Aside from the aforementioned dreaded birthday, the other time of the year that makes me neurotic (well a lot more than the usual neurotic) is Christmas and the end of the year. While many consider this to be a time of celebration and giving, I consider it one of loss, nostalgia and regret, but also one of gratitude and a sneaky, unshakable hope that I’m going to wake up to a pile of presents under the plastic Made-in-China Christmas tree.
This (like pretty much everything in my life) can be blamed entirely on my parents, who, up until I was ten (or four, depending on which parent you choose to believe) led me to believe that Santa Clause (and the tooth fairy) existed purely to buy me presents.
I remember every Christmas Eve being a festive, happy, gift-filled party, usually thanks to my unofficial godfathers, Uncle Mohi and Uncle Victor buying me excellent choices (for a ten/four/28-year old) such as a yellow tea tray set with beautiful tea cups, a quaint tea pot and even a sugar jar (it baffles me how my usually pea-brain-sized memory can still recollect these obscure little experiences when I fail to remember more important things such as why I left my car keys in the fridge again, most of my friends’ names and my sister’s birthday- thank god for facebook reminders). Singing in the Rain would be playing on TV, my friend Maya and her sisters, my sister and I would huddle in front of the fire and ladle generous spoons of brandy cream into our mouths (which led me to recently observe to my mother: “Have you ever thought that maybe I wasn’t sugar high as a kid, I was just drunk?”) and sing all the Christmas songs that my German kindergarten had hammered into my head.
Several years of jovial brandy cream and tea set gifts later, my dad one day decided to burst my Santa bubble by telling me that Mr. Clause doesn’t exist, and I should no longer get presents; as I’m Muslim and Muslims don’t have Santas. This I found to be extremely offensive, especially since it meant no more presents; but I was happily reminded of not one but two Muslim feasts where I get brand-new clothes and clean-smelling cash from all adults (including unfortunate guests who happened to drop by at the wrong time and couldn’t handle my thug-like ten year old attitude of ‘Yo! I’m Muslim! Gimme money!”
Still, the cash was usually a few pounds at the most and always ran out with one trip to the nearest grocers and a pile of Magic Gum, Bimbo, Rocket and bonbon Sima, or it got confiscated by the same Santa-ruining father who put it all away in a precious bank account “for savings.” Two decades later, we’ve forgotten entirely about those bank accounts, but I’m pretty sure there’s a few valuable twenties locked away somewhere with my name on them.
Today, the cash is no longer forked out, as I am rudely reminded that I am an independent, cash-earning career woman and new clothes are no longer necessary since I need two wardrobes in two different cities to contain my collection (and several suitcases and a few boxes under beds). But I’ve always thought that it’s the thought that counts, especially when it’s a well-thought-out wad of cash on Christmas or either of the eids or a new pair of shoes, but hey, I’m just saying. Not dropping hints or anything, Dad.
The whole why-don’t-I-get-Christmas-too debate recently came into question when my last boss decided to split work holidays according to religions; i.e. if you’re Christian, you get Christmas off, but if you’re Muslim, you have to work, etc. I understand that the man was a workaholic and wanted to keep the company running throughout the year, but I smelled religious discrimination and considered reporting him to some workers’ union until I remembered that, like most of my friends working in Egypt, I didn’t have a contract or any legit workers’ papers, and thus did not have a single (nicely shoed) leg to stand in.
Then I came up with the genius decision that I am a Cruslim. Yes, a Christian Muslim. A person of both faiths that gets both the Christian and the Muslim New Year’s Eves off and expects presents whenever possible. My poor boss blinked at me for a good five minutes, and then huffed off and threatened to throw his Café Greco double espresso at someone else instead.
He then got into trouble when Thanksgiving rolled around and the American colleagues got that off but I had to work, whereupon I pointed out that I should get Egyptian Labor Day, Sinai Liberation Day, National Victory Day, Sham El Neseem, May 15th, 26th of July, Father’s and Mother’s Day off. Suffice it to say that I don’t work there anymore.
Still, my closeted religious righteousness is appeased with every Christmas, as I get invited to many generous dinners, where people feed me for a change and I don’t have to raise a finger except to go for seconds, and sometimes thirds ( I eat for a living. I have the stomach capacity to prove it).
That, however, cannot always shake the sense of foreboding and regret that I feel around this time of year when I remember the people that I have lost and the opportunities that I have missed on this strange path that I have taken.
It’s always around this time of year when I look at what I’ve become and what I was supposed to be, and measure the drastic gap of difference between the two. When I was six (or eight or twelve) I had my life excellently planned out. I was going to be an astronaut. A champion tennis player, the grand dame of a ballet school, a dog breeder, the president of the world; all admirable and realistic aspirations that got lost along the way of growing taller and wider, saner and more responsible.
These are the things that I still regret.
1. I regret listening to my ballet teacher when I was twelve, who told me I was too tall and too heavy to ever become a ballerina. After eight years of loving ballet, I quit cold turkey. I still tear up when I watch ballet, and my feet always twitch whenever I watch So You Think You Can Dance. I could have been something.
2. I regret all the amazing trips and job offers that I passed up on, like the free trips to Cyprus, Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut and Damascus, or the job offer at AP, the exchange program in the US, or the writers’ program in Gouna. All these opportunities I relinquished because I was committed to a person or a job, and time has proven neither to be worthy.
3. I regret the friends that I’m no longer friends with, whether because words were spoken and pride got in the way, or we drifted apart because my life was filled with other (more temporarily interesting) people. I’ve found out the hard way that you don’t choose your best friends; they’re the ones that stay when the smoke clears and the glitter fades.
4. I regret the advice that I never took, the people that I never listened to, and as a result, let myself get hurt by people who didn’t deserve my trust. Since then, I’m borderline anal about taking my friends’ advice on who I should date, what I should eat, and does that haircut really suit me even if the hot Lebanese/Italian/French hair stylist tells me I look fabulous.
5. I regret the people that I’ve hurt, whether through carelessness or not being able to control my car or foresee the future.
6. I regret never telling the people I lost how much I love them. Mohab believed in me more than I did in myself, and wouldn’t stop calling me, no matter how often I ignored his phone calls. Roba insisted on cooing at me down the phone, even when I begged her not to sing Hammaki or Tamer Hosny off-key to me, but she was charming and she loved me.
7. And the biggest regret I will always have is the fact that I never answered Vanessa’s calls. She called me every day for five days when I was mourning Roba, and I was too stuck in my bubble to call her back, or even just text her. The day she stopped calling, I decided to call her back, and it was too late. And that’s something I have to deal with for the rest of my life.
My very wise grandmother once said that you don’t regret the things that you do, you regret the things that you don’t. With all the mistakes that I’ve made in my rather short twenty eight years of life, I rarely have pangs of regret other than the next morning of what-the-hell-did-do-last-night-and-how-did-I-end-up-singing-karaoke-on-the-bar-table-and-why-did-my-stupid-friends-take-photos-and-post-them-on-facebook.
At this time of year, I weigh my list of regrets versus all the little milestones that I’ve achieved, and try and spin something positive out of them. I’m young, I’m loved, I have several talents that should channeled into something more productive than feeding a few friends (sorry, guys) or writing a blog that possibly thirty people (including my mother) know about.
So this year, I resolve to stop whining about nostalgia and regret, and start doing something about it. Starting with presents. You know what I want.