As far as recollections occur, this memory seemed to have snuck up on me as it would qualify as one segment of time that I had wanted to lay buried deep into the hidden corners of my subconscious. A little secret that I promised myself long ago never to tell anyone as I felt that I would betray the confidence of the two people involved in the situation, ..... I being one of the two involved.
I recently spent the day putting together my stereo system in the new house and updating the new "I-Cloud" of music and hoping that all would come together as easy as it did setting up the wireless information and entering all the passwords. I bravely pushed the enter button on the remote and watched the little wheel spin and spin and emblazoned on the screen was "LOADING I-CLOUD" when all of a sudden the CLOUD landed on a shuffled tune. I was taken aback when the music began, excited that I actually made it all work and shocked at the hidden mental and visual memory that came shooting out of the depths of my long forgotten memory file. For two minutes and forty six seconds, I left my reality and relived the whole entire event again. I shivered when the song ended and I was slammed back to earth and back to my present reality. The whole situation followed me for the entire rest of the day and most of the night. As I watched the sunset this evening I saw his face in the orange glow as it dipped behind the pinkish red mountains that surround my view of the waning blue sky. It reminded me that it was time that I dealt with the acceptance of what happened and to finally lay it to rest with releasing the sadness that always came with any thought semblance.
It was the holiday season and it was one that my father and I would be spending alone as my parents recent divorce paved the way toward an uncertain tomorrow for the both of us. I,having chosen to live with my Father, left my Mother feeling angry and rejected and she chose to take a flight out of town to be with my brother who at the time was still in the service and planned to be married. No longer would there be the "family" Christmases as they had started to fail miserably a couple of years before, but it was to be the end of the unhappiness that always seemed to permeate around my Mother's discontent that my Dad had not given her something that she really wanted and that he still showed his disconnection for the whole season of the holidays. I was gleeful that I would not have to feel the tension in the air due to my Mother's expectations and was hoping that I could instill a little Christmas spirit in my Dad and we would have a bachelor type day and open the gifts at our own leisure.
At the age of fifteen my visions of sugar plums and happiness took a nose dive as it became apparent early by that Christmas eve that not even I could coax the spirit out out him. The only spirit that he was into was the amber liquid that he kept pouring each time he began to see the bottom of the glass that clung to his hand. It was my first visual awareness that he was removing himself from sobriety so that he could deal with the fact that nothing lay beneath the tree except the big red felt skirt that I had perfectly laid there. I had hoped that I would not be able to see the skirt for all the presents that should have been laying there, but that was not to be.
By late afternoon I could sense that unless I approached my Dad about going shopping I was not going to have any gifts to open on our bachelor Christmas day. So I began pushing the subject of going to the shopping center and he just pushed back with his unwanted desire to be caught up in any mass of people doing last minute holiday shopping. My panic ensued and my behavior was not to go unnoticed as he finally gave in and reluctantly and angrily grabbed his keys and stormed out of the house and got in the car. I should have known better than to get into the car because of his inebriation but I had only one thing in mind and that was to save a Christmas that was seemingly doomed at that moment. I recall vividly the ride of my life as we weaved down the road until we somehow made it to the shopping center without any accident. I was scared yet it did not phase me as my focus was on completing what I had started and not on the safety for both of us. I swiftly got out of the car and stood waiting for him to step out of the car so we could go into the store. I could sense his anger from 30 feet away and turned to see him stagger out of the door, barely missing the pole that swiped his shoulder and sent him spiraling a bit before he regained some sense of balance.
He flew open the door and stomped in, as I held myself back because of my embarrassment that he was showing such signs of a drunken man. I approached carefully smelling that bitter scent of liquor coming from his breath. I had no idea where to begin and due to my cautiousness I felt uncertainty as to how all this would work out. He moved with such an unsteady pace that I put my arm around him to support him and I hoped that it would smooth the stress that so showed on his face. Without words we walked the aisles looking for something that I felt I just had to buy. He told me he really did not want to get anything as the divorce changed the income in the household dramatically, all of this unknown to me. It still made no difference to me as I had a goal to reach and it had to be met, no matter what the cost. After some time I glanced through the store window and looked at the sky and noticed the sun had begun to dim and I knew the time for shopping was nearing its stressful end and still nothing had been picked out for me. I had picked some items for Dad and I stumbled upon a new item that seemed to be what I would settle for as it was my last ditch effort to complete this consumer nightmare. When he saw the price of $89.00 he went ballistic and I forced the challenge to the maximum breaking point and he gave in not wanting to create a scene. He slammed the money down and trudged out as mad as a hornet. My teenage attitude was consumed with embarrassment as the cashier handed me the change from the hundred dollar bill he threw on the counter.
I picked up my bagged purchase and made my way outside as the last bit of light slipped behind the horizon. The ride home was silent and intense and only fueled the flame that was now out of control. We weaved our way back to our home and miraculously made it home safely as if the Christmas angel was looking out for us. Unfortunately there was no intervention for the remainder of the evening as it began to fall apart the moment we set foot in the house. He went briskly over to the bottle that held the liquid escape that would soon take control once again. It wasn't bad enough that I forced the shopping episode but I could not let up on the whole disappointing scene that was playing out before me. I needed and wanted the safety of a parent who would make that Christmas eve a warm and loving experience but alas that was not to be.
I watched as time and again he re-poured his glass full of the vile liquid that transformed the man that I knew as my Dad into a remorseful unhappy man. The arrogance that I possessed at the age of fifteen was reprehensible as I took on the role of guardian and made no attempt to keep my mouth from saying things that only provoked the terror that made my Christmas eve a horrible nightmare. The mean and hateful things that spewed out of my youthful mouth only pushed the wrong buttons that pushed the limits beyond what my Dad could take any longer. In his defense I should have just gone to my room and shut the door and prayed for the safety of a roof over my head, but no I dug in even deeper and his eruption took me completely by surprise. At his breaking point he lunged angrily toward me and I shoved the chair in front of him which made him take a heavy fall straight into a wall that did not move except to serve as a slide for his face as he had knocked himself out and slid down the rough sand textured wall. Before I knew it he was laying still on the floor and I could readily see the red liquid that began to pool around his head.
Completely frightened that I had killed him, I turned him over only to find a large gaping wound that exposed the bone on his forehead. He was not at all aware of what happened, but at least he was breathing. At the time there was no 911 emergency number so I grabbed some towels and held them on his head to suppress the bleeding that was not stopping.
My mind was racing and the only solution that I could come up with was to take him to the hospital. I did not have a drivers license yet, but had already taken drivers education and knew I could handle driving the car. I took one of my belts and used it to hold the towel on his bleeding head and I picked his lifeless body up and carried it to the car and drove the endless road till we arrived at the emergency room door. I ran in and told them I needed help and they rushed to my side and quickly put him on the gurney that quickly swept him away to a room I had yet to find. As the nurse tried to get information from me as to what happened, I told her a story that was not at all the truth and she seemed to buy it and comforted me as a mother would do. She made it a point to tell me how lucky my Dad was to have me be able to drive him to the hospital and I shyly agreed and never revealed that I did not hold a license. Looking back I realize that, at no time did they ever ask for an insurance card, and how lucky I was to not have to answer much about what happened, knowing within my whole being that I helped bring that evening to the disaster that was being played out.
The time in that sterile smelling environment only added to the list of woes that would fill the stocking that was laid out at home. Three hours later and eleven stitches, plus a strong shot of pain killer, the male attendants gently laid him in the back seat of the car as I assured them that there was someone at home to help me with him. The nurse knew that he had been drinking and made it very clear that he should not have anymore liquor due to the shot of painkiller that he had been given and the other drugs to stop the bleeding. He never regained much consciousness throughout the whole ordeal. As the attendants shut the doors to the car I sat there stunned and so frightened that he would wake up that I could barely move. The tears were overwhelming and now I had to drive off in the wee hours of that Christmas morning and put him to bed. How would I ever explain this whole scenario to him was already creating quite an anxiety that I was totally unprepared for.
I began to relive the whole situation on that long drive home and how I should have removed myself from it completely, but I had only one thought in mind and that was for us to share a nice time together. Looking back I can see it was a selfish attempt at trying to change the man who had no intentions of ever enjoying the holidays. Accepting that fact would have made it all easier and less disastrous.
We arrived back at home around 2:30 in the morning. I went into the house and turned down his bed covers and went back and opened the back car door and made my attempt to slide him out of the car and after a couple of attempts to pick him up, I succeeded and made it to the bedroom where I laid him down and covered him up. I stood there for the longest time trying to regain my composure. I feared waiting out the rest of the night until he awoke because I knew the I would have to start answering the questions that I assumed he would most certainly ask.
I remember watching the sunrise that Christmas morning and expecting any moment that he would awaken. Luckily he did not begin to stir until the early evening. I never left the house that day as I was afraid he would wake up alone. I can't begin to tell you how endless that whole twenty four hour period was for me. I never opened the box of the purchase I forced him to buy and I never wrapped the items I bought for him. I just kept going in and out of his bedroom the entire day, checking to see if he was still breathing. He was....
The moment of reckoning and the slow conscious awakening began easy enough. I could see that he was coming to some kind of terms himself as to why his head had a large bandage on it. Time stopped as I sat on that sofa motionless waiting for him to call my name. He could not see me watching him trying to find some kind of answers as to why he was in bed, how did he get there and why did he feel so much pain. What seemed like an eternity transpired before he called out for me. With the greatest of trepidation and tears falling like a flood from my eyes I walked into his bedroom, dimly lit by the setting sun. I believe he must have sensed my fear as he slowly sat up in bed and called me over to sit with him. My fright about the whole confrontation was not at all necessary as he took my hand and asked me if I was alright and began apologizing for making Christmas day a mess. He continued his apologies and I sat saying nothing just waiting for him to ask me what happened to his head and how did he get into the bed. The whole time I sat there he never asked me one question about anything. It was almost as if at some time during the hospital visit he must have had some kind of awareness of what was going on, or perhaps the doctor or nurse explained the situation, but honestly I really don't know how much he remembered. All I knew was that I could not bring up enough courage to explain it all to him.
After he was done apologizing and trying to comfort me, the best I could say was that we needed to change the bandage later and asked if he was hungry for something to eat. He responded very gently and asked me to help him get up. As he stood up he grabbed on to me and squeezed me close and never said a word. We walked into the living room and as he sat on the sofa I noticed the glass from the last evening still laying on it's side. I had cleaned up what I thought was all remnants of the catastrophe yet there was the glass that still remained as a memory. Quickly I removed it before he caught a glimpse of it and went into the kitchen to fix us something to eat. The sun had set and the view of the Christmas tree lit gave the room a glow that had been absent for quite a while. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the pain that my Dad was in and kept my distance while he worked through it.
Later as we sat together and ate our dinner he began another attempt to apologize and I summoned up enough courage to apologize for my behavior. As he shrugged it off saying he should have been better about it all, I told him I was glad that we were here together and that sharing this time with him really was all I wanted. He asked if I opened the box I bought yesterday and I replied that I had not. In fact, I said to him, that I had decided to return it after Christmas as I didn't really need it. He told me to keep it, but at that moment it had been tarnished with unhappy circumstances and I did not want to be reminded of the whole situation by keeping it.
For the rest of that Christmas night, we talked about Mother and all the changes that had taken place in our lives and how absolutely devastated he was about their divorce. He explained how difficult it was to be together and that he just could not handle the relationship anymore. There was information that I really did not want to hear but I could sense his need to talk about it. I was truly not old enough to comprehend all of it but at this time of my life I understand more of his pain. In truth, the pain he felt was not from that recent head wound but I realize it was from the broken heart that never healed.
Till the day he passed away we never talked about what had happened on that holiday. There was never another situation that got out of control as I had learned my youthful lesson on keeping my distance when things seemed bad. I had managed to keep that secret for most of my life and now as I sit and put it into words, I can see how that had brought us closer together and created a special respect for each of us. I realized that it was not the amount of gifts that lay around the tree all wrapped up in the decorative paper, all that I really wanted was to have him close to me so that I could feel safe. My understanding of what was more important was the best gift I had ever received. We may have gone about it in a truly abstract way but we both learned a lot that holiday. I know now how hard it must have been for him to talk about how he felt, and how lucky I was to be the one he told.
Through tears of gratitude and forgiveness I know he still surrounds me, from afar, with his blanket of safety. As for my future holiday's, they will now include the memory that I no longer have to keep hidden. The life gift that I got on that Christmas eve will keep on giving and the energy from it will be enough to light the lights on the Christmas tree of my life.