Scaredy Cat: Navigating the holidays as a single is not as intimidating as it seems

When staring down the season alone for the first time, the holidays don’t glitter; they loom.
 
 
The winter-long marathon of love- and giving-centrism starts with Thanksgiving, the relatively innocuous celebration of Pilgrims, Indians and overeating. After all, there is rarely a day when overdosing on turkey, gravy, and cherry pie and passing out on my parents’ couch doesn’t sound awesome. 
 
But then Christmas vomits garland and prefabricated cheer all over the place, and the season grows increasingly harder to stomach, especially for someone who’s already feeling lonely. 
 
After all, who wants a New Year’s Eve countdown that doesn’t end with a kiss? Who wants to spend Valentine’s Day — the cruelest holiday of them all — having a lonely Dexter marathon or eating chocolate and drinking sangria at a “love stinks” party with all the other bitter singles?
 
The holiday season used to be about sipping red wine and trying out vegetarian chili recipes with my boyfriend, not Googling “cooking on a budget” and trying to quit drinking because that one last glass of wine always sets me sobbing. This year, rather than embracing the spirit of the season, I’m bracing against its inevitable sting.
 
Still, I must admit that as a chronically terrible gift-giver, one of my first sensations when walking past Target’s Christmas section — in late August — was relief. 
 
I wouldn’t have to agonize over my boyfriend’s gift for weeks before presenting him with yet another shoddily wrapped book or bottle of whiskey, only to have him react with the gasp ‘n’ grin, which is that familiar face every kid makes when great aunt so-and-so can’t grasp that teenagers don’t like sweaters embroidered with kittens. 
 
And it’s typically followed with one of our most sincere expressions: “Really, you shouldn’t have!”
 
So, since this year the holidays are all about me, I’ve been thinking of other ways I can treat myself. Naturally, I’m planning to drink as many pumpkin spice lattes as possible, paint my nails the craziest colors I can find, enjoy a massage or two, and sleep in whenever I can. Also, I heard from a friend that the train to St. Louis costs only $28, which prompted immediate fantasies involving cigars, briefcases, and detective adventures.
 
But focusing too much on myself always makes me feel selfish, and the season has always been about giving. I can’t help but suspect there’s a reason for that (and as a fake detective, I listen to my hunches). And every time I start thinking of ways I can give, I always come back to the cats. 
 
As a child, I got along better with animals than people. In fact, my first best friend was a black and white tomcat on my grandmother’s farm that I named Purrums. 
 
Much to the dismay of pretty much everyone, every day I would lure Purrums out from his hiding spot in the barn — using pieces of lunchmeat — until I’d managed to tame him. Eventually he’d allow me to carry him into the house, where he’d sit on my lap in the rocking chair and purr (hence the name).
 
So naturally, twenty-some years later, the wounds still fresh from my breakup with the man I hoped I’d marry, I sought refuge with equally wounded cats.
 
A good friend took me to a no-kill cat shelter in a Kansas City suburb, where I sat in one of several rooms that serve as temporary homes for cats that have been abused, lost or abandoned. 
 
Some of the kitties were friendly and outgoing, enthusiastically seeking attention and rubbing their faces against my outstretched hand. A lot of these cats had been through hell, yet instead of shying away, they trusted me.
 
One fearful calico, though, was not quite ready to give me a chance. She hid beneath a chair, and though I wiggled my fingers to get her attention and patiently waited for her to emerge, the most she allowed me to do was rub the bridge of her orange nose. 
 
Like me, this cat had been hurt, and healing would take time. I could relate, because for the last year I too have been slowly re-emerging and learning how to trust again. It is never easy, but I’m discovering the experience can also be a grand adventure.
 
So this holiday season, even if I spend only one day sitting on a rug covered in cat hair and manage to only briefly gain the trust of one calico kitty, it will be worth more than a hundred New Year’s kisses.

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