One Bloody Christmas

I will tell you at the outset that while I don’t really like Christmas, I have enjoyed a few good ones in my time. My time is defined from age 30 forward, after the birth of my only child. There is reward and pleasure in giving, and to have made him happy by spoiling him was indeed my pleasure.

Perhaps being Jewish has something to do with my lack of joy at Christmas. After all, by definition the season lacks any spiritual relevance for me. But it is more than that. We make a big deal about feeding hungry people on Thanksgiving, and become more generous at Christmas. What about the rest of the year? Can’t we find the same moral or spiritual imperative to provide and comfort when it isn’t a holiday? There is also a political objection for me. In particular, it feels like it is about marketing and merchandizing, so companies can meet their bottom line. Always onward and upward with corporate America, and what an opportunity Christmas provides. All that aside, I did grow up a very bad Jew and Christmas presents were part of my upbringing.

I remember the grand total of one Christmas from my youth, and it will stay with me forever. When I was eight years old and living in a Brooklyn slum called Brownsville, my older brother and I were invited to spend Christmas with my father and his second wife, Pat. They lived on Long Island in a nice big home and not only would I get to escape the rat’s nest that was home, but there was also the promise of a meaningful present or two.

I didn’t really know much about Pat and think I had only been around her a few times. She had one son who was about my age but I didn’t know him either. Most of that weekend is a complete blur, but as Christmas Eve unfolded it would rock my world and scare me half to death.

At what point in the evening Pat started drinking is an unknown, but when we said good night, the door to our room remained open a crack and my brother and I could both see into the hallway and I caught a peek at the red bicycle that was being wheeled into the living room and put next to the tree. My heart raced at the prospect of that bike being for me as it would have been the greatest gift I ever received and was exactly what I was hoping for. I do know that I had great difficulty falling asleep and I was beside myself with anticipation and glee. Please God, let that bike be for me. Please God; I’ll be a good boy for the rest of my life. Please. Please. Please.

My brother and I were awakened to the sound of yelling. Loud yelling. Screaming. Through the slightly cracked door we could hear all of it, and see part of it. I remember Pat being incoherent, and reaching for the phone. I watched as my father grabbed it out of her hand and started hitting her with it. Hitting her hard enough to crack her skull and have blood flying everywhere. I was curled up into a protective ball hoping it was a dream, but it was real. When and how it ended, I do not recall. I don’t know if our father came into the room and told us it was ok. He may well have. He might not have.

Somehow, the next morning arrived and presents were opened. I have no idea what kind of gifts I might have received, but I can tell you the red bike was for Pat’s son. I was now broken hearted in addition to being exhausted and terrified. I have a faint recollection of that trip ending abruptly right after the gifts were opened. Remarkably, getting back to the decaying streets of Brownsville was ok. My mother’s indifference and ineptitude were better than the horror I witnessed that Christmas.

That marriage did not last long. Pat, as it turns out, was a significant alcoholic and my father remained challenged emotionally for all his days. My brother tells me he can remember the smell of all that blood.

I have owned many bikes since then; my current one weighs 650 pounds and can go as fast as I want it to. But never fast enough to lose the memory of that bloody Christmas.

32 thoughts on “One Bloody Christmas

  1. Parents or elders seldom realize their influence on a growing mind, I have had an abused childhood myself and I feel a sense of vulnerability all the time that has led me to seek protection, where it was none. I can imagine what a night like that might have done to an eight year old. But I hope this would have given you the strength to get better in life and create a wonderful world around you, like you have done here online.

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  2. Yeah, while I have been successful with my own family (wife and son), I have greatly struggled with authority in general.
    My son is my best friend, and I adore my wife of 41 years, but I remain guarded and mistrusting, and have little tolerance for others when I feel short changed. Thank you for your time and thoughts, and please stay in touch.
    Mike

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  3. Ironically, my biggest memory of Christmas is not a fond one either. I did not begin to start enjoying Christmas again until i met my wife, and saw what the holiday meant to her and her children.

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  4. All I can say is I’m sorry that your innocence as a boy was shocked by reality in a very negative way. Tough obstacle to get over it! But seems that you did it! Now is just distant memories.

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    • Beautiful comment, and wonderful sentiment. Thank you for reading that difficult story. Yes, I am proud of my small family and quiet life. So nice of you to comment.

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  5. Yeah, Merry Christmas, HoHoHo! I don’t remember ever having a sad Christmas. Brought up as a Christian, but I consider religion (at least organized religion) to be one of the most negative forces in human history. I’ll never forget your experience. thanks, Mike

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    • I think you are right on the mark about organized religion. We are all one, but there are fanatics everywhere who are out to either convince us or kill us.
      Thank you for reading that story and your great and insightful comment. Much appreciated.

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  6. I also witnessed my father abusing my mother. A hand full of times. Hitting her in mouth…breaking her teeth…blood flying. Pushing her and dragging her across the carpet. I nursed her carpet burns that night. They stayed together for the children and finally divorced when I was 22. They’re both gone now. But the memories remain!

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      • Yes…he did drink beer. But, I never remember him appearing drunk. We didn’t have much money, so I don’t think he was drinking enough to become that abusive. My mother was the type to rant and rave for hours on end, when she was upset about something and I think that “hand full” of times he lost it. I’m not making excuses for him…just trying to understand.

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      • Yes, but you know that there is never an excuse to hit anybody, unless it is in self defense. I think there is a chance you will never understand……some things are beyond comprehension…..but still offer clues such as how not to behave.

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  7. As painful as this story is (and as a child of an extremely disfunctional family, I know there are others), I’m sure it is what feeds your incredible creativity. I’m sorry you went through it, but am overjoyed at the way you’ve found to live because of it. Children are amazing little survivors.

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  8. I had loving grandparents and that made the difference. Yes, children can survive, or they can pass on all that angst to their own. Thank you for reading that story.

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  9. Wow. What an unflinching look at a powerful story. I’m so sorry you had to witness that (and endure the emotional taffy pull you must have been on at that point), and congratulations on having the strength to face it.

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    • I love this comment and the sensitivity that prompted it. We all face it or we end up as victims…..convicts, abusers, alcoholics, or worse. Thank you, what you say here is not lost on me.

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  10. Oh my God, this hit the heart hard. You have a way of getting these crushing words down so effectively and poignantly. Not an easy combination. Just want to grab that little boy and run.
    So many similar moments, and Christmases. for me and I have a hard time, even now, remembering most of them. Try as hard as I can, I still can’t. Probably that’s a good thing. I don’t know, but something in the post went really deep. I suppose it will resonate until the thing bubbles up, as I’m sure it’s meant to.
    On another weird note of connection, half of my family’s last reservation, on which most of them still live, is called Brownsville.

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    • Hi Robyn. Thanks for reading that, not many take the time to do it.
      Yeah that was some Christmas. I made some real good ones for my son but now that he is grown, there is very little interest in doing anything come Christmas.
      I have been on a few reservations and I find them very sad places. I am speaking of poverty and tragedy. I know you are a very proud woman and well you should be. I have always been of the mind that this is not my country, even though I was born here.
      You are a sweet sister. I’d hang out with you in a heartbeat.

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      • Thank you Mike, you have such a good heart, but let me say, you are so a native of your country. I think we are all long past the idea that time can be turned around and it is what it is. What still has to be done for Native Americans is honest reconciliation and updating of the agreements that were made in good faith all those years ago, and a continent that acknowledges what happened, happened. It’s not unlike those of us who survived abusive upbringings really. Like you said, we face it, or it comes back in destruction – for individuals and countries.

        Maybe someday we will have a nice, cool drink in the sun together.

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