Soon, we always had someone missing at Christmas. My oldest sister Forsyth started spending every other Christmas at her in-laws, and eventually my brother went to live in South Africa for a while, and then Lindsay went to South Africa, as well, for a while. One year, I was the only one who came home, but that was long after Christmases had started to break for me in other ways.
The year I went off to college and joined the growing number of family members who "came home" for Christmas, my big gift was a broken heart. I found out my boyfriend had been spending an inordinate amount of time with the young woman I'd thought was his ex-girlfriend. I overheard a conversation he had with his older brother, in which older brother (wonderful fellow that he was) counseled him thus,
"There's nothing wrong with having two girlfriends. You just need to make sure they both know about it."
When I confronted him, he swore to me he really was going to break it off with her, that I was the only one, and he even asked me to marry him. I naively believed him and hung in with him until two Christmases later, when even I, someone who had become the queen of denial, finally had to admit that he'd left off a few words when he'd said I was "the only one." What he'd really meant to say was "you're the only one who's enough of a sucker to believe I'm not bedding down every female I possibly can when you and I aren't together."
I got my revenge on the broken heart with a broken relationship that Christmas. Still, the revenge wasn't sweet. I'd never broken up with a boy until then, especially not a boy whose friends and family members I'd become close to. And the boyfriend who had never been the epitome of devotion, except when some prettier, smarter, and wittier alternative hadn't presented herself, suddenly seemed to want me more than he wanted anything else in his life. Did I mention holding firm to difficult decisions is not one of my strengths? Especially when romance and sex are involved?
Some years later, I had to witness yet another Christmas breakup when Ian's girlfriend at the time decided not even to pretend to be discreet, as my old boyfriend had. None of us had any doubts as to what she'd done (it was actually New Year's, but still the Christmas season) and with someone who couldn't even begin to hold a candle to my brother. Just like his broken Christmas toy, no one was going to fix that relationship. No tidings of great joy were felt while visions of murder danced in this big sister's head.