Monday, December 17, 2012

Two weeks to Christmas

Dec. 11, 1980

Two weeks to Christmas, and like a small boy believe in Santa Claus and Christ, I sit and wait for it to come.
This has not always been the case. Like the time I got caught hiding behind the living room couch when I should have been at mass, raising more than a few eye brows and voices when I told them I hadn’t gone to church in some time.
I usually hid out in the graveyard in a small mourner’s building just inside the gate. It had seats and windows, but no heat – which is why on that particular Christmas I decided not to hide out there.
The old stone building depressed me even in warm weather as I watched people drive through the gate, their faces as ashen as the grave stones, all of them desperate to find some consolation here, when I knew there was none.
I couldn’t take looking at the dark holes they had for eyes, their faces shrouded in self pity.
I remember sitting in the armed chair that Christmas staring at the large tree, drenched in tinsel and ornaments, and old style lights that that my grand parents brought their first year together, before my mother was born.
I even had presents there, although I didn’t deserve them, games and such, my uncle Harold had insisted on giving me, because it was something we could do together that didn’t involve his chasing me around the house trying to hit me in the head with a hammer.
I didn’t even need to open one to know what they were.
The ones puzzled me were the ones with my mother’s name on, presents we would later have to put in the back seat of my grandfather’s car for the long drive to the hospital, where she would open them so slowly with fingers shaking so badly, I always ached to snatch them out of her hands and open them myself.
Christmas started officially when my grandfather came down the stairs, and the family gathered to take everything in together, resisting the usual petty feuds only brothers and parents could maintain for so many years.
And here, my grandfather stood over me, glaring at me, asking me why I no longer went to church – eve on Christmas, his outrage slashing across me like strokes of a whip.
I could not tell him. I’m not sure I knew why myself, why I would spend that hour staring at graves and mourners rather than in the back pew of a warm church, why God no longer meant anything to me, and how sometimes, when I was most scared, I wanted Him to.
Each lash of my grandfather’s voice made me want to leave now, cold or not, dressed as I was, to seek refuge if not among the graves, then down in the empty, snow-covered fields of Nash Park where the old World War II air plane slowly rotted, where the fountains no longer worked, where the air felt even colder as it came off the surface of the river I loved so much in any season.
But I made no move, and after some heavy discussion with my uncles, my grandfather sent me to my room to wait until dinner, and when I came down later, my presents were gone.
I don’t know why I think of that time now, staring at the pile of poorly wrapped presents I had collected for my family and my friends, my mother’s among them, waiting for a trip to Toms River, not Graystone Mental Hospital. Maybe after all these years, I like Christmas again, and believe in it, and deep down, maybe I even believe in God again.

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