It's been a while since I had a Sunday Story. This one came just in time for Christmas, and though it is not very merry, I hope yours will be.
There is a knock on the door that is so sudden and loud I jerk the scissors in my hand and they cut at that tight, tender skin between the thumb and pointer finger.
“Mom!” my seventeen year old yells to me, as I bring my bleeding hand to my lips.
“Leslie,” I call to her. “Can you give me a minute?”
“No Mom. I’m going out. I have to go now and I need the keys.”
Immediately I put down the scissors and the package I am wrapping, rest them beside more than a dozen others that are on the floor all around my bed and my dresser. Stunned, I go to the door. I unlock it and carefully step out so that my daughter cannot see in, even as I note with a sort of deep and surprising sorrow that she doesn’t try to.
“Going out?” I ask her, and I imagine that she has some last minute gifts to get or maybe a card or some special wrapping paper she doesn’t think I have. I try to imagine that this will be her answer.
But there is that deep sorrow bubbling up again and I know that this is not so.
“Yeah Mom. I thought I told you. Sara’s having a party.”
I take a full breath in, pulling it up from some reserve that feels almost empty now. It feels so depleted I wonder if that breath was the last one, the very last one.
I look down at my hand before I speak again to my daughter. It is bleeding still, in that place where I cut it with the scissors, and I bring it to my lips once more before I gently say to her, “Leslie, it is Christmas Eve.”
“Yeah, well, you could come with me, because parents are invited, but of course you’re still wrapping gifts so you can’t I guess.”
I just stand there then. I just stand there with my hand in my mouth, trying to stop the pain and the bleeding as I stare at my daughter and blink my eyes hoping still to see her through the tears that are forming.
But everything becomes less clear then, just less and less and less. No matter how many times I blink it is all just so unclear. I have no idea how this happened.
But then, of course, I do.
“Lie-lie, I finally say. “I’d really like you to stay home okay?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” she yells. “I told you about this weeks ago Mom. And if you didn’t do everything at the last freakin’ minute you could come with me. I mean Sara’s mom can put on a Christmas Eve party for the whole neighborhood but you can’t even get some gifts wrapped.”
And then before I know what I am doing my hand moves. It is the one I cut just moments ago while wrapping all the things she wants and the ones I anticipate my husband might want, but I don’t know because he really does’t talk to me. It is that hand. The one that was wrapping and wrapping and wrapping. The one I cut. It lashes out and slaps her across the face.
On Christmas Eve, standing in my bedroom doorway with at least two dozen gifts behind me spread all about the floor, I slap my daughter in the face for saying out loud what I have always known and for turning out exactly how I made her.
She stands there stunned then. Her eyes are as wide as ever I’ve seen them and her mouth is slightly open and her own hand is resting against her cheek and she looks like the sweet child I have not seen in so long because I have not been looking at her.
And I have not been keeping her sweet either.
I think she will turn then and walk away from me but she doesn’t, not before I do. I turn and walk slowly into my bedroom again. Softly I close the door behind me and I lock it. Only this time it is not so that she won’t see the gifs I’m wrapping. This time it is so that she won’t see me crying and crying and crying, brought to my knees alongside the thousands of dollars I have used to purchase her love and my worth.
And my worth.
All of this was to gain the good graces of my daughter, and perhaps my husband too, and to fill the holes within my own being, and yet none of it is enough.
It is not now. It has never been.
And then suddenly I am so angry. I am full of such rage and despair that without really knowing what I’m doing I am all of a sudden gathering up gifts into my arms, as many as I can fit. Then I am struggling with them toward the door and fumbling to unlock it and get it open and as I do gifts fall to the floor and I kick them and stomp on them before I walk out the door and down the hallway to the living room where my daughter is sitting on the couch crying. I pass her. Even as she calls out to me I pass her and walk to the front door and fumble again getting it open as more gifts fall from my arms.
I walk out onto the front porch then and move to the edge of it, so close to the edge, and then, just like that, like it is nothing at all, I heave all of the gifts out of my arms and into the snow of our front yard. And as I watch them land I cannot believe what I have done. I cannot believe it, but I cannot think of doing it any differently either. I feel completely stunned and unsure, embarrassed and lost and broken. But I feel something else too.
There is a fast and deep relief like nothing I have ever known before. It envelops me, pulls me in closer and closer as I watch all of the weeks of shopping and worrying and hoping and wanting scatter around the bushes, so that even in all of my uncertainty I sense glimmers of hope too. In all of my uncertainly, still I am filled with a sense of freedom as I throw away this striving and striving and striving.
Quickly I turn back toward the house and gather the few things that fell in the doorway and I throw them too. One by one I throw them off the front porch and I feel a smile forming on my lips. My daughter is crying and yelling at me to stop and saying that she is going to call her father, but I am smiling.
“I’m calling him right now, Mom!” she is yelling.
But I know he won’t answer.
He won’t answer because he’s busy trying to find a meaningless last minute gift for me that I won’t want because what I want he can’t give me. He doesn’t even know anything about it.
He doesn’t even know me.
I turn back to the house then. I step inside. I walk back down the hallway toward my bedroom when my daughter calls out to me. She asks me where I am going. She seems frantic, and I understand because I am too, and for a moment I want to stop and help her, but I just can’t right now. I have to help myself first.
And I’m sorry.
I am so sorry that I haven’t known better and done better. I am so sorry that I haven’t been the mother I wanted to be and I am so sorry that it has come to all of this.
But this is where it has come to.
“Mom?” she repeats. “Where are you going?”
I put my bleeding hand to my mouth again, try to manage some of the sting coming from that cut in such a tender spot.
Then I answer her. “I’m going to get more presents,” I say.