Christmas was always about my mother. I’m furious that it still is- she's been dead over a year.
I'm chasing a ghost's love. My mother is dead. And still, when the image of a mother holding a child is shown, about 8 million times a second this holiday season, all I think of is my mother holding me.
Or, in reality, not holding me.
I find it amazing that even after twenty years, twenty years spent in healthy, positive celebrations, I hate Christmas. I hate it more than any other time of the year. It brings me back to being a little girl pulling out the china, and polishing the silver. How I would set an elegant table, arranging the greens with ancient holiday decorations pulled from an old chest in the basement. The napkins would be folded carefully, my small hands pressing out any lumps or creases.
When will I ever get this monkey off my back? All the dreams, hopes and memories of Christmas, that mock me every year, taunt me into a stupor when now I have my own family, my own children to celebrate?
I want someone to shake holy water on me or chant Gaelic phrases until my brain is finally clear of old longings. I want to sit with my family- my children, my wife, my kids dads, my friends- around a beautifully decorated table, laugh, and tell stories. I want love to fill my home without the old shadows. I am loved and celebrated in my family. My kids are fairly normal and healthy. I have good friends who know me and still love me even though I send too many emails, whine too often about my wife's work schedule.
I look at my family of origin and it's not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s not even a Budweiser commercial: my father a paranoid schizophrenic, my mother an alcoholic of prolific proportions. My father sexually abused my sister and me and there is another sibling who will sue my ass off if I mention anything specific about them.
Family love. I have had it hurt so deeply I wanted to die. My father's creepy insistence I get into the bathtub at his apartment while he watched etched noises he made into my mind that cannot be scrubbed away. Being held face down to carpets long enough to have imprints on my face and smells of feet, dog pee and mold forever in my nose until I cried out in humiliation are gifts I received from my family.
But there is my family love. My kids. My beautiful boys who believe they can be rock stars, or inventors, or scientists. My wife who drives me nuts on a daily basis and still makes me smile when she puts her icy feet on me in the middle of the night. Walter and Allan, who eagerly signed on to be the kids dads even though there would be no legal recognition and every single person they meet would feel free to ask, "But are they really yours?"
That's my family. Not the past ghosts. Not my mother. Out, out! I want to scream. Leave me alone!
I wanted something beautiful. I wanted my family to love each other. Mostly, I wanted my mother to be happy. And to hold me. Not because of what I saw on advertisements or television shows but because my very core depended on it. Abandoned by my birthmother, I could not risk being anything less than loveable.
My mother adopted three children from three different birthmothers, all disgraced by society for being pregnant without rings of at least promise and handing over their newborn infants to complete strangers. Three children with empty holes for early memories, filled with fear. If we could be given up once, we could be given up again.
The table would be set, the gold leaf bone china an elegant off white, sparking in the candlelight. Every year I would set it on Christmas Eve, ready for the next day. Every year, from the time I was very small to the time I finally left home.
In perfect synch, my mother would get drunk on Christmas Eve. As my table would wait for the promise of laughter, celebration and cheers, my mother would pour another bourbon and water. She would cry and tell us with slurred, elegant words about how much she loved us, what a failure as a parent she was. We would all sit, terrified she'd turn, never knowing what we could do to make it all right. To have her feel loved so she would not be so sad.
It was the only time of the year she ever said anything kind about my father. She would acknowledge, only for a brief moment, there was a time he was a kind and gentle person. Before he was sick. Before the voices in his head took over and instructed him to do horrible things. She needed us to know she would not have married such a broken, twisted man.
We would go off to bed, finally, when she had enough liquor, when her tears were dried. She would playfully remind us no presents until the first cup of coffee was made, and we would all run to bed, giggling, as if we believed in Santa Claus.
I fell asleep every Christmas Eve filled with hope. I hoped when my father showed up in the morning, he would not fight with my mother. I hoped my mother would not find reason to hate him again until the end of the day. I hoped we would all sit around the table and love each other. At least for the day.
We never did. By morning, my mother would be spitting fire before my father even walked in the door. He was always late, always brought snow in the house on his shoes, always had something disgusting stuck in his moustache.
It was clear no family love was going to happen before the first cup of coffee was finished. But I still had my mother to please.
I would plaster a smile on my face and be the master of ceremonies, crawling under the tree, handing out gifts to everyone. I would refill coffee cups for both my parents, I would ooo and ahh over even the most ridiculous gifts. I smiled even when my father would buy little girl gifts for me that made my skin crawl.
And then my moment would finally come. We would sit around the table, my father would say a blessing as was required when he was at the head. For a brief moment, I would squeeze my eyes shut and pray.
Please. Please let Mom be happy.
She never was.