I’ll have a Blue Christmas with or without you
It’s a myth that suicides peak this time of year. Research shows people are less likely to end their lives between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you’re looking to blame a holiday for pushing desperate souls over the brink, hang it on the Easter bunny. Inexplicably, suicides are most common in the spring.
I don’t want to kill myself. Just pretty much everybody around me. There are plenty of reasons to be melancholy. Days are shorter, colder and darker. Credit cards are maxed out buying gifts that may not be appreciated. Airplanes are jam packed with sweaty, rookie travelers. There’s shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking, eating, wrapping, planning, drinking and partying. And there are so many people around. I miss my family who’s not here and wish some who are here would go away.
No, not die. Just go away.
Looking back on my childhood I completely understand where this all started. At the age of 27, my father died of leukemia, two months before Christmas. I was three. I don’t remember that first Christmas without Daddy. But thanks to Grandpa’s 16MM movies I can actually see how sad it all was. Gramps unwisely focused the camera on my mom, his 25-year-old daughter. The newly widowed mother of four. My mother actually took a swing at him and called him every name in the book. There was no sound but she mouthed it with such hate I could actually hear the words. And who could blame her? Just two months earlier she lost the love of her young life. Mom sat as far away from the action as possible. She looked like a zombie with her pale, transparent skin and vacant eyes, circled in darkness. My siblings and I, on the other hand, were happy little children as we opened our gifts of mittens, slippers and modest toys. Suzie was five, Ricky three. And three-month-old baby Jeannie was oddly placed under the Christmas tree and remained there throughout the movie. This tiny infant on her back kicking her little legs as we romped all around her opening our presents. I guess nobody thought that might be a bad place for a baby.
My mother struggled to raise us on meager Social Security survivor benefits, later supplemented with the salary and tips of a new waitress. Every Christmas was a burden for her. We knew she dreaded it but pretended we didn’t. We were poor but it was Santa who brought the gifts. So what was her deal? I was a very sensitive kid and refused to acknowledge Santa wasn’t real, even though all my friends knew. It was like once I stopped believing, the presents would stop coming. But deep down I knew. I actually found out when I was nine or ten. It was the night before Christmas when out on the sidewalk there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Turns out the drunk United Way volunteers were yucking it up as they carried a few gifts to our front porch. Somebody dropped a beer bottle which smashed on the concrete and caused them all to bust a gut laughing. I told no one about the boozed up do-gooders. I was desperate not to give up on Santa. But a few years later Mom sat me down and told me the kids were teasing me and it was time to grow up. Damnit.
It all became very clear why she went over the limit on her Sears and Roebuck charge account every December. I felt so guilty when I heard her tearful explanations on the phone with the debt collectors at the start of every new year. And it’s not that she splurged on extravagant things like Barbies or doll houses. No, we got clothes and were damned happy to get ‘em. I have proof in the subsequent films of Cecil B. DeGrandpa. We squealed with delight over socks and pajamas and coats and scarves. And every year he continued his twisted tradition of getting in Mom’s face with the camera and being told off. I always thought my mother hated Christmas because she lost her husband. But now I think Grandpa may have been the culprit. Who knows, he probably tormented his daughter every Christmas while she was growing up.
Whatever the root cause, I equated Christmas with sadness and despair. I had hoped to turn that ship around when I married into a normal family who had great big happy Christmas parties with tons of family and friends. They actually loved the holidays. Then on my first Christmas overnight with my perfect new family-in-law I went downstairs for a drink of water after all the guests had left and, I thought, everybody was in bed. As I approached the kitchen I overheard my husband’s mom yelling at her 72-year-old, blind mother, detailing why she always hated her.
I like writing holiday cards and staying in touch with dear friends. I like buying gifts and wrapping them for my loved ones. I like my new peace-sign-shaped wreath that finally arrived from Amazon. I like volunteering at Second-Dad’s care facility to make sure those who have nobody, have my Pops and me. But there’s no mistle in my toe. No egg in my noggin. No baby in my Jesus. Let’s just get this over with so I can look forward to, well, spring!