I do Love Christmas – Despite my Protests

imagesWhen I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my grandmother; she was not what I would call a devout Catholic, but she required me to pray on my knees every night, attend Catechism classes and go to church with her occasionally.  She had a huge cross with Jesus stretched across it hung over her bed.

Before going to sleep, we would kneel side by side, hands clasped, head bent, and we would pray together.  I would pray aloud for my mom, dad, brother, and sisters, I would include the neighbors, my grandmother and her husband, and all of our relatives, and then I would pray for my dog, Woodstock and my donkey, Cinnamon.  When we were finished saying our spoken prayers, I would always look up, towards the ceiling, and I would silently pray to God for him to make my family get better; I would ask for my parents to stop fighting.  I wanted there to be peace in my home when I returned from my summer break.

Each year my prayers went unanswered and life in our house became more troubled; every time my mom went to the hospital or my father went to jail, I started to believe less.  I started to think prayers were like wishes; either they were only fulfilled for “good” children, and I wasn’t one, or there was no such thing as God.

As life wore on, I stopped believing; I became afraid to believe because I was tired of being disappointed.

***

When I was in elementary school and middle school, I used to play “school” often; I would line up all of my stuffed animals, my favorite toys and pretend they were all my students.  My two donkeys would always sit in the front, they were the best students.

Sometimes, I would recruit my younger brother and sister to play as well; I would create math problems and sentences for them to copy, they bored easily of the game, though, and weren’t the straight-A students my animals were.  If anybody had ever asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, a favorite question of adults, I would answer I wanted to be a teacher.

As a high school student, I had the opportunity to spend my junior and senior years working at an elementary school for one of my classes.  It was a true eye-opener as to what the experience would be like if I followed my heart.  I fell in love with so many of the students; I worked at one of the schools with the lowest income levels in town, so many students lived in the weekly motels.

One particular student would come to school with various bruises, bumps, bandages, and sometimes casts.  He wore the same clothing day after day, not a crime, but a sign his family needed help.  One day I asked him about his broken arm, one “kid” to another; when he confided to me his dad had broken it but he wasn’t supposed to tell, I told the teacher I was working with.

Her response was apathetic at best, she had explained how it happened all the time in the area and there wasn’t much she could do.  Times were different in those days; but, I was crushed, I understood some of what he was experiencing.  A few weeks later, the boy was pulled from the school and he was gone.  I never saw him again.

I finished my work experience, but I changed my mind about wanting to be a teacher; I realized I would fall in love and there was nothing I could do to save all of those children.  It was around the same time I started to adopt my theory that I did not want to be a mother, either, that I would be a horrible mother, not able to protect my children from everything.

Throughout the rest of my life, those words have haunted me; my family always reminds me and my children that I “never wanted kids”.  The fact is, I was so afraid of loving them too much and of having them ripped away from me; or of never being good enough.

***

Despite the fact that my family was a shade less than perfect, my mom did her best to make the holidays magical.  Our house was decorated throughout from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after New Year’s, including the yard.  We had homemade goodies galore, Christmas music wafted through the house, and presents practically covered our tree.

Still, no matter how much tinsel she used or how many lights there were, the magic wasn’t enough to keep the police at bay.  It turns out it just wasn’t a family holiday if somebody wasn’t drunk, in jail, in the hospital, or threatening somebody; that’s just the way it was.  Though, she tried.

When I became an adult, I did everything I could to make my children’s holidays as special as I could.  But, I felt just as cursed as my parents had been; there was never enough money in the first few years.  Though, when children are very young, they don’t notice the one foot tall Charlie Brown tree with two or three gifts scattered underneath and the paper fireplace.

Then, when my first husband left on New Year’s Eve when my girls were young, the event put a bit of a pall over holidays; especially since he made a habit of calling four times a year after that, my birthday, his birthday, our anniversary, and New Year’s Eve.  We eventually forgot about him and opted to move on with our new family, the three of us and the girls’ adopted dad.

However, their new dad could not have cared less about Christmas; no matter how special I tried to make it, he was not interested.  One year, we didn’t even have a tree; something the girls and I looked forward to as soon as Halloween came knocking on the door.

As each year passed, my enthusiasm for Christmas began to wane, his dislike for the holiday and my traditions made me feel small and sad.  I wanted to give my girls not just physical gifts, but the traditions I had enjoyed the most; the Christmas Eve traditions of new pajamas, board games, fondue and snacks for dinner; the morning traditions of eating breakfast from the stockings, making a huge Christmas dinner, and all of the other traditions.

The last Christmas we spent together, I served his dinner to him at his desk upstairs while the girls and I ate together downstairs.  The girls and I went alone to go look at the Christmas lights, typically a family event.

After that, I was afraid to love Christmas; the more I love something, the further it seems to slip away from me.  I am certain the logic does not make any sense, but in my fractured mind, it protects me from getting hurt.

Acceptable Behavior

imagesWhen I was 17, my dad had a friend; he was a man who worked with my dad at the mine.  We would occasionally eat dinner at their house and they at ours; often, my aunt and uncle would join us, as my uncle worked with the men as well.  As it turned out, the friend had a teenaged son who was 19 and was attending the well-known mining school; and I was “off” from my on-again-off-again relationship with my ninth grade high-school drop-out drug-addicted boyfriend.

Needless to say, our parents thought we were a perfect match; little did they realize we could not have been more different.  He was a geology nerd with a love of rocks, and I was… well, not.

Still, every time our families got together, I gave in and would go for a ride with him just to appease everyone.  He had some type of muscle car that he thought would impress me; it was a Mustang, Camaro, or a Trans Am, they were all the same to me.  If it wasn’t a classic car, I could not have cared less at the time.  Besides, he always brought a friend; I think he was a little afraid of me.  So, I sat in the middle on the “hump” as we blared Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and cruised the streets of The Biggest Little City in the World.

Apparently, one day he recovered from his shyness; we left the house when the boring grown-ups were having dinner to go for a ride, but we didn’t pick up his friend.  Instead, he drove to a local park and stopped the car in the parking lot.  Almost immediately, he started mauling me; I could not have been less attracted to him and pushed him off.

Suddenly, this mild-mannered Clark Kent with the thick Coke bottle eyeglasses became a fairly strong man; I had underestimated him.  He came at me aggressively as I continued to push him away, digging my nails into his flesh, drawing blood.  He called me a tease, I cried, begged, screamed in his face; he continued his assault until he had my skirt pushed around my waist, his hands pushing at me.

I grabbed his glasses, tearing at his face, scratching him; he still didn’t care; there was little room in the car, and he was bigger than I had thought he was, completely over powering me.  But, I was small, tiny.  I didn’t have a chance.

When he was finished, he drove me back to his parents, walked in as if nothing happened.  Of course, they were drunk by then and nobody noticed a thing.

Weeks later when we were supposed to go back, I refused; I was lectured about what a great catch he was, how he was going to be a mining engineer, what a screw-up I was, the usual.

I never saw him again; his dad died in a mining accident, and his mom took her settlement, went on a cruise to China, and then moved to a condo in Mexico.

***

Either a few months before or after this time, I truly do not remember; I had a boyfriend who lived a few hours away.  I used to lie to my parents and sneak over to his house to spend the weekend with him.  He was 20, a few years older than my 17 years; and I thought I was in love.

We would have romantic dinners, go to the movies, and spend the weekend playing house.

One weekend, though, was very different; I arrived on Friday night as planned, but instead of doing anything romantic or otherwise, he seemed frantic and out of sorts and asked me to drive him to a park so he could meet a friend.  I did.

We sat in my bright red 1957 Chevy Bel Air, nothing conspicuous or anything, as we waited for his friend to arrive.  As a car pulled into the space next to us, he jumped out and commanded me to wait for him.  I waited in the car, playing with the cassette player, as he got out, jumped in the other car for a while, and then finally got back in my car.

He was in a weird mood, I just couldn’t figure him out; I tried to talk to him, but he was very edgy.  I saw him bend over and snort something up his nose as we were driving down the freeway; I pulled over and started screaming at him to get out of my car immediately.

I recoiled as he slapped me hard across the face; the car continued to run as he slapped and beat me on the side of the freeway as I continued to scream for him to get out and that I never wanted to see him again.

When his rage subsided, I sat back in the seat and looked at him, and he at me, “Come on, baby, you don’t really mean that, do you?” he asked.

In fact, I guess I didn’t; I knew I couldn’t go home because my parents would know I had lied in the first place.  I drove back to his house that night and stayed with him the rest of the weekend; my face and body growing black and blue over the next few days, evidence of what had occurred.

When I left on Sunday, I was worried about my parents questioning what had happened to me; I should not have spent a moment thinking of it.  I broke it off with him, much to my parent’s chagrin; he was such a nice boy, came from a good family, with money, no less, from Lake Tahoe.

Ten years later, I was divorced with two kids and staying with my parents; “Oh, guess who called?” my mother informed me.  It was him; I had forgotten why we had broken up so I decided to go to dinner with him.

As we sat across the table from one another, he was starry-eyed as he looked at me, professing his love, “I would let you work, baby, if you wanted to.  I would take care of you and your kids.  Come on, we could make it work.”

I looked across the table from him and something snapped, I looked at him squarely in the eyes, “Nobody lets me do anything.  And, I remember why we broke up, I’m going home.”  I walked out of the restaurant leaving him with his mouth agape behind me.

***

I’m not sure if that was acceptable behavior for those boys or not, but it was to me back then.

Songs with Misunderstood Lyrics

imagesWe have all had those songs where we (or somebody around us) are singing our hearts out to a song, certain we know the lyrics, only to find out later we have been singing them incorrectly for years.  I like to find comfort, meaning, and solace in song lyrics and apply them to my life; but, sometimes, they are just fun and meaningless… especially when the words are nonsensical because you have been misunderstanding them.

I will not even mention the song that is talked about the world over, oh, guess I am now; the Elton John song about “Hold me close tiny dancer” where everybody claims the lyrics are “Hold me close Tony Danza”

***

When my older sister and I were young, you’ll be able to determine how young for those of you who know who Leif Garrett is; there was a song about a girl we used to sing:

“Sweet little Sheila, you’ll know her if you see her

Two eyes and a ponytail

Her cheeks are rosy, she looks a little nosey

Man, this little girl is fine”

However, the lyrics are actually:

“Sweet little Sheila, you’ll know her if you see her

Blue eyes and a ponytail

Of course, it is two blue eyes, silly girls, doesn’t everyone have two eyes?  Wouldn’t that be inferred?  Or was she a pirate?  It truly sounded like “two” to us, though.  For years, we sang it with two even after we figured it out.  We even had a little move where my sister would point her finger at my eyes; she nearly blinded me once.  Honest.

***

Another song from when I was fairly young was Right Down the Line, by Gerry Rafferty; however, when I was young, I had no idea who sang it.  Actually, I still don’t I just had to Google it.

There is a line in the song “When I wanted you to share my life” that I had always thought was “When I wanted you to shave my legs”; so, every time the sang came on, I would have a serious gag reflex.  I could never understand why he would want somebody to shave his legs and I would have to change the station.

Even now, as an adult, I have a hard time listening to the song; it is a Pavlovian type response.  Ick.

***

My older sister used to sing to Hall & Oates’ Your Kiss is on my List, but she would sing out, at the top of her lungs, off-key, “Your kiss is on my lips”.  I tried to explain to her that it was “list”, not “lips”; we would argue endlessly.  She could not fathom why a kiss, physical, would be on a list, or how it could be.

I would try to enlighten her by pointing out some of the other elements of the song and telling her she needed to take the entire thing in context.  She did not understand; she probably still sings it the same way.  Off-key.  At the top of her lungs.

***

When my girls were little, their biological father, the one who eventually left us because he “wanted to be a rock star” used to play guitar and sing in bars on the weekend.  He often had people over to practice; the girls would dance and sing into hairbrushes pretending they were microphones.

One of the songs they performed was Shake Your Foundations by AC/DC; there is a line that goes “Aye, aye, oh, shake your foundations”; however, my oldest daughter used to sing her heart out, “Aye, aye, oh, shake your Dalmatians”.

***

My nephew is a character; he was sometimes incredibly annoying as a child and often times really endearing.

Endearing:

He would sing all of the time; my parents and his parents listened to country music so he learned quite a few songs.  One of his favorites was Tim McGraw’s song Indian Outlaw, and he was always belting out the verse that should have been sung:

“I’m an Indian outlaw

Half Cherokee and Choctaw

My baby she’s a Chippewa

She’s one of a kind”

However, he sang it this way:

“My baby she’s a chickenwa

She’s one of a kind”

It was actually quite cute.

Annoying:

We were visiting for Easter one year; and since we lived 800 miles away, my children and my sister’s children did not get to see each other often.  The cousins seemed to be getting along together nicely as they gathered eggs in their Easter best; but my nephew must have tired of his good behavior.

My oldest and he were standing in the living room together; my daughter was trying to put on a little show of singing “I’m a Little Teapot”.  Every time she would get to the line “short and stout”, he would bend over in front of her face, change the lyrics to “short and dork” belting out the lyrics very loudly and laughing.

Now, in our family, the lyrics have officially been changed.

***

The song by Chumbawamba, Tub Thumping (Wow, I never knew the title until I just looked it up), is an interesting one…

I always sang the lyrics as:

“I get knocked down

But I get up again

You’re never going to keep me down

Wishing the night away”

My daughters were looking at me one day last year as I was singing the song aloud in the car; I was appalled when my oldest told me the line was actually, “p!$$ing the night away.”  I still cannot bring myself to say it; to me, it will always be, “wishing the night away.

***

Just a few quirky little things I was remembering today.

Sheila – Leif Garrett

Awkward Conversation in the Shower

imagesThis morning, I had the most awkward conversation with my sister in the shower at the gym.  She and I had taken showers at opposite sides of the aisle and, for whatever reason, began a conversation.

“So, did you work out your shoulder today?” she asked me, over the din of the water.

“Some, but I think I need to move the weights up five extra pounds, I just can’t figure out how to turn that knob thingy,” I responded, explaining how I could only adjust the weights by ten pounds.

“Just ask one of the trainers,” she suggested, “That’s what they’re there for, dork.”

“Well, I probably won’t be here much longer, anyway,” I stated.

“Yeah, what is going on with you, anyway?”

“Well, I have been trying to reach Uncle B to ask if I can come there for the holidays,” I spoke loudly, as I could hear more showers come on.

“You don’t have to do that,” her voice started to crack; “You can stay here with us.”

“No I can’t,” I answered, “Things are starting to get weird here.  You guys need your time alone; and, besides, R’s boys will be here soon and there really isn’t enough room.”

“R just needs to chill,” she said, “He stresses too much.  If we need to be alone, we can always leave.  Just stay, don’t go.  What are you going to do at Uncle B’s house?  There is nothing there for you.”

“It’s fine,” I shampooed my hair as I spoke, “And, you shouldn’t have to leave your house if you want to be alone, it’s your house.”

“I don’t want you to be alone for Christmas,” she was fully starting to cry now, “You’re my sister and I love you.  Don’t go.  I want you to stay, it’s fine.”

“I really don’t think I should,” more showers coming on, a few turning off, people coming and going as we talked, “You guys seem really stressed.  I’m clearly in the way, it is so awkward.  Besides, last year I stayed alone in a hotel for Christmas, so this really is no big deal.”

“It is a big deal,” she was sobbing, “I don’t want you to be alone.  And, after the holidays, what are you going to do then?”

“I really don’t know,” I was being completely honest with her, “I guess maybe kill myself.”

“Please, don’t say that,” still crying.

“I’m finished showering,” I stated flatly, “I’m going to go get dressed.”

Broken Promises

imagesI am usually not one to ask for anything; or to believe somebody when they tell me they are going to give something to me, I simply did not have the kind of life where silly dreams and fantasies turned out to be true.  Promises, to me, were something somebody told you to get you to do what they wanted you to do; perform a task, have sex, stay with them, it didn’t matter, it was all the same to me.  I typically did as I was asked, I was compliant and submissive.

One year, after reuniting with my ex-husband, he wanted me to lose 90 pounds; he told me I was fat and it was unattractive.  Acceptable; I was fat, and, it was unattractive.  However, it was painful to hear; and incredibly difficult to lose the weight. I had packed on the pounds through a variety of bad habits, unhealthy eating, too much alcohol, and four years of 27 different medications to control my multiple diagnoses of mental illness.

Finally quitting the prescription meds, since I was more suicidal than ever, I thought I might be able to get control of my weight.  It didn’t hurt with Hitler as my coach; I had to weigh myself in front of him every day, and email him a food journal of every calorie I ate.  Additionally, I started a rigorous schedule of working out beginning at 4:30 every morning, on my lunch hour at work, and then again after work.  All sans gym membership.

Day by day, I saw my weight drop; and in less than a year, I was down 90 pounds and had surpassed his goal for me by 15 pounds.  Along the way, he had offered me little incentives to help me.

The biggest one was a “boob job”; not as if I had ever thought of one before, but when he presented it to me, I accepted.  He always complained about my “too large” breasts; I had 36DDD, and he preferred an A cup.  Even when I weigh 120 pounds, my chest is far larger than it should be for my frame; as a runner (before the unfortunate period of the 11 foot surgeries in 3 years) it was challenging, to say the least.

He offered a reduction if I met a goal of 135 pounds; apparently believing I would never meet the goal.  When I exceeded his goal by 15 pounds, I asked him about his promise, his response was a flat, “I was never going to spend that kind of money on you.  It was just a way to get you to lose weight.”

So it goes, so it goes.

Never mind the fact that I made at least as much as he did, and I believe about $10,000 more; or the point that he had bought a motorcycle for $8,000, wrecked it one day at a “track day”, bought another the day he was laid up for $8,000, (all cash), and spent 10’s of thousands of dollars day-trading, all lost.  I never said a word.

Broken promises.  Needless to say, I am not a fan.

 

The Swim

index

She stood beside the ocean ready to jump in

Her lover called behind her,

“But, you don’t know how to swim.”

***

She leapt from the rocks high into the air,

Her lover staring in disbelief

Ready to cry out in despair.

***

Her body strikes the water with perfect grace and form,

The lover almost faints not watching what happens next,

She moves slowly with the ocean, swimming back towards shore.

***

His eyes are teary as he confesses,

“I thought you were going to die.”

She turns to him in her reply, “Silly boy, I’ve been taking lessons.”

The Apartment

indexI love old black and white movies; I suppose it’s because I have always felt I was born years too late.  I would have been more comfortable in the 1940’s or 50’s when it was acceptable for women to stay home and cook, and clean, and they didn’t have to make excuses for not wanting to compete with me.  I think having dinner at 9:00 PM and wearing dresses and heals is glamorous, and I just recently stopped cringing when I saw others wearing white after Labor Day.

One of my favorite movies is “The Apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; it was touted as a comedy, but the premise is actually quite sad and dark, probably why I like it.  The plot is quite simple, C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, is a tiny fish in the big sea of workers in a huge office who wishes to be promoted.  He soon discovers an interesting way to get ahead, they key to his apartment.

The top-level executives at his firm take turns using the key to his place to have illicit dalliances with their secretaries or other women they meet.  The nearby place is a perfect hideaway for the married men to whisk away their lovers for an evening of romance.

While the movie may seem as if it has the makings of a typical rom-com, there is a dark side; Baxter’s boss brings a girl there one night and when he leaves, she attempts suicide.  Upon his arrival home, Baxter finds Fran Kubelik, played by Shirley MacLaine, a woman he has a crush on from the elevator, passed out in his bed from a sleeping pill overdose.

Baxter saves Ms. Kubelik’s life, and the two spend Christmas Eve together as she recuperates from the trauma.  As he stays awake with her, they play cards, talk, and fall in love.  However, she is not over the man with whom she had her original fling, and by New Year’s Eve, he has left his wife after telling her of his infidelities, there have been many.

By this time, Baxter has quit his job, is moving from his apartment and is ready to leave the city, when Ms. Kubelik realizes it is him that she loves and she runs to his apartment to tell him.  Of course, the movie ends on a happy note.

Still, the most poignant moment for me is the night of a Christmas party in the office when Baxter is in his office with Ms. Kubelik; he realizes then she is the one his boss has been bringing to his apartment.  She had left a compact in his apartment once; he had seen it but had returned it to his boss.

On this night, she dropped it, he picks it up to hand it to her, looking at the glass and noticing the crack down the middle, he recognizes it and gets a quizzical but knowing look on his face.  Ms. Baxter mistakes the look when he says to her, “The mirror… it’s broken.”

She straightens herself, “Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.”

For years, I carried a broken compact in my purse; I have no idea how it broke.  It was just a cheap, Cover Girl compact that came with some makeup; I could afford to replace it, but didn’t.  Every time I looked in that mirror and had to look beyond the cracks, I would think of her, and the line she said, “It makes me look the way I feel”.  I know I am cracked.