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Eating Christmas: 'Holiday Night Sweats'

This month, we’re bringing you “Eating Christmas” — a typically live storytelling event that has had to adapt, like so much in life, to COVID-19. The Show is sharing four original essays about the holidays and food this month, one every Thursday.

So far, you’ve heard about the vengeance of a 5-year-old and the holy goodness of a mother’s homemade tamales. Today’s story offers a different take on this particular holiday season — a season that food may not be able to soothe.

Ada Martin is a mother to two kids, a wife, an activist and a local writer. And this is her “Eating Christmas” essay: “Holiday Night Sweats.”

'Holiday Night Sweats' by Ada Martin

It is 10 p.m. Time for bed. I ask my husband, “Will you fix the covers, please?”

I ask him because he is the one that messes them up throughout the night. He knows that before I enter the bed, the covers must be straightened.

For me, the night must start off orderly, even if tossing and turning inevitably follow. The fitted sheet hugs all four corners of the mattress, then the light blue blanket follows, the softest layer and the one that I need closest to my body, then the stiffer yellow quilt with the abstract flower print, and then finally the gray weighted blanket on top.

It’s the same every night.

The room is cold. I don’t dare turn on the heat because it dries out my sinuses. The ceiling fan hums overhead, and an air purifier blows directly on me as I sleep.

It’s 4 am and I am hot. The hot flashes are more frequent lately.

The cat is curled up on top of me. I want to move, but know it will wake him. I manage to stick my foot out from under the covers, and the cool air from the ceiling fan offers a bit of satisfaction.

I could never have predicted that this holiday season would be spent in isolation. We will continue most of our traditions, but we won’t be shopping for a live Christmas tree. I purchased an artificial one months ago, knowing that lots might be closed. We are still celebrating Hanukkah, but absent the community menorah lighting party. Our attempts at normalcy will continue but it all feels forced, and not just because of COVID.

I am Black, Jewish, an Afro-Latina of Panamanian and Caribbean descent. Both of my parents are deceased. I have a half-sister and a half-brother, but I’m not close to either of them.

My husband is white, Irish, Polish and German. He was raised Catholic. Both his parents are living. He has three older sisters, a half-brother, eight nieces and nephews, and a slew of aunts and uncles. They all live in the Midwest, where the wind — when angry enough — will carry you distances, and where the snow quickly turns into icy driveways in need of salt and car windshields that must be scraped.

We have been together for two decades. We live in the desert where the summers are scorching hot, where my elderly mother once fell on the blacktop walking to her car and lay there for hours, rescued only after having suffered third-degree burns in need of skin grafts.

I moved here for college. My husband came to pursue a music career and to escape the place where he always felt disconnected.

At first, I was welcomed into his family, but I understood early on that we were different.

Me, the daughter of an immigrant father and a first-generation mother who grew up in a big city surrounded by friends of all different ethnicities and who then forged a life in the desert, a place so incredibly foreign from her upbringing.

Them, creatures of habit, never venturing too far from hometown comforts, living within driving distance of each other, nestled in mostly white suburban bubbles, safe from outside perspectives, void of Black and brown friends who challenge their idyllic American dream.

It is 5:30 a.m., and I am up. I peel the layers and slip downstairs as my husband sleeps quietly, now under just the blue cover and quilt. The weighted blanket is crumbled into a large pile now resting against his bare back.

After marriage and children, it was I who maintained the relationships with his family, made the travel arrangements each time we flew across the country — once for my daughter’s first Christmas and then again for my son’s. Initially, they welcomed me. Now, after living through the past 4 years, I understand that our interactions are like my nighttime blankets, polite and orderly, neatly stacked on top one another. His family was uninterested in peeling back the layers, talking about the real issues affecting my community, or my family. Only nice, orderly conversations were welcomed. When things became too hot for them, the mandate was, “Don’t move the sheets, how dare you disrupt the layers.”

I am in the kitchen. My morning coffee is brewing. I sit on the mustard-colored couch with my feet up and as I sip my coffee I think again about all of the seasonal plans now on hold because of COVID and that although the election is over, we are all awaiting the transition of power on Jan. 20, and the atmosphere is rife with the stress of the unknown.

7:00 am. The kids are up and preparing breakfast. It is the same each day, awaken, eat, drink, school, work, dinner, bed, repeat. This is our new routine, but there is nothing routine about these times. I sigh, knowing that for blended families like mine, this holiday season and seasons to come have been irreparably altered. Our family is no longer comfortably nestled underneath neatly stacked covers.

The covers are off, the blankets are strewn across the room, and I am not sure they can ever be righted.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.