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December 1. Today the panic sets in: How in the world will I get everything done before Christmas? I feel the same way at this time every year, even though I know that somehow everything usually falls right into place. The Christmas season has always been a stressful time for me. There's always so much to do—so much packed into each day—that I spend most of the month feeling overwhelmed. I panic that it won't all get done: the gifts to buy, the packages to mail, the meals to think about, the kids' programs to consider... Just breathe.
Someone asked me today about my first memory. I told him I'd have to think about it more to be sure, but I remember being about two and a half and seeing my baby sister come home from the hospital. I was in the back seat of my parents' car (probably the blue LeSabre), and I was leaning into the front, craning my neck to see the little creature my mom was holding in her lap. (No car seats then.) I don't think I remember life before my sister came along—and my son says the same about his sister.
I lived in that little A-frame house back then, and sometimes—even though he'd said he no longer wanted to be with me, even though he'd sat in that very living room, in that very chair, and told me that he couldn't see a future with me and didn't want to—he would come over almost weekly for dinner, and when he did, he'd sit in that same chair again, and I, stupid, would sit on the floor beside him and pretend that everything was normal, everything was okay, and I'd pretend—little girl fantasy—that he was mine.
She was so young, so naive. She actually thought he was coming over each week because he cared about her, because he wanted to be with her. Well, maybe he
care on some superficial, yeah-I-know-her-she's-my-friend kind of level, but
care? No. No way. He was just out to get what he could get from her. A meal. A place to stay. Sex. He knew he could play with her emotions. She didn't know she was being stupid, and he wasn't about to tell her.
Her friends tried to tell her. "Listen, he's just using you," they said, but she didn't hear them. She didn't hear herself either. Once she wrote an English paper in grad school—a letter to a character in one of the books they were studying—and she poured her heart out to that character, telling her about everything: his last-minute invitations, his pleas for help, his booty calls (for lack of a better term). She still didn't get it. She didn't hear the voice insider her screaming that she was being used, telling her to run away, get out...
I went to my son's parent-teacher conference yesterday and learned from his teacher that she wishes she could clone my boy and fill her classroom! It's good to hear that he's doing so well and is so well-liked by his teacher and classmates. This makes me happy. His teacher also told me that he loves to write. I had hoped at least one of my children would, since writing is so important to me. My daughter—even though she hasn't learned to read and write yet—loves to tell stories. She's doing so well in preschool! I'm happy.
Sometimes I find myself thinking too much and doing too little, especially where my artistic endeavors are concerned. I fall into a trap from time to time, usually in the form of a mocking voice in my head, that tells me I'm not good enough, that I need to be better before I can begin, which is utterly ridiculous because all the thinking and studying in the world can't take the place of actually making myself sit down and write or draw or paint or create in some way. It's funny how our minds trick us into believing these things...
"Happy accidents." That's what painter Bob Ross used to say. I remember watching his show when I was a kid. I always liked what he said about mistakes. He never called them that; they were always happy accidents. Last night I had one of those myself as I was working with acrylic paints in my art journal. At first I was disappointed, upset that I had "ruined" my page, but then Bob and his famous phrase came to mind, and I realized that those splotches were fine and meant to be. Still, it's hard to let go of the perfectionist.
She had many different faces. She wore one for her teachers and bosses and all those with any kind of authority over her. That was a sweet face, a kind face. Some who didn't like her much might have called it her brown-nosing face. Then there was the face she presented to her family—usually kind, sometimes harsh and critical—a face that was much different than the one she showed to her best friends, the only ones who sometimes (and unknowingly) caught glimpses of her true face from time to time. Even she didn't recognize that face anymore...
Someone asked me today what my plans are for 2014, and I instantly went into panic mode. I'm supposed to be thinking about next year? Now? Already? I feel panicked enough about getting through the December busyness. Today I had to turn down spending time with my good friend because I'm feeling so swamped about getting everything done for Christmas. I know I should just calm down and breathe, remembering that somehow, everything always seems to get done, but the fact is that I can't make myself do that. It's my heritage: I come from a long line of worriers.
She watched them passing it from hand to hand, watched as it neared her, tried to prepare an answer to the question she knew she'd be asked. Now it was her turn. "Toke?" Bob asked. She liked Bob. He was funny, kind. She wished he liked her, too—not in that "hey, pal" kind of way but as a girlfriend. How should she respond to his question? Yes. (Then maybe he'll like her). No. (Will she blow her chances with him?) She sighed, waved the joint away. Later, he told her he wanted to sleep with her. That wasn't enough.
I shouldn't have come here, she thinks, watching as if from a distance as he removes her shirt, her panties. What's the matter with me? Is the loneliness this bad, my need to be around someone this great? She closes her eyes, pretends she's floating above her body, observing what's happening to her—no, not to
. To someone else. That can't be me. I'm not that person; I couldn't be. He finishes and rolls away from her, turning his face to the wall. She covers herself with a ratty brown blanket. How did I get here? Why?
I'm so tired today that I can't even think, so I'm almost positive any words I type here won't make sense, and if they do—by some weird twist of fate (make sense, that is)—it will be some kind of miracle, as all I can think about are the things I haven't done, stuff I still need to accomplish before Christmas gets here, and I'm not even thinking very clearly about those things at all because my brain is so tired and my eyes just want to close and I'm amazed that I've even managed to type these words.
Allison never should have let him in. Yes, she knew him—he was Melissa's old boyfriend—but what did she really know? The two had dated for a while, seemed good together, then broken up for who knows what reason. (Allison never pried.) Afterward, he disappeared from all their lives—until now. He had called Allison last week, asked if she wanted to get coffee, catch up. Why not? she thought. She went and had a pleasant-enough time. But then he kept calling, kept leaving messages. She hadn't wanted to let him in tonight but did. She shouldn't have.
Allison pulled the door open wider. "Come on in." She turned as he brushed past her. "I'm sorry. Did we have plans tonight? I've been so busy working on my thesis today..." She laughed a little nervously; she hated to forget things. He sat down on her couch. "No. No plans. I just thought I'd stop by and see what you're up to." Allison perched on the edge of the recliner. "Well, just work. My thesis is due to my director next week..." She felt uneasy. Something wasn't right. His eyes looked different. Strange. Icy fingers crawled down her spine.
"Do you wanna get something to eat?" He must have seen me hesitate. "Just McDonald's, that's all." He gestured to the papers spread out across my kitchen table. "I just thought you might want to get away from this for a while." He laughed. "Besides, where will you eat?"
I smiled. He was right; there wasn't room to do much in my house right now. "Okay. I'll get my purse." As a walked up the spiral staircase to my bedroom, I could feel his eyes on me. Something isn't right with him, my inner voice said. Be careful.
Allison wanted to go in her own car, but he insisted on driving his. "All right," she said, "but I can't stay long. My deadline looms." She laughed.
"Don't worry, Cinderella. I'll have you home in plenty of time."
Allison relaxed in her seat. It would do her good to get out for a while.
Dinner was over quickly, and true to his word, he brought her right home. She hesitated as she opened her car door. She had so much to do, but should she invite him in? A nagging voice screamed no.
"Do you want to come in?" Allison hoped Jack would decline.
Allison sighed, unlocked her front door. She walked in, then held the door open for Jack. As she closed the door, she could sense his presence behind her; he was so close she could feel his breath on her neck. She stood closer to the wall, managing to remove herself from his reach, and cleared her throat. "I have just a few minutes before I need to start working again."
Jack moved closer. "Don't worry. A few minutes is all we need."
"You know, Jack. I think I'd better get started on my work. My deadline is approaching, and I still have so much to do."
Jack grinned, but his eyes were cold, stony. "You don't have time for some TV or maybe a quick listen to a CD? I brought new ones."
Allison knew she'd have to be firm or he'd never go. "No," she said. "I need to work now." She opened the door. "I'll talk to you later."
Jack walked to the door and pushed it closed. "No. I'm not done here yet."
Allison swallowed. I can't show him I'm afraid, she thought. She forced a smile. "Okay, I guess I can put off my work for a few more minutes." Her shaking voice betrayed her words.
"Good. Let's sit." Jack led Allison to the couch.
Allison reached for the remote. "What would you like to watch?"
"How about we just talk? Jack smirked. "This is a really comfortable couch."
"My parents gave it to me when I moved here. It's not my favorite color, but I like it." She was babbling. Fear does that.
"You know I don't care about the couch, right?" Jack said as he placed his hand on Allison's knee. "You don't either, do you?"
Allison gave a nervous laugh. "I care about it in the sense that I didn't have to buy it..." She shuddered as Jack moved his hand up her thigh.
"Let's not talk about the couch. You're cold; I felt you shiver." He slid closer to her. "I don't want you to be cold."
Allison almost couldn't hear his next whispered words: "I don't want you to be anything but mine."
...and that's where I want to leave Allison. After all, that's where you left me for so many years—left me waiting for your next move, wondering what you'd do next, fearful, sad, mired in guilt and regret... But I can't.
Allison jumped up from the couch. "You need to leave. Now," she said. She didn't recognize the voice that was coming from her—forceful, commanding. It was as if some power was rising from within, a power she didn't know she had. "Get out."
"Fine," Jack said. "Your loss, bitch."
I feel like I'm in quicksand. That's how I described it to my friend the other day when she told me she felt overwhelmed by Christmas and all the things that need to be done to prepare for it. It's the same for me—it gives me a sinking feeling, this working and working and somehow never being able to get ahead or even catch up with that elusive to-do list. Today brings me to another day like that, one filled with too much to do in too little time. I'm looking forward to December 26. Then I relax.
I don't know what I'm doing on the computer right now. I have so many things to do that I can't even think. I know this sounds whiny, but sometimes it feels like I'm the only one in this house who makes sure we have Christmas. I wrap all the gifts but my own, make all the food, do all the baking, write Santa letters with the kids...and this is all just in addition to everything I normally do in a day, like laundry and making meals. I'm completely exhausted. No sleep until the 26th—at least for me.
I've been reading a lot about Sylvia Plath lately. I don't know what it is about her that fascinates me so much. I used to think it was just teenage angst—that "woe is me" feeling that every girl of a certain age seems to experience. Sylvia is a great one for the dark days, to be sure. However, I'm not in the dark right now, and yet I still find myself drawn to Plath's life and poetry. I guess I can relate to her in other ways too—through motherhood, perhaps, or because I also write and read poetry.
The chaos is over now, and looking back, it seems kind of pointless that I spent so much time getting ready for an event that is here and gone so quickly. I remember my mom working herself into the same kind of frenzy—baking, cleaning, shopping, preparing... and no doubt worrying, too. I'm glad I'm writing this today. Maybe next year I'll read through my December 2013 batch and recall how much stress I placed on myself to get things done perfectly. Maybe I'll remember that it wasn't all my preparations that made the day wonderful. It was the people.
I turned my head toward the old man who'd sat on the stool beside me. "Hey there, sonny," he said. "Do ya wanna know the truth?"
I shrugged. What else could I do? The bar was crowded; there was no place for me to go. The man leaned in close, and I could smell stale beer on his breath.
"The truth is," he whispered, "her veins were filled with ice."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. He looked so earnest but sounded so absurd. Anger flashed in his eyes. "Listen to me," he hissed.
I rolled my eyes.
"Ya don't believe me," he said. "She's gone, ya know. Delia's gone." He coughed, and spittle hit my cheek. I shook my head. This guy was clearly insane.
"Drink your beer, old man," I said. I nodded to the bartender. "Bring him another."
The man began mumbling. "She was mean. Cold. I was gonna make her my wife, ya know, but I had to kill her. Her veins—all ice." He put his head close to mine; his eyes were wide, frantic. "But she ain't gone. She's here. Still here..."
I shifted away. The old man was making no sense. First this Delia was gone—dead—and now she's here? He was clearly nuts. I looked around for an open stool, but the bar was packed.
The man grabbed my shoulder. "Listen to me," he hissed.
I turned to him, ready to tell him where he could stick this whole Delia business, but the look on his face stopped me. His eyes were huge—manic—and tears were making rivers down his grimy cheeks. In his hand, hidden partly beneath his jacket, he held a gun.
If I could get into my husband's head, I fear that I would find that at times he thinks I'm very selfish, and that truly isn't how I feel or want to be perceived. Take the new laptop he bought me for Christmas: I love it. Owning it means that I have my own computer for the first time—my own space. I don't have to worry about people reading what I write; I can be free with my words. If it becomes the family computer, I lose that freedom, that place for true creativity. I hope he can understand.
The gun. He held it loosely, almost as if he didn't know it was there. Maybe he didn't. So many thoughts go through your mind in these moments. Should I grab the gun? Try to get someone's attention? Slip off my stool and run? Try to dial 911 without his seeing me? I forced myself to look away from the gun and at the old man's face instead. He was crying harder now. He looked...broken, friendless. Like all he needed in the world was for someone to listen, someone to believe him. At that moment, I was that person.
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