By: Christina J. Johns

I must have something of the Irish gypsy in my blood.

For most of my adult life, whenever I got bored. or fed up, or even just restless, I packed what I could, found the nearest train, or plane, or car - and left. There is no feeling in the world quite like it - leaving. Passing all the normal people going to work, people who will probably go to work at the same time every day for the rest of their lives, you board a plane to Tegucigalpa, or Mexico City, or Saipan, or Edinburgh. You're free.

But, you pay a price for this freedom. My vagrant lifestyle has meant that I have spent more Thanksgivings and Christmases alone than I care to remember. I know what it's like. During the holiday season, television, stores, radio - God, even the elevators - remind you that this is a time for happy FAMILIES, close RELATIONSHIPS. By implication, if you don't have one - you're nothing. That's the reason suicide rates are so much higher at holidays than at any other time.

Writing has kept me occupied and content through more than one holiday. But even with the writing, there have been times when I have felt the tug of depression. The feeling that everybody has somebody but me.

One Christmas day, when I was living in Scotland, I sat at my desk, with fingerless gloves on, snow falling outside my windows, trying to write. After a few hours I picked up the telephone and called my friend Jo.

"How's your Christmas?" I asked, hoping she'd cheer me up.

"Oh just great." She said facetiously. "Shawn's having another affair. Danny's told Shawn that he's not going to Oxford, but instead wants to be a mine. Shawn threw a fit and said very cruel things to Danny, like he wished he'd never had children. So, Danny threw himself out an upstairs window and we've just come back from the emergency room?"

"Is he alright?" I asked.

"Yes," she said tiredly. "Fortunately he landed in a snow bank." She started laughing softly and bitterly.

I didn't know exactly what to say.

"Aren't you glad you rang up?" Jo asked. "Enjoy your solitude. You don't want a family."

I hung up, looked around me at the fireplace, the tiny kitchenette with a steaming pot of tea on the burner, pulled my gloves up, and went to work.

Years later, I returned to the South, and found out once again how much I loved honeysuckle, and magnolias, and pine trees, and Southern manners, and people saying "ya'll." .

I bought a house, made a garden, and wrote - but I still had this yearning for a relationship - someone to share with and love. I could live with the situation, but what was wrong with me that I couldn't establish a lasting relationship with a man?

One Christmas as I was sitting in my van, in a two-mile long line of cars trying to get to the Mall, I noticed a scene going on in the car in front of me. A very old man - probably 80 - was sitting in the driver's seat reaming out this little old woman beside him. He was making menacing and violent hand gestures and obviously yelling at her. Her little shoulders were slumped in resignation, and she neither said anything nor moved..

I decided, then and there that I'd rather live the rest of my life alone than wind up with some old geiser making my life a living hell. Peace was what was important, and I had peace.

So, if you're alone this Christmas and feeling low, remind yourself about all the people who are unhappily married, and all the families who are screaming and yelling at each other.

Build a fire, snuggle up with your cat (who probably doesn't say anything ugly to you very often), drink a glass of good wine and make yourself an elegant dinner. Enjoy and appreciate your freedom and your solitude.

And if anybody tries to make you feel inadequate because you're alone, tell them where to go. (to go to hell).

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