When Alan and I first got together, I was 20, just back from an ill-fated attempt at Katimavik (I lasted eight days). My dating history included a knife-wielding asshole and a guy who was seeing me to spend more time with my sister (she, lovely girl, had no interest in him at all and was, in fact, already engaged to the man who is now her husband). Bit of a romantic disaster-area, me. Add to that the fact that I thought I was in love with someone else and the beginnings of our relationship were not entirely auspicious. But one day, this funny-looking boy asked me out to a movie. And the fact that he was shorter than me gave me the confidence that, if it came to a fight, I could likely take him, so I said a very reserved yes. I mean, we’d had a few conversations and I liked spending time with him, so a date or two until the love of my life woke up and realized what I catch I actually was, where’s the harm????
That was November 12. On December 24, my parents needed someone to pick up my sister Eileen and drive her home for the holidays. Alan said, “Sure, we can do it.”
At the time, Eileen was living in the Southwest Regional Centre in Blenheim, the abandoned site of which has since been used to film a horror movie and the staff of which have been the subject of a class-action suit. But compared to some of the festering hell-holes she’d been living in in the States, it was pretty darned good.
We pulled up to the wrong entrance and went in a back door. Once we found our way into Eileen’s ward, we were met by one of the staff. I explained who we were and that my Mum had called.
Eileen was waiting for us at the entrance to the ward – the door we should have come in. The staff member we were talking to got her attention. She saw us and came over at a sprint, flying across the ward and down the stairs. She completely bypassed me and flung herself at Alan.
Who caught her, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on top of her head.
“This is Alan,” I said, mostly to the air.
“I love him!” said Eileen, leaning over to give me a kiss.
And in that moment, I knew that I need look no further for the man of my dreams.
I hadn’t planned to marry young. Hell, I hadn’t planned to marry at all. But there you have it. Eileen loved him.
From that day until she died, my name was no longer Barb. Every time she saw me, the first thing she said was, “Where’s Alan?”
On our wedding day, we lined up for photos and our guests started to congratulate us and offer kisses. We hadn’t planned on a receiving line, but it just sort of happened. Eileen, seeing all the free affection on offer, stepped between us and greeted and kissed all of our guests. I remember introducing myself to some of Alan’s parents friends, “Hi, I’m Barb. This is my sister Eileen and that’s my husband Alan.”
When my mother saw the photos, she was upset. “The little monkey! She shouldn’t have been in that line!!” But we both thought it was perfect.
Picking up Eileen at Christmas was our first, best tradition. She stayed with us every year until we moved away from Windsor. She was the best part of our Christmas. And there’s not a year that I wouldn’t give everything I have just to hear her ask, one more time, “Where’s Alan?”
It’s taken a long time and there have been other losses since then, and moves and starting over. But out of the stony rock-face of Christmas, we have carved ourselves a few traditions. Gatherings of family and friends and quiet nights in. A Christmas eve drink at a local restaurant. Long walks with the dog.
It hasn’t always been easy. And it often hurts. But that’s life after you’ve lost someone wonderful. And you get through it as best you can, grateful that you ever had them at all and more deeply grateful than you might have been for the people you get to keep.
Merry Christmas, lovelies. Hug your dear ones while you can. And if you can’t, know that we’re in this together.