My daughter got a Squishy Cat night light (actual product name) for Christmas. In order to turn it on, you punch it in the head. If you punch it a second time, the light changes to a soft glow that cycles through 5-6 different colors. Punch it a third time, and the light turns back off again. And because it’s squishy, every time you punch it, the cat folds in on itself. Mutates into various distorted and outright tragic shapes (that match the pressure of your punch, of course). Her favorite thing to do is punch it on the top of its head so that one or both ears get shoved into the cat and its face prunes into itself and it is no longer recognizable as a Squishy Cat. It is now just, squish. Then, with a few squeezes and pulls and pushes, it reverts to its original state, happily awaiting the next bashing.
We all find this activity to be nothing short of hilarious.
Like, best-Christmas-present-ever awesome.
There’s something about the violent act with zero actual negative consequences, that we find absurd and unexpected and gratifying. On a deeper level, I also think we wish we could be more like Squishy Cat. Because life has a nasty way of throwing us a left hook and leaving its imprint, and we’re not nearly as good as Squishy Cat at bouncing right back, ready for more. At best, we do the Jesus thing of turning the other cheek, but even then, our faces are swollen, and bruised, and need time for mending.
I have to admit, this is pretty much what I’ve done to myself on past Christmasses. Namely, I would send “Happy Holidays” texts to everyone in my contact list where the sight of their name registered emotion — longing, sweetness, obligation, adoration — and watch with hope that they would respond. Anyone who didn’t, I would put them in a category in my brain of “no holiday text next year”. But of course, I would disregard that come the next round, and go back to following the pull of my brain, that weird whisper of “maybe” and “hopefully” and “possibly”.
I can’t deny it — I love keeping in touch with my past friends and loves. Somewhere deep inside, I’m ridiculously proud of my ability to do it. That is probably why I have stubbornly continued to reach out to the ones who aren’t reaching out in return. Because there’s no delusion like the self-delusion, amiright?
This year, I made a conscious effort to not go through my contact list. Not very Christmassy of me, I thought, but also, I’m no Squishy Cat. Eventually I have to acknowledge that the head bashing only works if you’ve got the external substance for it. Not to mention, the lack of internal substance. Because if you’re made of human “stuff” — not just the flesh and the blood, but the heart and the passion and the thoughts and the dreams — maybe, just maybe, it pays to move out of the way instead of sitting around getting smacked.
I decided that I would reach out to my nearest and dearest friends, eventually, later in the day. The ones that I didn’t have to find their names on a list to remember. After a few cups of chai, and maybe a nap, and definitely some vegging on the couch with Netflix and HBO. But I never did — because almost all of them reached out to me. People who were in my inner circle even asked what cool things I got, and sent a kind note about what they appreciate and miss about having me in their physical lives, and hoping to get that going again sometime real soon.
I still have a few friends that I’ll contact in the next few days, ones that I enjoy talking to, hearing from, supporting, and being supported by. Ones that I trust would have reached out to me already, were it not for their lives being difficult or bizarrely busy right now because of their job, family, or health circumstances. The lack of a message on Christmas does not negate those connections.
But I recognized this year, that the presence of a message doesn’t create a connection, either.
That trying to force it, because of some point of pride of keeping old relationships “alive”, is a bit like Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature. Some things are better left not reanimated.
And that if I really want to beat something over the head with little to no actual impact, there’s always Squishy Cat.