A Single Jewish Christmas: Curing a Fear of Silence and a Dependence on Fantasy

The television is on. I am holding a pad of paper and a pen, taken off my desk because I wondered if I could be productive while lying on the couch but now, sitting here, all I can do is stare at the reunion of a man and his long lost brother, cry and reassure my dog that everything is ok.   I cry a lot but I cry with the people on TV so it is ok. As long as the TV is on and there are other people crying, everything is ok.

The TV is always on.  I tried many times to will myself to turn it off but I am afraid, I am afraid of being alone.

I have developed a fear of silence.

It is Christmas now, which, for a single Jewish woman is the loudest, most obnoxious time of year. Throughout all other months of the year I typically spend a total of zero minutes explaining my religious status to strangers. Contrastingly, during Christmas I find the daily occasion to make it clear: I am Jewish and no I do not participate in the celebration of Christ’s birthday.

(By the way, the responsive declaration “but it’s Christmas” makes no sense or improvement to my alienated position but thank you for the strange offer of reasoning.)

Frustration turns to sadness with the annual reminder that I have no partner and I therefore lack love in my life.

This year my parents are out of town on vacation. We used to go with them, my whole family, we would go away and indulge in a sunny family vacation, celebrating our unity and our closeness, our health. We stopped going when my grandfather died, three years ago.

Since then, I have been alone for “The Holidays”. For three years, I have been taking walks on Christmas Eve, discovering the glowing stillness of kinship accomplished by everyone else on the fucking planet. Holding my dog and apologizing to him: “I have no Ham, no turkey, no friends to play with you, nothing. It’s just me. Please hug me.” And sometimes he does.

This is my occasion for solitude. I do have many occasions throughout the year where I am with my family or my friends and everything is great. Christmas just is not my time. It becomes so loud, so prevalent that I find myself unable to be outside. Even my place of work right now looks like a fucking Christmas village and I end my shifts slamming dishes into dish bins, twitching each time I tell someone where they can find the washroom. The constant chatter and cheer drives me nutty and then the oddity becomes: The more alone I am, the more alone I want to be.

I become angered at those who I feel are alienating me and then I want everyone to go away, leave me alone but when I get home and it is hard for me to arrive in the silence.

When I was growing up, straight to the age of eighteen, I spent all my time alone. I watched a lot of TV. After “school” (which I have come to realize is a misappropriated word for wherever the Hell I was sent when I was a kid. Please let me know when they have come up with a word that means That-Place-Where-I-Spent-All-My-Time-And-Brain-Power-Imagining-Ways-To-Either-Escape-Or-Die) I would sit in front of the TV for hours, eating, trying not to think about how I had no friends and no life. The people I would watch on TV became iconic of a reality I would never know, where things are fun and interesting.

I spent most of my childhood and adolescence trying to transform myself into an Olsen Twin. In fact, I think it is safe to point out at The Olsen Twins are chiefly responsible for most of my surviving self-defacing habits. At the time, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were two young women who physically represented my fantasy Self. Instead of sitting alone and in silence, dreaming up a version of myself that I could be ok with, I watched the Olsen Twins.

I wondered if I would one day maybe be Better than the Olsen Twins. The people around me would never see it coming, no one would ever expect it but one day I would be as great as those two skinny girls who had everything. This fantasy went on as long as my first year in university when I started smoking Marlboro Reds because I saw a photograph of Mary-Kate holding a pack while smoking out her front door.

I really never faced myself. I only faced what I wanted to be. I never stopped to hear what was good about myself. I only stopped to watch what I could be doing to emulate two people who I will never know or meet, who represent nothing real or fantastic, but who were admired, generally, by my generation.  They were liked.  They had friends.  They had love.

I was entranced while watching them and then, with the television off, I was the saddest person on the planet. Turn the TV on: Fantasy engaged. Turn the TV off: Fantasy proven dismal.

The pattern persists.

My fantasies have since evolved. I am comfortable now with my aspirations as a woman. I know who I want to be (not an Olsen Twin…though…maybe) and I do not have to rely on the television to provide me with a version of myself I can live with. I have done a lot for myself on my own to make myself into some one I can tolerate because, as it turns out, we have to craft our egos and the least stressful approach is to avoid mimicry. I do what I want now, which has it’s limits.

Now, when I am alone I cannot help it, all I can think about is being with someone else. I do not know who he is, I do not know if he is real, I do not know if he will ever be real but I sit and I imagine him.

This exercise is exactly what children do when they feel they do not have anyone.

It is what I have been doing my whole life.

It is why I am so afraid of silence.

It is why I turn the TV on and watch couples on TLC struggle through their inability to obtain the right marriage license.

It is why I stay home and perform said activity instead of participating in anything social.

It is safe.

No fantasy of mine will reject me, or try to prevent me from leaving his home when I have already said No several times, or insult my religious upbringing, or challenge my intelligence for the sake of his own ego.

No TV of mine will do any of those things either.

The TV is always on.

I read in front of it.

I write with it on in the background.

I get very little done

But, I am less sad.

I am rage-ready, frustrated and overwhelmed at all hours.

But, I am less sad. Less pain.

All pain has manifested itself into tensions in my body, entire pieces of myself that I cannot feel and an unfortunate urge to take a shit and have a nap every moment of the day.

Currently I am sitting at my desk. Silence but for the hush of my heater. Tears in the back of my throat, pain in my back, a crucial awareness of my breasts and a throbbing restlessness, the urge to just turn the fucking TV back on, just have someone else in the room with me, just have someone else’s invention of someone in the room with me so that I am not a child, so that I am not inventing a maddening nobody, so that I numb my own invention of Hope and I just take in that which is made for me already.

When fantasies of partnership end, because they always end with the dismal realization that I am making up a man to love me, I always become quickly aware of my body. It is happening right now, I am aware of my shoulders hunched, allowing my breasts to rest on my stomach, my legs aching from a yoga class that was presumably “gentle” and therefore this muscle fatigue must indicate that I am a complete wreck of a non-warrior, an itch on my neck, stop scratching because Bacteria, but I do anyways, I am so tuned into my body. Which would be fine if I had any pride in my body. Which I don’t because TV tells me that I am gross. The Olsen Twins taught me that I am gross. Nothing is ok.

This is ordinarily the point where I turn the TV back on, but here’s the bit, here’s the new event: For this month, the rest of this apparently ceremonious month, I will devote myself to silence, abstaining from fictitious soundscapes, forcing a relationship to my thoughts that will be painful but, hopefully, eventually, fine.

I am afraid of silence. I am afraid of hope.

I am afraid to Need because Need is bullshit.

The Needs and Wants we have dreamt up are stimulated by our overly-sensational urban surroundings and the competitive zeitgeist of North American culture that shouts shitty opportunities at us to waste ourselves as if we are slacking when we are not wearing Elizabeth Taylor’s new perfume or watching whatever new drama is on whatever new website, I don’t care, but I care so much because without all that shouting I can hear how much I hate myself and I have apparently not grown up enough to deal with it, because I have been dealing with it by watching TV and now I am almost thirty and I am alone.

Being alone would be fine if I could learn to live in the silence.

This month, for the next thirty days, I will abstain from noise, from the extra, because I do not feel comfortable living with myself but I also understand, thanks to Christmas, thanks to working retail during Christmas, thanks to my parents being out of town, thanks to my ambitions which I cannot seem to fulfill because I am too insecure, I understand how valuable solitude is. There has to be a way to make it easier.

It is possible that a dependency on noise is ok and that needing it to feel safe is fine, maybe there is a better form of noise than television, maybe silence is not the answer.   Maybe silence will make me more enraged, more wound up, more unproductive, more desperate. The problem is, I feel all of those things right now and I have not let myself listen to where those feelings come from.  I could just turn on music instead but then the music leads my mood, same with radio.

Turn off the influences.

Hush the airwaves.

Sirens in the background as I conclude: Tomorrow will be very painful.