The Gift I won’t Unwrap this Christmas

I am sitting on the floor of the living room, wrapping a Christmas gift for my husband, when a scene from Christmas past unfolds in my mind. I spin back seven or eight years, to a time when my daughters were younger, when Santa Claus was still plausible (they still talk about the time the reindeer left half-eaten carrots on the roof) and all of the creation of Christmas was up to me. I can see myself then, sitting as I am now, cross legged on the living room floor, amidst a sea of gifts needing tags, bows and placement under the tree. The stocking needing stuffing. The cookies and milk for Santa still waiting to be laid out. It would be close to midnight and I would be exhausted, and working alone. My husband would appear, video camera in hand, and he would film me, as I sat there arranging the gifts. He wouldn’t help me, of course, he would just stand there at the edge of the room, smiling idiotically, and watch while I resisted the urge to pick up the package and throw it at his head.

This is the movie that unfolds in my head. If I don’t push the off-button, the disappointment and anger will be as raw and intransigent now as they were then.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? It’s just a memory, a scene I play out in my mind, and one that I’ve written myself. Nothing more.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath and remind myself:  there is nothing here for me. Not in remembering this way, not in thinking like this.

There is nothing here for me.

 “Drop it,” some helpful soul might say. “Forgive him.” “Move on.” “Get a life, for God’s sakes.

Right.  But how do to do that?

I sit still and settle deep into the feelings that rise up; I breathe it all in, the whole sickening thing. When the story begins, I see it for what it is, and watch it go past me like so many clouds, and I come back, over and over, to the sensations in my body: the sinking feeling in my gut, the tightness in my chest, anger, disappointment, sadness. Slowly, the story changes and all I see is a woman preparing for Christmas, and her husband, who loves her, taking pictures to save the moment.  That’s it. Nothing more.

 What was it my friend Dianne said at our pre-Christmas book club meeting?

 “My halo is so tight that it is giving me a headache.” We laughed and laughed, the kind of deep, unsettling laughter that rises up when something is so true it hurts.

 These stories we tell ourselves, these roles we assume: truth or fiction? That’s a question any of us can sit with. And here’s a clue: it’s always fiction. Every time. It’s also the kind of story that I don’t want to crack open anymore.  The one called Resentment, or You’re Inconsiderate, or This Isn’t Fair.  Those are the gifts I am going to leave wrapped up and untouched under the tree.  Pretty paper, compelling plots, but nothing of value. Far better to write a new Christmas story, with a better ending; far better to see the stockings stuffed with coal, and leave them be.

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