forming in the corner of his eye.
‘No, I’m sorry too,’ tears rolled off Anne’s face but she didn’t bother mopping them up. She just let them roll down onto her shirt.
‘I’ll drop you off at home and I’ll move out as soon as I can. I’ll stay with my friend tonight.’
Anne wanted to ask him which friend was he staying with, but she held back. What was the point of knowing? If he was not going to be in her life anymore, why would she care about who his friends were.
‘So you won’t be home tonight?’
That was it. There were no protests, arguments or debates. It was total acceptance. They both knew it somehow at a deeper level.
‘Of all the days in the year, why does it have to be this time? It’s Christmas for crying out loud!’ Anne thought to herself as she crouched in the corner of their apartment with her head in her hands. There was no end to her tears. She wiped them away with the sleeves of her top. Her top was damp from her tears and snots. She pulled herself up to get into the shower. The apartment was getting dark but she didn’t want to turn the light on. She would be alone tonight.
She picked up her phone and called David. To her surprise, he picked up.
‘Hi,’ David said.
‘Hi David. I miss you.’
‘Are you okay?’
‘Yes, yes I am. Can you come home tonight?’
‘No Anne, that would not be a good idea.’
‘Please David. Just one more night please?’
‘No Anne. I can’t. I’m sorry.’
‘Why did this happen just before Christmas?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You can’t even wait till the new year?’
‘I don’t know. It just happened I suppose.’
‘I’ve never had a break up as a Christmas present before,’ Anne thought a bit of humour could make the situation feel better.
‘Neither have I,’ David chuckled. Anne did have a strange way of seeing things and he thought he might miss her.
‘I’m sorry. I just couldn’t do it anymore,’ David continued.
‘Ah well, maybe this is the best Christmas present that I can give you,’ Anne sighed.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Yes, freedom for us to move on, to start a new life.’
‘Merry Christmas Anne,’ David smiled.
Anne started to cry again and hung up. She couldn’t find the words to say good bye. Here was another wretched Christmas.