The year after my cousin left was one of the most horrifying of my life. I remember not being able to sleep--I still suffer with this. I remember writhing in pain as memories of what had happened would not leave my head. I spent much of my school year at home with a mysterious illness that no one could diagnose. I was experiencing headaches at school, as well as panic attacks. Because I was so stressed out, everything I tried to eat caused me to be ill. I had migraine medicines prescribed. I tried a special diet which didn't work, of course. I disappeared into books and I practiced the piano endlessly. These were two activities, where it seemed I could finally find relief.
As Christmas approached that year, I found myself hating everything about the season, and at the same time wishing I felt differently. I watched the excitement of my siblings with envy and disdain. My dad tried to involve me in our carolling activity, and for the first time in my life I wouldn't sing. He asked if I was ill. I said I was.
I met a friend, Pam, in sixth grade the previous year. She seemed sad all the time. So I asked her to come home with me one day. She got permission, I asked my parents if we could keep her, and from that point on she was at my house more than her own. Pam was the daughter of alcoholic/abusive/neglectful parents. They were more than happy to have her out of their hair. They would come to our house to visit her, Pam would go sit in the truck with them (they never got out of their vehicle), and leave with some money in her pocket and looking more sad than ever. I hated it when her parents visited. Eventually, other members of Pam's family decided that she needed to come stay with them. I was devastated when she left, but that year for Christmas my "adopted" sister/friend, was joining us. She had been staying with an aunt during the school year, and I hadn't seen her for nearly four months when Christmas rolled around. Pam noticed that I seemed different when she arrived. She tried to involve me in family games. She tried to talk to me. She tried to play with me. I ignored her. Years later, Pam told me she thought I was angry with her for leaving. She still has no idea why I acted so strangely that Christmas.
Christmas Eve ended with all our traditional festivity. I waited till everyone was sleeping, then arose and used my current coping device to try to make it through just one more night. I had decided not to sleep to avoid the nightmares. But I remember the vivid memories flashing through my head. They seemed to intensify in situations where the rest of my family was happy, but I was not. I felt so angry and so unable to express that anger. I put on my coat and boots and walked outside. The snow was beautiful. I lay down in it and thought about staying there forever. I'm not sure how long I stayed there--long enough that I felt completely numb when I finally decided to go inside and get warm. I dreaded the morning. I didn't want it to come. It came anyway.
My mother insisted on giving us a doll every year for Christmas. I'm not a doll person. I tolerated them, pretended to play with them, then put them away where I couldn't see them (dolls sort of freak me out--a fake baby/person? Whose idea was that?). We received our last doll when we turned twelve. When we got up on Christmas morning, the dolls were always in some arrangement which I'm certain was probably beautiful, but only served to creep me out. This Christmas was no different--except that there was an extra doll for Pam. My dad handed them out. I took mine, said thanks, but didn't look at it. I was relieved that this was the last year I'd have to receive one.
Then I noticed Pam. She was talking to my mother. She held her doll like a baby, and I overheard her saying she had never had one before. She was crying. I watched them together. Pam was everything my mother had ever wanted in a daughter. She never misbehaved. She was grateful for everything. She was sweet and loving. I saw my mom reach out and embrace my friend. She told her she loved her. I was not envious of Pam. I loved her, too, and no one deserved to be loved more than she did. But the last hug I remembered receiving from my mother happened three years earlier, and I couldn't remember her ever saying she loved me. I was deeply sad.
I walked slowly up to my bedroom and lay on my bed. I noticed I was still holding the doll I didn't want. I got up and placed it gently on my desk, then returned to my bed. I stared at the ceiling and wondered why Pam could be loved, but I could not. I came to the conclusion that there was something inherently wrong with me, which was why my cousin had treated me as he had, and why my mother did not love me. As I lay there an acceptance seemed to come, and with it a sense of relief. I was who I was--there was nothing I could do to make my mother love me. There was nothing I could do to make the horrifying events that hurt me still, go away. Eventually, I fell asleep.
I think about this sometimes. As an adult, I realize that my logic was flawed, but I also realize that I was trying to process emotions I didn't understand, and to somehow make my life have some sort of sense to me. But the feelings linger still, and sometimes they resurrect at Christmas time. Much to my chagrin, my daughter adores dolls, and I have purchased them for her each year. This year I tried to doll shop, but found myself overwhelmed by the memory of my mother holding another person, when I longed to be held and comforted by her. I can't seem to separate the memory from the item, and I left the store empty handed--and empty inside.
And so tonight I am awake. I don't want the memories or the nightmares. I don't want to feel the sadness from so long ago. It's trivial, I know, but it's also very real. Tomorrow I'll try once more to find a stupid doll for Tabitha. But more than that, I'm going to hug her, and I'll probably kiss her, as well. I never want her to doubt that I love her, that she's precious to me, that I can't imagine my life without her--and I want her to feel safe. All the things I wanted for myself, I will give to her.
Merry Christmas, Tabitha. I love you.