September 2, 2020:

It's Christmas, I'm fourteen or fifteen, when for the first time I replace evasion with confrontation.

How have I arrived at this crossroad? Today I no longer remember. Somehow I've studied the pagan origins of the holiday, confronting what's undeniable, that our putatively "Christian" celebrations are anything but, that they stand in naked contradiction to Jesus' teachings, in short that we're doing the wrong thing.

This could not have been a school assignment. That would mean school precipitated something useful, and I'm certain that happens only once, two or three years later, when my senior history project prompts me to read Fire in the Lake. It must have been something one of the kids said. Or perhaps a footnote regarding Saturnalia in a Roman military history. Whatever the origin, I've done my research. I've ridden my bike to the Central Library on E Street — when I should have been in school, natch — where I've asked a friendly librarian to help gather info. I've learned that Saturnalia was the pagan Roman holiday held on December 25, that it's the origin of our Christmas custom of mandatory gift giving, that Christmas trees are the northern European tradition of solstice ("Yule") trees, that the Church had a habit of domesticating pagan gods and holidays. I learn for the first time that many saints are local pagan gods transliterated, for example Saint Brigid the Mother of Ireland is none but the older Celtic goddess of the same name. Thus our Christmas holiday is not at all Christian but a mashup of pagan sources. To me, the holiday now appears radically different. It's not joyful, it's a corruption, likely by Satan. An annual irruption of consumerist materialism, like a delirious volcano spewing forth degradation, a Vesuvius of damnation. That's hyperbole, I was not thinking in cosmological terms. My reality is: it's false, and I'm opting out.

And now there's conflict, the real thing, where until this moment I'd avoided conflict, knowing I'd almost undoubtedly lose, by hiding my realities from nearly everyone.

This time I stick this reality up everyone's nose. My mother's family are most, I do mean most, offended. She loves them and needs their approval, which I do not. I've drawn a line in the sand and anyone who crosses it gets an earful.

They can't understand, because they're not understanding people, they take neither childhood nor adolescence seriously as platforms for opinion, and they lack any necessary basis for explanation because my mother chooses not to inform them. "All the kids are doing it," she says into the phone, and in that instant my heart is utterly broken, I confront the inevitable that my mother's loyalty is neither absolute nor particularly evident, that too much distance has opened for us ever to be close again, and that my identity, when I choose to reveal it, is perceived by others as somehow dangerous.

I had already opted out of more than half of the family. There were too many lies to keep straight, it was too stressful. Now I leave the rest behind. I never again attend a family gathering, speak to a family member, send a family member a postcard or a birthday card. Here at Christmas when my mother's father insists on a thank-you note for the annual check of $100, I return the check torn to pieces, with a note reading, "Thank you for never sending me another dime."