Mom and Samuel were asleep. I sat in the living room feeding Shane a bottle. He was tiny at only two months. The tree lights were off but the light next to the couch reflected on the tinsel. I felt as dead as the tree looked, depressed. We’d come home, or to Mom’s, which was as much home as any I’ve had so far besides the tent, the Army and the cabin.
Plans of life up north were over. We had no money, no jobs. I wouldn’t be looking for one, not with Shane to care for. Christmas was coming. I felt numb. One foot in front of the other. Caring for a newborn took everything I had. Though Samuel had hopes of some help with figuring out finances, he’s wouldn’t be getting that help from me.
Earlier that day we had talked about it. His shoulders seem to slump, “You can work,” he said.
I just looked at him as if not even hearing him and bent my head back over the baby. It seemed absurd and not even worth mentioning. Didn’t he know I had nothing left? That taking care of a little human who needed total care for every minute of every day consumed me? That what little I had to give was taken?
Christmas had always been something that brought life into my war torn body and spirit. The war? Acting like I loved my tormentors. Worse, or harder even still, that I did love them yet was afraid of them, and rightly so. But Christmas, how I loved Christmas. I didn’t get that from Mom, who stopped giving gifts at Christmas and birthdays not long after her eight kids hit adulthood. Up till then it must have been just a chore for her, or so she said. But Grandma, who had Christmas every year, held a glow in her eye with her giving and love of it and for us. Grandma had already passed, missing the joy I would have seen if she’d had the chance to hold Shane.
But this Christmas saddened me. No gifts would be under the tree except the five dollar cheap doll set for my step-daughter and a few small things in her stocking. Such a dull, sad time, down a tunnel at the bottom where we sat. Samuel had it harder than me. I was wrapped up in new love for this little creature that captivated me and took all my time. I had the necessities of food, water and shelter from Mom. He was the one that had to go and hunt so to speak.
My brother, Don, who had unwillingly become planted in my psyche as a replacement father, brought his wife and two young children to stay over the Christmas holiday at Mom’s. Somehow we all packed ourselves in her little ranch house. They lived in Vermont but braved the snowy roads to join us.
Christmas Eve felt so dark to me for the first time. Planning Christmas had always brought such joy to my silent closed off world. Even in high-school I made a December calendar and checked off each day until Christmas. But this time it just felt dreary and without hope. Samuel had not yet found work. We were scraping by. Don and Pam were excitedly filling up their kid’s stockings but Don stopped mid-way, his eyes on me.
Then they began putting gifts under the tree for the next morning. They didn’t have too much either as their finances were limited but the array of gifts far outweighed the one gift I’d wrapped for Tina. I felt forlorn and dejected.
Don and Pam had two sleds, and after placing one up against the tree, they turned to me smiling holding the other one.
“This is for you to give to Tina,” Don said, still smiling handing me the long red sled with promises of fun whipping down the big snowy hill across the road from Mom’s.
Because of that smile, because I needed that cold hard lump in my heart to dissolve, because I was speechless, my hand reached out and accepted the gift, as a tear slid down my cheek. The warmth of that gesture still warms me 35 years later.