T’was the night before Christmas and I found myself forced to recall the traditions I’ve cherished for so long. My son Richard, having no part in the whole ordeal, sat downstairs playing his video games as if telling me, “You think I’m moody and self-absorbed NOW?! Just wait, as it’s only just begun!” My daughter Brooke, full of Christmas spirit insisted on reminding me each detail I had forgotten along the way.
“But Mommy! Remember last year we took the stockings down so Santa doesn’t have to jump to reach them!”
“But Mommy! We forgot to make cookies this year! Good thing Santa reeeeaaaallly likes peanut butter, we can give him the pretzels with the peanut butter in them!”
“But Mommy! What if the milk gets weak?!” I’m sure she was meaning to say “warm” but the phrasing made me think of some sort of bizarre spiked milk that would become less potent if left to sit too long. Santa could have used some spiked milk, that’s for sure.
She reminded me that we just HAD to write a letter. This year, she wanted to write a novel since her pride at being able to write it herself surpassed the desire to hurry to sleep to speed up the process. We bargained over sentences since she was going to make it sound very business-like in her gramatically correct style. “We hope you like the pretzels with peanut butter. We also hope you like the milk. We hope you bring us lots of presents…” There was just way too much hoping going on there, I was forced to conjoin sentences such as “We hope you like the pretzels with peanut butter and the milk…” Richard made a brief appearance to draw some scribbles at the end and let me hold his hand to write his name. Brooke then wanted to draw a picture for Santa. She made a family of three stick figures and all on her own wrote “THE END” over their heads. The end indeed, just the three of us.
We placed the note next to the plate of pretzel sandwiches, went downstairs to pull Richard away so that we could have our annual reading of “T’was the Night Before Christmas”. Of course, Richard wanted no part in it because it didn’t involve a video game of any sort and always meant going to bed afterward. He scurried off and I read the story to Brooke alone. A 10 minute battle of who got to sleep in what bed ensued afterward as both of them wanted to sleep in the other’s room. I put them in their proper places, gave them hugs and kisses and last glasses of water and then trudged back down the stairs to sit in silence.
Opening a beer, I found myself sitting in front of my computer… just like any other night. Hearing Richard put his winter boots over his footie pajamas and stomp to the door to sneak out, I yelled at him to get back in bed. After about 3 repetitions of this, I finally hear, “GRRRRRRR!!!!!!” Followed by the sound of his angrily flicking the light switch off and flinging himself back into bed kicking at the foot board for another 10 minutes. After this episode, all was quiet.
I traded joking text messages with my ex-husband about the antics of the evening which only succeeded in making me feel more lonely. I sat on the phone and drank beer, putting my wrapping off until about midnight. When the distraction was gone, I just cried. I cried for everything I had and lost. Years of traditions and happiness all gone. Yes, I still had my children… but no one to carefully wrap meticulously chosen gifts for in my handmade paper or fill a stocking full of completely ridiculous things I had found throughout the year. No one to lay exhausted with me on the living room floor and stare at the tree upside down in the dark. No amount of wishing could help. Nothing could fill the gaping chasm where my christmas spirit used to lay. Christmas is about family and togetherness… and all I had in that moment was myself.
Christmas morning came. Richard opened one present in his stocking, a video game which he hoarded away into the play room and refused to participate further in opening presents. Brooke raced through the opening of her gifts with super speed. Squealing with delight at how Santa knew JUST what she wanted and spraying thank you’s like a fountain between gasps of joy. It was over quickly as I couldn’t afford mountains of gifts but the elation I saw on her face made up for how quick the moment had passed. I had to wait for my ex-husband to come pick Richard up so that he could help me coerce him into opening his presents. The last thing I wanted was to battle a crying child to receive gifts! So “togetherness” even in the moment of Christmas morning was shattered. No opportunity to sit under the tree and pass presents around, opening in unison.
Dave had brought me a couple of small, yet thoughtful presents which was more painful than nice. We sat outside and had a cigarette as Richard stomped the ice in the driveway with his boots and coat over his footie pajamas. I said my goodbyes and went back inside to bide my time waiting for Ryan to come pick Brooke up. We discovered that the bulb for the TV had broken so we made hot cocoa, brought our mugs to the bedroom and cuddled in my bed to watch one of the DVDs she had gotten. Ryan arrived to pick her up, and we exchanged small presents for each other. Unlike Dave, my relationship with Ryan is a very close one and I didn’t find myself sad during this time. His gifts for me were completely random and perfectly suited for me as usual and he adored the zombie inspired meditation book I had found that just screamed for me to get for him. We said our goodbyes and I went back into the house to get ready for work.
I knew better than to deliberately switch shifts to work on the holiday. I should have known I’d find the same disenchantment there as I had at home. No one had brought food and cameras as we had in previous years. The decorations were sparse and very sad. Everyone had worn their typical scowls due to the abundance of miserable patients. Of course, I found myself with the assignment full of whiny medical patients who shouldn’t have been there in the first place and patients from the intensive care unit who never should have been transferred. I was a glorified waitress, catering to the various excessive “needs” of my medical patients and their families, “I need 3 waters, 2 jellos, and a partridge in a pear tree, thanks!” I can’t forget the guy who’s girlfriend was a bigger headcase than HE was and he had mild retardation! His girlfriend insisted on getting free food by convincing everyone that she was hypoglycemic and if she took the time to go downstairs and purchase food (or god forbid, go HOME to eat for free) she would deliberately fall over on the floor. She demanded a constant supply of ginger ale and crackers throughout her stay, threatening that she would vomit without them. I deducted she was one of those people who invents illness while around people who are ACTUALLY sick. Forget the fact that she was morbidly obese and would have probably resorted to eating the patient if we didn’t bring her food… it was the low blood sugar driving her to consume everything in sight. Yeah, that’s it.
As I’m getting ready to take my dinner, one of the nurses calls out from one of my patient’s rooms (an ICU transfer from earlier), “I need your help! He’s unresponsive!!” Let the games begin. The world’s most incompetent resident arrived to order a barrage of tests, asking me the same questions a million times because apparently memory becomes unimportant when you’re a doctor. I’m trying to do an EKG, get a blood pressure, and tell him for the millionth time the dosage of a drug that was administered. I could go on and on describing the idiocy but I’m going to spare myself from reliving that particular frustration. It was decided to move him back up to the ICU since his lungs were full of fluid and he was barely able to breathe.
After the whole ordeal was finished. I went to dinner 2 hours behind schedule and came back to request that I switch places with the person sitting with a patient on one to one observation. The patient was going through alcohol withdrawal but spent pretty much the whole time sleeping. He did wake up briefly to say, “Isn’t there anything else on besides Christmas shows?” I informed him that he’d be hard pressed to find anything else with it being Christmas and all. He then proceeded to subject me to Deal or No Deal. Horrible show. In fact anything resembling a game show is horrible. Right up there with reality TV and the women’s station dubbed “Lifetime”. Outside of that, he did also have a habit of missing the urinal and instead just pissing all over his bed then sleeping through my struggle to clean him up and change the bed underneath him. I also wonder if dental hygeine had EVER been a concern for this man since with every exhale a rank cloud was expelled from his mouth and swallowed the entire room with it’s horrid stench. From across the room, I was forced to breathe by pulling my arm halfway into my sleeve like a turtle and put my nose into the hole. If he would have fallen into a bit deeper sleep, I would have brushed his teeth while he was out cold. All in all though, it was a perfect way to conclude my Christmas day.
I stopped at the gas station on my way home, purchased a pack of cigarettes with quarters since I am just that poor, then drove the rest of the way home sullenly. I picked up the explosion of wrapping paper from the morning and put it in the garbage bin. I changed into my pajamas and laid in bed, falling asleep to a movie as usual. Just another day come and gone. Honestly, it’s hard to tell if it even happened at all.