The day after Christmas is the worst. Sprawled on the bed, a quietude envelops the lingering effects of the evening’s nightcap. You’re awake but not awake. Maybe a few minutes more in bed. You hit the snooze thinking you can freeze time and dream about Christmas day or Christmas eve, when the Moët induced a sweet headiness that made you forget the anxieties of work; when the whiskey made the Christmas lights whimsical and yet still acceptable; when familiar faces and old friends appeared reasonable despite their pestering, intrusive queries about your life the past year. Alcohol lets down your guard while the pierced privacy is swiftly healed with every toast.
The image of a raised glass compels you to rise. It’s 11. You haven’t had breakfast yet. You haven’t had anything to eat since 3 am.
Leftovers in the fridge: pasta, meatloaf, salads. There’s pizza in the microwave, unremarkable in its sloppy, oil-slicked stated but an endearing reminder of the choice made by a drunken man. Half-eaten slices of cake, brutally murdered in appearance, looks tempting, delicious even. Coke is your coffee. What is that sound which keeps you from making a go at the glorious, undefiled slice of pastry? Neighbors are still paying yuletide tunes. There’s something nostalgic about them. Their melodies wafting across the street, seeping through the porous walls of a jam-packed middle-class neighborhood, and clinging onto your eardrums they echo in the loneliness of a hangover.
You didn’t dream of a white Christmas. How (w)could you in the tropics? Dreaming of snow seems so un-Filipino, so out of place, too Hollywood for one’s taste. Besides, it’s hard to think with a throbbing head. What is it about Christmas, taken out of its religious context, which we all love? You harbour resentment towards children, especially your godchildren, and their audacity to appear on your doorstep asking for gifts – cash is their preference because young boys and girls are so bad at hiding their disappointment when you get them the wrong toy – when for 364 days a year all you get is silence. Or maybe 363 days. They have birthdays too.
Gift wrappers still lay on the floor. You’ll clean them up later, after the acid from the coke reaches your bloodstream to finally, truly, genuinely wake you up. Sugar rush. Where is everyone? Asleep, perhaps, except for the old neighbors. You’re certain they’re the ones playing Bing Crosby instead of Jose Mari Chan. The old man worked in New Jersey for over three decades. Retired and resurgent in the embrace of a wife whose domestic virtues are unrivalled, Christmas seems better here, not only for its length, but also for the Catholic virtues they still retain – if any.
Your dizziness is fading. The headache has mellowed. You look at your presents. Some have no use. People gift useless things all the time. It’s been a while since you attended the last family reunion. Aunt Wilma must have forgotten you quit smoking three years ago. And by quit, you mean smoking inside bathrooms, parking lots, roof decks, or someplace no one you know will see you and relay your cold turkey, well, went cold. Just like all the other New Year’s resolutions you ever made. None of the clothes fit, except one or two. Five calendars for this year. Nifty items in the loot.
But there, glimmering with every strike of a weakened December sunlight is a premium box of whiskey. Johnnie Walker. Uncle Jun would’ve loved to see this on Facebook. The box is tempting in itself, what more the liquor inside, and the confidence it would renew once it slithers down my throat. Uncle Jun always had one in his cupboards, hidden behind instant noodles, instant coffee, instant sauces, far from his sons’ sight. And I could imagine his almost dog-like grin whenever I saw the bottles. Even when reckless in his drunken state, Uncle Jun looked harmless. And when his cirrhosis worsened, he hid every pain in that childlike smile only he knew to show-off. Santa Claus must be embarrassed by the kindness of a man who long disavowed sobriety.
It’s the day after Christmas. Well, it’s almost noon. People must be waking up soon and most of them will be throwing their Noche Buena inside microwaves and toasters and ovens because no one has the strength to cook anything new. But for souls who live alone, it’s routine. The cheer has gone. The air above the house deflated soon as you fell on your bed. Now, the kitchen is a mess. Maybe a prayer will work its charm today. Thank you Lord for all the blessings. But there’s a sting which pricks the heart of the man who pretends he is unscathed by the chaos of the season, the hectic, commercial blaze which fuels the minds of every man ready to burn their thirteenth-month bonus. You miss someone; you remember how it was like to wake up from the dream, and be hurt by the happiness of others. The day after Christmas is just like that heartbreak.