Mejia- The first part of my last name which I’ve been both proud of at times and at others appalled by is an “Iberisation” of the Jewish name Messiah. After Queen Isabella The Catholic, united the smaller kingdoms of Navarra, Catalonia and Aragon into what we now know as Spain she issued the Alhambra Decree dictating that the Moors and Jews from her lands were required (forced) to convert or to flee.
Those that did flee joined the great Jewish diaspora already displaced from everywhere else to go off and continue roaming, those that converted changed their names. Somewhere, centuries ago my ancestors in the south of Spain ditched the Messiah for the Mejia and became Roman Catholics and so it was that they stopped celebrating Hanukkah and took up the joys of Christmas.
Christmas is such a difficult time for me, then again I feel that I say that a lot. Most times are difficult, but Christmas is particularly difficult for the same reason that every other day is difficult. My family and my relationship to them is further heightened during this time. Particularly as there is this incredibly expectation that everyone wants to spend time with their families and you are forced into small talk about what you’re doing this year and who is cooking what and why.
I used to pretend that I was having this fabulous get together with people that weren’t dysfunctional at best or violent at worst and we were all going to have things to say to each other and that the burning rage of a thousand hells doesn’t burn inside of me at the foolishness of it all. I don’t pretend anymore, I just say I’m doing nothing because I’m Jewish, then I regale whomever dared ask me about Christmas with the story of my long, long, long distant Jewish past. It’s the excuse that works for now.
Christmas, birthdays, celebrations where there is an expectation of family and community and not of dread and disaster really make my brain canibalise itself and sets the anxiety I feel about “voting myself off the Mejia-Canales” island or tribe ablaze. This is for two reasons, the first that I absolutely want nothing to do with my family whatsoever, I don’t despise them, I don’t feel that I love them enough to be with them; I just have this incredible cold apathy but I also want them to understand, to truly understand that the reasons for my distance are not mine alone. Add to this the bodily pressure of feasting on one of every animal you can buy while you talk about inanities on December 25 is just too much to bear.
I fucking hate Christmas, I loathe it, not because I inherently dislike the holiday or the sentiments behind it but because it serves to remind me that I never had a Christmas with family that didn’t involve bitter arguments either spoken or beneath the surface, violence, actual violence, physical violence, beatings. Burnt dinners, separated parents, reluctant parents, loneliness. Good times were had by some at times, particularly if we celebrated Christmas at someone else’s house, specially if we celebrated elsewhere, anywhere else, but we would always have to come back home.
I hide my pain and inferiority behind a lot of things, usually behind rage, behind mockery and behind feigned disdain. I mock Christmas, I mock those people that get together and endure each other’s company once a year because despite how annoying it might be it’s probably not as painful as what I was used to. I feign a rage to hide my sadness, a sadness that really what I want is a celebration so uneventful it’s pedestrian. I just really want to belong to a family of whatever type really. I’m lucky enough to have chosen my family, and the coterie of friends I keep and that keep me provide me more than my sanguine brood.
I’m not sure why I’m being so direct, or what it is that I’m trying to say. I try to mask feelings of disappointment with resignation, rage with apathy, apathy with rage and sadness with happiness. I’m good at it, I’ve been doing it for years. Sometimes, I feel much like the Wizard of Oz I guess, where despite the facade, behind the curtain it was just a frail, scared, little man.
I guess walking myself out from behind the curtain has to happen on my own terms and at my own time, but that courage should find me soon. I’m tired, and alone. I’m not asking for my life to be easy, just for a break.
I remember watching Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a movie that was just so shocking to me not because it was just incredibly weird but because it described how I feel so often. In it, the protagonist starts retreating behind an incredible wall, eventually going insane and as punishment he has to be exposed before his peers by “tearing down the wall”. That’s what scares me the most, the exposure, the peek behind the curtain.
The movie climaxes with the song The Trial where the protagonist is tried and sentenced to being exposed with lyrics like:
“The crown will plainly show, the prisoner who now stands before you was caught red-handed showing feelings. Showing feelings of an almost human nature; this will not do.”
“Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers. TEAR DOWN THE WALL.”
And so he is and so it does.
I know this is not going anywhere, because I’m scared and it’s scary but, it’s all true.
Fast forward to my first trip to India in 2005 I was even more painfully awkward, socially inept and shy than I am today. I still have those characteristics in abundance but I feel that I can control them better than them me. I met two Spaniards on the train to Agra, the home of a certain Taj Mahal, Eduardo and Paloma. They told me the story of my last name, and they were so pleased to have met a fellow Spanish speaker.
This couple they were so loving and so interested in me. They asked me about my then partner and really were so curious to know more about him and about me, what I thought about life, love, art and other things. I only met them for an hour and a half, but that feeling they made me feel of attention, understanding and non judgment, that’s what I’m looking for.
I’m certain that’s what I’ll find. So far, so good.