Our first Christmas in America was even stranger than the last one in Belgium.
My parents went all out to make it as special as possible for us and alleviate some of the strains that the last half of 1985 had put on us.
We moved into our new house on December 18th after spending the summer months first on Cape Code, then at various temporary residence on the Main Line, including the St. David's Hotel and the Conwyn Apartments in Bryn Mawr.
Late in the fall, we moved into a rented house when our lease at the Conwyn was up and our final move was still being held up by problems with the sewer permits
So finally, just a week before Christmas, we moved into our new home. Mary came to help, as she had in the past. I remember her tucking me into my bed in my new room. I hadn't seen my bed for months and the cool sheets, old and soft and worn with years of use felt so good.
We had a lot of things to get used to that Christmas. The sights and sounds on the television were completely different for one and the traditions of the neighborhood, the area, were completely unfamiliar.
Before, we'd always had a huge Christmas party with tons of friends in attendance and often Grammy would come. Now we had to get used to it being just us again.
It all seemed far too quiet and sedate to me at the time. I was also having a hard time at school. I was not easily accepted and I didn't go out of my way to make it easier for my classmates to get to know me. I was stubborn and sulking over the fact that I'd been yanked away from a class that I'd only just begun to fit into. I wanted things to be easy now -- I thought they would be easier. After all, every girl in my class was an American, it should have been easy to find friends, since what had set me apart in Belgium was my Americanness.
Yet now I found, that my time in Belgium set me apart, along with my bookishness and intensely artistic temperament. Girls in the sixth grade were more interested in clothes and boys than books and games and I felt woefully out of place, mal-adjusted and out of sorts. I idealized my old school, my old friends, my old way of life, setting them all up on a pillar of adoration that I lorded over my new classmates.
I was also taking French with the 9th graders and did not eat lunch with the rest of my class, so yet another opportunity to socialize with them was closed to me. I was far too shy to eat with the Upper School girls, so I took to hiding out in the library, with Miss Barlow, the Middle School librarian.
So Christmas was odd after that first semester of school. The only friends I made at school, were with a girl as bookish and odd as myself and a girl one grade below me, who still liked to play games and didn't pay much attention to Tiger Beat. My friendship with Zoe, who would be my closest and best confidant throughout middle school and high school, was still an unknown quantity of the future. I felt desperately alone.
Though the usual cheer was there and there were presents and everyone was all smiles, there was a sense of loneliness and bravery in the face of adversity in the air that Christmas.
Over the years, I would grow fond of that house and finally realize that it isn't a place that makes a home, but the people in it and the bonds between them. But during that holiday season, I was on the whole, a very sad and lonely little girl, with a big hole in her heart where a certain idea of home used to be.
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