When Holidays Hurt

He always said I lived in a fantasy world. And I did. I created a place that was filled with happiness to share with the children, joy in my friendships, enthusiasm for my business ventures, wonder at the beauty in the world, faith all would be well.

But his poison would find a way to invade my world, leaving me feeling ridiculously stupid for believing I could stay in that place without being knocked down a few pegs, as he’d say. Such are the waves that pull me from peacefully moving forward and back into the dark abyss haunted by his voice and actions.

Growing up, I loved Christmas. My parents were of the spiritual truth over church attendance mindset. While church was not the centerpiece of my childhood Christmas, socializing was. My mother loved hosting a Christmas Eve open house, inviting neighbors for libation, food and good company. Christmas dinner was a time for the orphaned and otherwise disenfranchised to come into our home and share a meal, one which she began to prepare early in the day. Gifts were not the highlight, presence was.

Once my parents moved to Colorado, Christmas was increasingly isolating for me. The second year they lived there I spent Christmas Eve and day alone while he worked. He took any joy and anticipation I had away by refusing to participate in things I lined up or attend my friends’ holiday gatherings. We’d go to holiday parties, company parties, club parties where no one was ever the wiser that I was pretending all was well when it was actually awful.

Thanksgiving and Christmas, once favorite holidays, became synonymous with sadness and yearly culminations of the accumulated emotional pain I endured. He hated for me to decorate, complaining that I spent too much money and that I asked for help, insisting I should not buy him a gift though I took great pleasure in giving. He would threaten to not buy me a gift because of something I said, did, didn’t do, and sometimes followed through reminding me he told me he wouldn’t be getting me anything if I persisted. He complained about attending Christmas services at church. He was too tired, it was too hot, too crowded. When the kids came along he would leave the house in the middle of them opening presents, or be gone when they would awake; excited to open their presents. I had to answer their questions on where he went with lies because I didn’t usually know where he went.

After Christmas he would complain about having to see my relatives in Baltimore, presenting a laundry list of everything that was wrong with my family and ending in a tantrum that I should see them with the kids and let him stay at the hotel. There was always something. It was a lonely place.

The first Christmas after I was shot was filled with peace. A friend helped get the tree in the house and up in the stand. The kids and I decorated it and the house in a quiet welcome to the season. They were acolytes at the Christmas eve midnight service at our church. Though I feared Christmas morning they would miss him, the absence of arguing and pleading, of wondering when he might come back, the gratitude for having survived, were unexpected gifts that year.

We’ve managed to do unconventional things since to celebrate. While I still eschew holiday parties, we do try to go out to dinner Christmas Eve or to the movies Christmas day. Even now I am still fragilely perched. PTSD slyly intrudes even on the best of days, keeping me stuck in a twilight where I can’t quite access the brightness of the sun and the darkness is eerily visible.

I don’t know the answers on how to quiet the voices and move fully into the light. I only know how grateful I am that I am free, that we are free, and how saddened I am for those who are still trying to navigate holidays without losing their sanity or lives.

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