The year of my ninth Christmas we had snow. It didn't snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas but it had snowed earlier in that week. Maine still got amazing snow falls during that time. The snow drifts, pushed by the wind, reached the roof of our small rental house. My mom had dug a sloppy tunnel from the front door to the road. We had no car so the driveway remained snowed in until my mom made us shovel a place for my dad's truck. He was coming home for Christmas. We had not seen him for a couple of weeks. He worked away but was supposed to come home weekends. This was not the first time he disappeared. It was the first time that he sent us money for food, rent, and heat.
We spent the first half of Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house. She lived down the road from us within walking distance. I remember feeling a bit sulky that year. It was an odd year for me. I was nine. I had been a very innocent nine but a half year at the rough public school in this new town had hardened me. It was the year I had my first fight. It was also the year that I made my first best girlfriend. And it was the year that I stopped believing in many things. I sat sullen and disgusted as my brother received a stuffed dog (so miraculous everyone exclaimed that he got his when all he had been asking for was a dog). But at the same time I was excited as everyone opened the cheap presents I had purchased from Woolworth's. Those ambiguous emotions summed up the year for me. Half a child still believing in miracles, magic, love and half a child disgusted with the world.
My dad picked us up at my gram's. He smelled clean as he held me in his lap. My dad rarely held me. He acted uncomfortable with my body as I got older. But that night, he let me sit on his lap, and hugged me tightly. He didn't stay long at my gram's house. In fact, my mom and he fought about leaving. My mom wanted to stay a bit longer, and my dad insisted that we go home. Once home, they fought more. My mom yelled at him for not coming home for two weeks. They had just been married in November. I had half hoped that the wedding would mean less fighting. My dad ignored most of my mom's yelling, and finally said "Can't you just stop for tonight. It's Christmas."
After my mom read us "The Night Before Christmas," we went to bed. My room was right off the kitchen. It was small...almost like a closet. I could hear everything said in the kitchen though. My mom and dad stopped fighting once we were all in bed. I could hear my brother's jumping around though in the bedroom. My dad yelled at them a couple of times, and then I heard my mom and him "having sex." I pulled my pillow over my head and forced my excited self to sleep.
The next morning I woke up at dawn. I knew from past experience that my mom would make me go back to bed. It was impossible to go back to sleep though knowing that there were a ton of presents under the tree. I read a book until I could hear my brothers stirring in the room next to me. I ran out to the kitchen. It was cold, and dark. I tiptoed into the living room. The tree was lit and shone in the darkness created by drawn blinds. There were presents all around the tree. My brothers meet me at the threshold. We went into the room, and found our stockings. By the time my parents joined us we were eating candy and coloring in the new coloring books from our stockings.
Funnily, I don't remember what I got that year. I suppose Barbie stuff and books--that is what I usually got. Mostly I remember feeling very anxious that day. My mom was snappish, my dad restless and tense. He paced a lot, and yelled at us when we grew too loud. I remember my youngest brother, three at the time, walking around, fat in his droopy diaper with that stupid dog under his arm. My other brother acted haunted. I spent a lot of my time that day hanging around my parents' chairs. My dad snarled at me several times to go play, and pushed me with boot, hard, once to make me go play. I felt this sick feeling deep in my stomach, and kept waiting all day for the horrible something to happen. I knew this feeling all too well. We ate dinner at my grandparent's where my mom spent most of her time in my aunt's room crying. My dad was impatient with her.
We went to bed late. I feel asleep almost immediately but I woke briefly when my dad came in and kissed me goodnight. He said "I have to go to work tomorrow so I won't see you for awhile." I hugged him briefly before falling back to sleep. I remember thinking that he was crying but I had (and have) never seen my dad cry.
The next day I woke to my mom sobbing and moaning. Her cries were these great heaving sounds that rattled through the house. I lay still not wanting to walk out into her grief. This was not the first time she cried like this. It scared me. Her wailing sounded like a ghost. When I finally made it to her bedroom, she was wrapped in an old blanket, rocking in her chair, great sobs, mangling her throat. My youngest brother sat in her lap, patting her face while my middle brother, sat on her beds, his eyes wide in his pale face. She was holding a letter, and she handed it to me angrily as if I had written it. In it my dad told her that he had found someone else, and that he was leaving her...us. My mom's eyes were on me angry as if I had found him this new family.
"Did he say anythign to you last night?" she demanded.
I shook my head.
"Tell me!" she yelled and began to wail again. My brother cried silently on the bed. I crawled under the covers with him, and held him. This dark house wrapped around us as I stopped belieivng in not just my father but my mother. And even though a part of me knew it was true, I felt it was my fault. My fault that my mom felt so much pain. My fault that my dad had left us. My fault that the world was just one big hole that sucked everythign good away.