I burned a balsam candle yesterday and amongst the positive anticipations I felt towards the upcoming holiday season, I also recalled the Christmas of 2010.
In 2010 I still lived in the brown house beside the looming, dying oak tree, across the way from a pair of neighbors who fought and slapped one another and a quiet home where my mom’s best friend, a compassionate German lady with whom we played Skipbo with once or twice, lived before she passed. Our house, a two-bedroom affair with a swimming pool and a perpetual dark cloud hovering above the tiled roof, sits in my memory as a generally negative force. A brick that occasionally pushes on my shoulders or pricks my fingertips when I reach back into memory. The floor was of eggshells and shattered glass. You could not step anywhere near my father without risking a new cracked egg or cutting yourself on a shard.
On Christmas Eve of 2010 my mom, sister, and I danced to Christmas carols at the front room table. The tree, exuding the beautiful woodsy odor of pine, threw speckles of red-green-yellow-blue light over the walls and the little village we set up below its lowermost branches hummed and sang. Our laughter and pounding must have echoed into the opposite room, where my father sat playing computer games, for he became offended at our joy. Why didn’t you invite me? You never invite me to do anything.
Much of the immediate after is blurry, but then somehow a plunger ended up in our shower. He told us not to shower, or to use his bathroom, because that plunger could not be moved out of the tub for the night. Naturally, mom moved it, and somehow that little act escalated into a tirade of You never listen to me, you don’t care about me! and slammed doors. I remember how the three of us girls went very quiet for a bit after he boomed into his room. I took a shower. I probably didn’t even feel the water running down my skin.
The next morning, Christmas Day, I wished my father a Merry Christmas. He chuffed out some Yeah, Merry Christmas, with an ironic quake of laughter; he grabbed a newspaper from the lanai, sent the house shaking with the rough shutting of the door, and threw himself into his bedroom.
On Christmas of 2010 officially closed the door on any sort of attempt to have a relationship with my father. I realized its futility. One day he’d act tolerably, maybe garner a chuckle or two, and the next he’d play some guilt game and send me spiraling into silent seething. I almost threw my stuffed soccer ball at his door on Christmas Day. I never succumbed to the urge, but it was the first of its kind: of a semi-physical or violent nature. I don’t think I’ve had a kind thought about him since then.
The story of my father, my mom, myself and my two siblings expands for leagues. It is far too much to delve into but that is a taste. We moved out of the house finally in July of 2011 and my mom and I presently reside in a cozy apartment with many candles. We’ve begun decorating the windows with garlands and red and gold ornaments. Just today I set up a small Christmas tree on my nightstand, along with a pair of candles bordering my television. As I write this, Pandora is playing gentle orchestral tunes. We just booked tickets to see a jazz concert on Black Friday. All of this would have proven impossible if we lived at home still. The garlands might be up, but wilted from my father’s What is the point of this? comments, and the like.
The three Christmases since 2010 have been filled with joy. Mom, sis and I have a Christmas Eve tradition of playing card games on the balcony with carols singing from the soundboard in the living room. We do not fear an angry voice rising above those of the tunes.
There is a freedom in purging oneself of the toxic. I am not healed from living at home and spending Christmas hunched beneath a ubiquitous and proverbial squall. Christmas has a lovely connotation now, just as it should. It is an instrument of smiles.
If some force prevents you from looking forward to the festivities that the holidays should bring to your life, dig a hole in your back yard and drop it in there forever (figuratively). Plant a seed on top of the hole and water it over a period of time until it becomes a flower. Tend the flower with all of your heart, keep it sparkling and hydrated, do not let it die. Eventually its roots will overcome the negative memory which you have buried beneath it, and the sadness will be invisible. It will still pop up every so often in the form of a shriveled leaf or insects chewing on the petals. Make the conscious choice to nourish the flower. Keep it alive.
Choosing happiness is not the easiest thing. I tend to a good many scars from Christmas 2010 and the days before – and some after. I owe it to myself to try, though. Eventually my flower (a tulip, in all likelihood) will be so tall and multiplied that the colors will be brighter than the blacks and grays. That day is not today, nor will it be tomorrow or probably many tomorrows thereafter.
But it will be.
Promise yourself that it will be.
“HEALING TAKES COURAGE, AND WE ALL HAVE COURAGE, EVEN IF WE HAVE TO DIG A LITTLE TO FIND IT.” – Tori Amos