Holidays Always Made Me Anxious
Holidays always made me anxious.
You could never tell when something would kick off. Only that it would.
Without warning. At least to any of us. Because for him, things had been brewing. For a very long time. And I think it was because he had no outlets.
No real friends. No one outside the home or office to work things out.
Everything he felt, thought, wanted to change – he could not. His fate had been chosen. Choices were made. Circumstances unfolded. And he felt trapped. Like an animal. One that would bite anyone who got close.
And I’m not sure if part of it was because of how things were when he grew up.
Segregated. Racist. Unwelcoming for a person of color. But I think that helped fuel it. Do what you’re told. Don’t talk back. Don’t look into their eyes. Keep moving. Don’t get into any trouble.
All of that conditioning and withholding and suppressing had created in him an internal volcano. A fiery rage that would eventually erupt.
Always. Eventually. On us.
And eventually usually came around the holidays.
Especially Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I remember Christmas. It was always the worst then. As the ads for the latest hot new toys played on the television set and the displays of family dinners and decorated trees shone in the storefronts and magazines, I became more and more unsettled as the countdown to the holidays started.
But it wasn't always this way.
As kids, we would comb through the Spiegel catalog marking the pages of the items we wanted for our Christmas list. And we would be good. Really good. Cause we didn’t want to miss out on anything. I remember getting Easy Bake ovens and Barbie dolls with beautiful outfits I could change them into again and again. Jump ropes, roller skates, and fancy pants that buttoned on the side. Those crushed velvet bell bottoms with teddy bear buttons were my favorite.
But then one year, about two weeks before Christmas, it happened. Just as we were winding down schoolwork and getting ready for the break at school, I came off the elevator and started walking down the hall to our apartment, and was immediately filled with dread. My stomach took this somersault to such a degree I had to hold onto the wall for balance. No one was in the hallway and I heard no sounds, but the closer I got to our apartment, the weaker I became. And when I finally turned my key in the lock, I saw her.
Sitting on the couch with her head down. Eyes puffy and swollen. The paper– mâché vase I had made in art class lie broken beyond repair, and the TV was not on its stand anymore. The whole room was in disarray, but the TV just wasn’t there anymore. The TV where we sat and watched Magilla Gorilla, the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family after school. Where me and my brothers and sister fought over who would watch what. Where we all came together as a family and watched Soul Train on Saturday afternoons, because there was only one TV.
Pressure. Responsibility. Mounting day by day. And now here comes Christmas again. And everybody wants something. Isn’t it enough that I go out here everyday making it happen.
Now they want more. Always more.
I guess the pressure from the day to day, now piled onto the having to do even more, was just too much. Five kids, and a stay-at-home wife. A wife who did everything she knew to do, but yet still felt like she had to walk on egg shells in her own home. And never fully realizing that to him - the whole floor was an eggshell – and her steps across them were the accelerant that would set him off.
And then it became like clockwork. It was like you were anticipating it, only it wasn’t a good thing. And it was always after what were normal times. Then suddenly, in the middle of the night, you would hear a bang, something breaking, then a scream. And you knew it was going to be a long night.
Whether it was coming from their bedroom or from the living room below, the vents in my bedroom carried the sounds. They were muffled, which made it even worse because I often thought if I could just make sense of what he was saying I would understand.
And we could fix whatever was wrong. But it would be accusations and cursings. Name callings and fists. And she would wail and cry and promise to do better. To not make him mad anymore. Yes I’m stupid. And fat. And ugly. And it’s all my fault.
But it wasn’t.
Yet because she had endured this for so long, she knew how to get through. Like when you know the pain is coming and you took the medication too late, you just have to ride it out.
But the ride was never smooth. It was always bumpy and rocky and harrowing, like reaching the end of the cliff and having no other options.
And it did something to her. Took away her spirit. Her drive. Her joy.
Made her question who she was. And accept what she never could be. To become the object of someone else’s pain and only hope to make it out alive.