THE FIRST CHRISTMAS away from loved ones, which is to say family, something I once had but no longer have, well, if you don’t count my Mexican relatives, most of whom are like aliens to me and vice versa, was spent, if you also don’t count my time in the Air Force, and I don’t remember even one of those Christmases, was spent in a dive bar on Calle Cristo in Old San Juan in the company of an iguana.
It was roundabouts 1974, and I’d just arrived in San Juan, not knowing a single soul.
So there I was in this dive bar on a corner — I don’t recall the cross street — and I’d already downed a few, feeling the spirits, looking at the Christmas lights around the mirror in front of me, when I glanced down at the floor, and there sat the iguana sizing me up. Aside from the barkeep, the iguana and I were the only people present.
Yes, I’m counting the big lizard as people. It was Christmas.
Now you might think this is a sad Yuletide story, reeking of solitude and loneliness and all that, but actually I was quite content, having a good time. Maybe it was the rum and Coke, but whatever works in a pinch.
I’ve thought about that night almost every Christmas since, later ones that I spent with loved ones, and more recent ones that I’ve spent alone because almost all of my loved ones have died or disappeared.
I’ll be spending this Christmas Eve alone, something I’ve done in recent years, and I’m okay with it. It’s not like I’m a Christian or anything, celebrating the birth of Jesus. There’s also the fact that I love peace and quiet.
The first two, maybe three, Christmases after marrying my child bride, I made attempts to be a part of things, but Mexican things on Christmas Eve wander late into the night, far past my bedtime. I quit doing that, and the both of us are happier for it.
She either goes to the family hullabaloo downtown here or, sometimes, in the nearby state capital, depending on where the mob of them decides. She does not come home, getting little sleep and looking stunned all though Christmas Day. I, on the other hand, get a nice night of sleep and feel just fine on Christmas Day.
Then, one week later, they — and I — do it all over again for New Year’s Eve.
So I’m be sailing solo this evening. Next Sunday too.
For those of you who embrace Christmas either for the birth of the Baby Jesus or for those gifts you’ll be getting, or both, I wish you well.
Like me, get a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll dream of that iguana, the rum and Coke and the dive bar on Calle Cristo, the warm Yule night air of the Caribbean.
A Christmas long past.