#FridayFlash: Every Christmas

"The only thing I ever got for Christmas was a slap to the face. You don't have to get slapped too many times before you stop asking for stuff like Christmas presents."

In another time, another place, such a statement would have frozen the people he was with. Without conversation to drown it out, the carols B101 had been programming since before Thanksgiving would have been the only sound in the room. The radio would have continued to play in the background, with Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" or Dean Martin's "Let It Snow" taking the place of real human voices.

The moment would hang and linger as each of his listeners tried to process what he'd just said. Was he joking? Was he serious? What did he mean by it? How was this a good response to the usual chit-chat banter about what you got for your kids, for your wife or husband, for your siblings or parents? Amid the small talk, what did he mean by dropping a neutron bomb like that?

In other times, other places, he'd said it and frozen the people he was with. Now, though, he was alone; his oversharing dismissal of Christmas, brought out in front of the mirror in his standard snorting sneer, silenced only himself.

For years, he was the guy who could always be counted on to ruin the mood. He brought stupid presents to the office party gift exchange... not silly stupid like a carefully wrapped box of AA batteries, or funny stupid like a bobblehead doll of some Mets infielder no one had ever heard of. Other people brought stuff like that and it was a riot. No, he brought stupid stupid things, like a king-size stick of deodorant, a big bag of rubber bands, blank videocassettes, and (one year) an old Gideon bible from a used book store. When his present was unwrapped, nobody laughed, no matter how far along the party was, no matter how drunk everyone was.

What are you trying to do, somebody once asked him, ruin Christmas?

"Christmas," he'd snort. "What's Christmas ever done for me?" It was his usual rebuttal when challenged, brought out on the rare occasions when someone had the courage and bad judgement to challenge him, or to try to cheer him up, or to change his mind. These occasions delighted him, just as a foolish calf delighted the river crocodile by coming too close to the water's edge. He loved nothing more than the chance to move the conversation onto his turf, to make the day about him and his pain and rage.

The worst part about him is that his pain and rage at Christmastime were just as real as the joy and nostalgia everyone else felt. He HAD been slapped when he'd asked about Santa Claus, he HAD been locked in his room for wanting a bicycle, he HAD been thrown out of the house on Christmas Eve, 1972. Nine days after his sixteenth birthday, he'd had the last fight of his life with his father. Words had turned to shouts, shouts to threats, threats to a thrown punch. His father responded with a half-full bottle of Iron City broken across the forehead of his good-for-nothing, piece of shit little brat, always whining, always crying, never lifting a goddamned finger. The bottle led to the belt, the belt gave way to the steel-toed boots that his father wore down at the plant.

An hour later and forty miles west of town, his father dumped him out of the passenger seat into the snow-filled ditch at the intersection of Route 9 and Scroggins Mill Road. After a while, perhaps three hours, the traffic light above him switched from green, yellow, red, green, yellow, red to blinking yellow, yellow, yellow. Bright lights from a state trooper in the early hours of Christmas Day, lights blinking red and blue, not red and green.

"Christmas... what's Christmas ever done for me?"

The bathroom mirror had no answer. The silence was heavy, but it wasn't complete. Through the walls, he could hear carols, laughter, conversation, music. When he retired, he had no reason to attend the office Christmas parties anymore. They were his only link to the world of eggnog, tinsel, wrapping paper and fancy chocolates, that world in which he would forever be a outsider, though everyone else seemed like a native. Now, he didn't even have people to offend and shock.

It was disgusting, how he couldn't keep himself from crying this way. Pathetic, stupid, disgusting. What had Christmas ever done for him?

Every Christmas it was the same.

The tears, the pain he didn't understand, the longing for something he couldn't describe.

Every Christmas it was the same.

Every Christmas it was the same.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

9 comments:

  1. Some graves we seem to dig for ourselves.

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    1. ... or don't know how to climb out of.

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  2. I feel like that about Christmas, without having gone through all the abuse your protagonist suffered. There is an element of forced jollity upon people, even when they have no real appetite for it.

    marc nash

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    1. Pretend good humor is wearying. Over the years, I've tried to focus on gratitude instead. Curiously, that leads to more good cheer than forced Ho Ho Ho ever did.

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  3. I have a relative who had a few awful Christmases as a child but thankfully his wife taught him how to enjoy the season. It is possible to change your point of view.

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  4. I'm with Marc -- I'm grateful for this story (besides the basic part of it being a good story), because I'm not too fond of Christmas. Nothing like being screamed at to get more in the Christmas spirit to make you wonder what the hell it's all about.

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  5. I also think that this story illustrates how a person allows their past to forge their future. It's sad tale, and perhaps the one lesson about Christmas we should remember is it's not about opening your presents its more about opening your heart.

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  6. Yeah, some years now I feel I'm slipping into that state of mind. Not all that enthusiastic. Deep inside though I feel bad about not feeling good about Christmas. Hopefully this year will find the solution!

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  7. This is a hard one to comment on, not because it's bad (it's not). I do see a little of myself in the MC here, although I didn't have it nearly as rough & I don't try to go around pulling it down for everyone else. Still, I'm trying to connect with the season. (And now I have the flu, so the timing is fantastic.)

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