Christmas was a magical time for me, not because of anything my mother and stepfather did for me, but because I was immersed in magical thinking a lot of the time. When I was six years old, older friends had told me there was no Santa. I couldn’t take that in. I needed to believe in Santa, as I needed to believe in something resembling hope and magic in this world, because I think I knew, even at six, that the earthly and ordinary were not ever going to be enough for me. I needed to believe in Santa more than I can explain. My heart simply would not accept what they were saying.
I imagined that they were just being mean and trying to hurt my feelings. That was something I was used to. The adults in my life enjoyed saying mean things to me, and daring me to cry, as if to see how far they could go before they broke me. Even at six, I wasn’t going to break. I would blink back any tears that stung my eyes and made my nose burn and keep my secrets in my own heart. The secret was that they were hurting me, in ways that physically made my heart constrict with every mean word. I learned very early on not to let anyone know that they had that power over me. It’s a tough balancing act for a little girl who wanted to be loved to also stubbornly hold on to her little girl pride and dignity and never let them know that they were hurting her. That was just survival 101 in my household, but out in the world, in the yards and alleys and playgrounds of my childhood, I had to be just as vigilant. My heart and spirit had not been nurtured enough to be able to hold its own against even the mildest of ordinary mean kid stuff that every child has to navigate through. So, I let them talk and I just nodded. I set my little jaw and headed home to my room where I could sit in peace and whisper a prayer to Santa that I believed in him, and I loved him.
When my Mom came home, I told her that the kids had said that to me, and asked her if he was real. I wanted her to be on my side this once. Looking back, I have to hand it to that little girl, sitting on the couch, brown eyes timidly looking at her mother’s face. She tried. Mom wasn’t in a gracious mood. She looked at me and said, “No, there isn’t any Santa. It’s parents working their asses off to buy things for a bunch of ungrateful brats,” and she walked away.
Once again, I had a choice, to believe her, or in something magical. I actually had little choice, for my own emotional survival, I think, but to believe in something, so…
I still believed in Santa. I whispered prayers to him whenever I did something good like washing the dishes without being told, and asked him for a tape recorder and music, what I wanted more than anything. I had asked Mom for paper dolls. On Christmas morning, I went in to the living room where Mom was, smiling at me, with a cup of hot chocolate for me, and there , unwrapped (she still left the gifts “from Santa” unwrapped) was a beautiful, colorful tape player with a microphone and some some tapes, and the paper dolls I’d asked for, wrapped up with a book full of paper doll clothes. I was in heaven. Pure, blissful, dream world heaven. Something about my little six year old self still believed that things would stay that way. I still had hope, and still experienced joy without underlying dread in moments of pure magic like Christmas morning. After I was done opening presents, I hugged and thanked my mother, who went in to make Christmas dinner. I turned on the music and sang and danced around my room, with that pure, unabandoned, wild Christmas bliss. I can still feel my little body seemingly floating above the room as I twirled, in my nightgown, eyes closed, singing nonsense syllables when I didn’t know the words.
I didn’t hear the footsteps coming to my room or even hear my door open. I was jerked by my arm and thrown into the sliding doors of my closet, and as I lay there, saw the shadowy figure of Bruce across the room, my tape player unplugged and thrown against the wall. It didn’t break, but chipped the plaster on the wall. He grabbed me off the floor and threw me down on my bed. He already had his belt in his hand, and swung as soon as my body landed on the mattress. I managed to turn away before it hit my face. The first hit landed against my head, and sent a searing hot pain through my entire body. He didnt say a word, just kept swinging that belt, as I lay there, my body lurching forward and bouncing off the bed with every hit, my face hitting the wall by my bed as I think I was trying to crawl away. When he finally stopped, the room seemed to have an electric current going through it, flashes of light, a loud hissing sound in my head, and intense pain in my body, my hands tightly clutching the end of the mattress, and I didnt see Bruce leave, but from what seemed like very far away heard my mother, at my door, saying, “you woke him up.”
I shut my eyes and turned onto my side, ears ringing, desperately trying to take a breath. Finally short, shallow breathing started, and I started violently shivering. I pulled a blanket over myself, as far as I could make my arms reach, and curled into a ball, every movement hurting terribly, and lay there, hot tears flowing, drenching my hair and blanket, for a long time. I stayed there, in a state of half asleep, where it seemed safer, and the electric energy died away, and became my room a hazy blur around me, accented by stinging pain in my body, the bright red blood from my mouth and nose, and I was immobilized in the pain, unable to even wipe it away. After a while, I whispered a prayer. I don’t know who the prayer was to…God, Santa, an angel I used to see in my dreams, I don’t think I even knew then, but I remember I was saying, “Thank you for my presents. Please stay with me. I love you.”