You’ve been away at college, experiencing freedom for weeks on end, but now you’re home. The distance of school is gone and once the holiday parties start, you can’t run from Auntie Betty’s constant questioning. “How’s school? Are you behaving? Why do you look so tired? Is that blood on your shirt?”

If you do escape there’s trouble at every turn: Grandma is already on her way to find you to see how your love life is. “You need to broaden your horizons, dear. I know this nice boy from the supermarket, you’d be interested in!” It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a relationship because you’re young and she thinks he’s darling.

Behind Grandma is Uncle Jim even though no one remembers inviting him. Uncle Jim brought his third wife’s teacup yorkie named Snuggles, which sounds great in theory but it’s not even the cute kind of yorkie: it’s the yippie kind that bites. Jim’s wife didn’t even come with because she was too tired, just like the past four years. The puppy is so tempting but you know if Uncle Jim gets within arm’s reach that hellish ball of fur will be under your care for the rest of the night.

When there’s no way out you have to make the best of the situation and create solutions for yourself. This means taking every piece of food you lay eyes on and shoving it into your talking hole. If you grab too much there’s always your purse. Food goes in and nothing comes out: You can’t answer questions with a pound of potatoes in your mouth. Not to mention the oncoming food coma that will blanket you in sleepy euphoria. Goodnight, sweet prince. You can deal with family later.

The next party approaches and you dress for success, but it’s all wasted effort. Regardless of size, shape or style, appearance is always a topic of discussion with family. If you’re too skinny, your name becomes “Skinny Minnie” and family members desperately watch your plate to ensure you eat until your stomach hurts. When the freshman fifteen still hugs your abdomen years later, cousins make it a habit of calling you “sturdy”. You await the comments at the dinner table. “Have you had enough to eat? You sure you want to have another serving? How about some more salad.”

No matter the situation, hope is not lost. Some people recommend drinking your problems away, but SCAD Radio promotes the opposite: Get your family drunk. Not too drunk, of course, but just enough to keep them happy and tame, like little zoo animals. Uncle Bill is passed out on the couch and Aunt Tammy can’t notice your pant size when her nose is in a wine glass. A quiet holiday is a happy holiday.

Party four rolls around and you’re tired. So tired. Family has become the most stable thing in your life, which is saying something considering the sh*t-storm that are your genetics. Friends, foes and old flings alike know you’re in town which means your phone never stops buzzing. Every time your phone rings the table rumbles and Grandpa scrunches his face. Aunt Betty is peeking over your shoulder to see who’s messaging but her vision isn’t what it once was. After she puts on her reading glasses it becomes too obvious to tolerate.

You go outside to get some air. You take a deep breath, inhaling the cool winter breeze and exhaling heavily. The rustle in the branches draws you in. You listen for life but only silence remains. You step closer and put a hand on a tree’s trunk. Grabbing hold of the branch, you shake it to test its strength; satisfied, you hoist yourself up and begin to climb.

Carefully at first, you pull yourself up above civilization and its troubles. You look around and see nothing but branches and snow and the simplicity brings you peace. The tree cradles you in its arms, sheltering you from the chaos of the outside world. You double check for animals before grabbing some old appetizers from your purse and snacking in happy silence.

When it’s time to go home, people search for what seems like a lifetime before leaving without you. As their headlights disappear into the distance, a grateful tear falls down your cheek. Free at last.