Updated: Jan 14
Holidays were always a mixed bag in our house growing up. I wanted to enjoy them and I certainly enjoyed presents. But, the holidays often seemed more filled with anxiety than joy. I suppose lots of families are like that. But, looking back, I see the effects of being abandoned and adopted, even in my earliest memories. The bigger holidays, like Christmas, were particularly unsettling, especially when company was expected.
This is my first time posting my creative writing. As we get going with this blog, I'll do that from time to time. (Ugh, I dislike the word "blog." Perhaps I should call it "Writings" instead!) I wanted to mention that my tone changes throughout the book as I age and my perspective on the world shifts. As I develop, I become more equipped to wrestle with complexity. In this excerpt, I understand the world as a 3-year-old and I attempt to represent that viewpoint.
The selection is from a scene in Vital Signs nearer the end of the book. At this stage of the manuscript, I begin to reflect on early life after the reader has already followed me from young adulthood through middle age. Here's a little info that you won't get from this snippet: Santa brought me a furry blue Grover doll that year. I loved it! But, and this is what the scene hangs on, I also received a 'gift' that I was none too happy about. I can't give it all away now, but I hope you enjoy this quick read and that it leaves you wanting to know more about how the scene arcs and resolves! As always, please remember to subscribe to this page in the box at the bottom and share with all who may be interested. Happy Holidays, if you celebrate, and as always, I wish you peace.
The Douglas fir stood over me like a lost giant in the living room of our small log cabin. Its plastic star of Bethlehem lightly scratched the vaulted knotty pine ceiling above. Just days before, my father sawed the tree off near its base and heaved it onto the roof of his car. He ran twine through the windows, first in front, then in back, pulling each end tightly before tying the ends in a knot. He eased the car down the cold and winding mountain roads with one hand reaching out to steady the tree, and give warning if it started to slide. Where it once stretched toward the open sky, it now lay prostrate atop a Chevy Vega with sap flowing from its wounds. We took it as if it belonged to us, and we'd dress it for the holiday like it was one of the family.
When we got it home, Dad set the massive tree in a green iron base and tipped it up toward the ceiling. He needed mom's help as he tethered the top with twine to the shellacked knotty pine clapboards that he fitted with brass hooks. When finished, he folded his long skinny legs like a human fawn and lowered himself toward the floor. His bent knees covered his oversized ears on each side as he hunched over a strand of lights hanging from his hands. Dad would never get that each bulb required the power to be passed down the line from the one that came before. This scene was repeated each year, with Dad replacing dull globes and voicing his frustration in the exact same words. He spoke to everyone and nobody at the same time. “You’d think I’d remember how to do this from last year!” This was A frustration he faced each and every year.
Mom was involved with her own merry chase. Her steps rattled the floorboards as she clomped through the house, wanting everyone to know how much she had to do in service of others. I hid in my room the day before as she knocked the vacuum cleaner into every door and wall of the cabin. I learned to dread each holiday because, in the days leading up to one, you could be sure the house would be especially unsettled and thick with dissatisfaction. She'd scream from somewhere out of sight, sort of at Dad, "Where's my scizzas!" in a tinny Jersey City accent. I guessed she was wrapping presents that I wasn't supposed to see and it was best to stay in my room anyway. Then she stopped and the house was suddenly still. She fondled a box of old Christmas ornaments she’d retrieved from the crawlspace in the loft. A rare beam of light shined from her eyes when she added a new ornament to her assortment each year. We made a special trip to the store on the highway that transformed itself into a holiday wonderland each December. Cars whizzed by with children's eyes peering from back seats at large stone statues out front. Naked ladies holding pitchers and angels with fat little wings . We came home that year with two elegant tear-shaped bulbs that seemed to suit this particular tree quite well. She hung them in a prominent place where they might best be seen.
I awoke before dawn on Christmas morning from the kind of sleep that lacks commitment, the kind that is really a half-sleep, which offers very little rest. But that was usual for me . Some kids, like my sister Amy, were good sleepers. I never wanted to trade waking life for nocturnal oblivion. something might happen without me! I found it difficult to go to sleep and then, I'd awaken with nightmares. I'd often be up several times a night. My nightmares seemed so real I ran back to consciousness to escape them. That night, fantasies of treasures untold vied for space beneath the tree in my half-slumbering imagination.
I curled up with Dotty on the living room floor, my face pressed against her warm belly while watching Sesame Street. She licked my face and nuzzled her wet nose between my body and hers. The colorful presents under the tree were imposing reminders of forbidden secrets. Maybe Grover was waiting in one of those boxes for me, I thought. He was not only a main character on my favorite TV show, he was the star of my favorite bedtime story, “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book.” Each time Dad read it to me, I was delighted that, in the end, cuddly Grover himself was both the storyteller and the forewarned monster. But I thought Oscar was more like me, that we were somehow the same kind of monster. I didn't like feeling close to Oscar though and thought I'd rather be more like Grover who didn't live outside in a trash can.
I heard the stirrings of Amy in her bedroom. Dotty darted off and danced in place outside her door. Her thick black claws sounded as if they'd tear the low pile carpet, tail repeatedly thumping against the bathroom door. Nana repositioned herself on the couch behind me and covered her eyes with her blanket. My sister emerged, pulling her bathrobe tightly in the cold and drafty cabin air. As she yawned, her mouth formed a tall oval, reminding me of my shapes. Amy looked most like me in the family, but she wasn't my real sister. While I belonged with Oscar, I felt closer to Amy because she wasn't a green monster, she was a skinny little brown girl, but not as dark as me. Mom and Dad got Amy four years before me from the same adoption agency. She looked after me, but more like a pet than a little brother. Amy sat on the carpet near me to watch the show. Mom soon looked over the railing from the bedroom loft above and muttered something beneath her breath. Dad moved toward the bathroom to attend to his morning rituals. Everything he did was choreographed, from the number of times he rolled the gold bar of Dial in his hands to the way he adjusted the towel on the rack, making it rattle behind the closed door. Nana, mostly awake on the couch by then, though pretending to sleep through Grover and Dotty, swung her feet to the floor, which slid directly into her slippers, already arranged where her feet would land. “Heh, heh, she laughed, you'll have to be patient Michael."
I looked at the gifts beneath the tree and remembered sitting on Santa’s lap at Willowbrook Mall a few days before, the same day we went to the holiday wonderland store. I pressed my face and belly up against mom and bunched the fabric of her skirt in my fists when we got to the red velvet rope at the front of the line. Dad tried to reassure me. I didn't want him to worry, so I tried to appear brave as I was taken by an elf to the big white man. I didn't feel safe walking toward him and yet, I was eager to tell him what I wanted. It was all I could think about for weeks, and when he picked me up by my underarms, my body revolted and I squirmed in his lap and soaked the front of my turtleneck with tears. Mom flapped her hand at me from behind the ropes and I suppose I held myself together for a moment. I told Santa I wanted something with Grover and then I told him I wanted to be back with my mommy. Dad had been handing money to a lady elf standing near a gingerbread house and mom's face had been concealed behind a boxy little camera. I didn't see the flash. But I remember mom's face turn to a frown when she realized she wasted a flash in the brightly lit mall. The moment was captured in a 4x6 and in my memory. I always got a weird and uncomfortable feeling when I saw the framed picture of me on Santa's lap on Grandma's mantle. That feeling never fully left me.
-The scene develops to introduce more immediate family members and ends with me getting potty trained. It was a mixture of feelings of accomplishment and terror, which you'll learn about when the book is complete. I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! Please remember to subscribe below. Peace.-