Christmas has not always been merry.
I think the majority of the world can attest so I say it matter-of-fact like.
Since I was young, as far back as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of Hallmark. “Lay it on thick” I say! The comfy-cozies, the tree lightings, the music, the whole kit-and-caboodle.
Count. Me. In.
However, that wasn’t the majority of my Christmases growing up. Unfortunately, like most Americans, I sometimes live up to my privileged expectations and often reminisce the negative. One Christmas, a particularly shitty one, stands out.
It was my first year of high school. I was visiting my mother and her then-fiancé in North Dakota. Supposedly, I had been promised, my mother was clean and on the straight and narrow.
That week is a blur. As I begin to write again, I’m realizing that things are hazier than I originally thought. Seemingly vivid memories are hard to put together and I find myself head-scratching.
What I DO remember is what a shit-show my mother was. She was strung-out, pain-killers being the drug of the month, and I could see it a mile away.
Her fiancé was a recovering alcoholic. I don’t have numbers for you, but I remember him being sober for a solid chunk of time. What I remember more is his zero tolerance, how much he really did love her and boy was he duped.
And he knew it.
We went to his father’s house for dinner on Christmas Eve. That too, is mostly fog, except remembering how long my mother was in the bathroom. I got good at playing oblivious even when I was on fire on the inside. I knew exactly what she was doing, because I knew her. She was rifling through the cabinets of her in-law’s bathroom, searching for whatever she could get her hands on.
She got her hands on something, alright.
In the photos that were taken that night, her eyes are pinned, cheeks flushed, the hair around her face starting to look greasy with sweat.
She was high as a kite.
When we got back home, he tore into her while I retreated to the bedroom he had made for me. For a long time I felt bad for him, sometimes I still do after all these years. Just another sucker my mom sucked and she was good at it too. I got used to going to sleep to the sound of my mother weeping for a number of years.
Christmas Eve wasn’t off limits.
The next morning, doing our best to put on nothing-to-see-here faces, we opened presents. The gifts from my mother were somewhat bizarre. They weren’t absolutely alarm-sounding (she was raised by a Stage 4 hoarder and I was used to her eclectic taste) but they were definitely weird. Used thrift store make up, newspaper clippings, costume jewelry, earrings missing their mate.
A crack-head’s grab bag.
I don’t remember the gifts I received from her beau. He had done well for himself and my mother had sniffed that out like she did with all her men the older she got. I don’t remember other than it must have been worth some monetary value, because the next day they were gone.
My mother took them and she pawned them, and not for milk & bread money if you know what I mean.
Aside from my mother’s spastic, strung-out bullshit we all had to endure, I don’t recall much from that Christmas. I remember riding in his truck on the way home from dinner that Christmas Eve. I remember how bitter fucking cold it was and digging my gnawed-on finger nails into the palms of my hands to feel something. I remember silently crying Christmas morning, blankly staring at the tv while Lord of the Rings played. I remember how much I hated her for shitting on my Hallmark dreams.
These days? I love Christmas.
Christmas didn’t wrong me.
Christmas didn’t get my mother high or abandon me or take my shit away. The majority of us struggle around the holidays. Our families suck, we’re broke, we struggle with a wide variety of our own addictions, the list goes on.
The good news? You write your book, your own story, and you have the capacity to change your legacy.
I’m hellbent, man. I mostly stay away from the EXTRA that is the American Christmas these days, but I DO Christmas.
Family traditions? Check.
The music? Check.
The community serving, the cooking, the Christmas activities, the lights. I do things that fill me up, don’t add stress and that I can pass down to Scarlett. I want Scarlett to feel every part of Christmas just as I had longed to really feel Christmas.
I’m not preaching, folks. I’m explaining that I’ve changed my Christmas legacy and you can too.
You want to eat Chinese and swear off stuffy dinners because that’s what your mom made you do and you HATED it? Do it.
You don’t want to break the bank on shit that’s going to end up in the return bin? Excellent.
Do it for you and your re-written legacy.