Essay: This is the time of year when memories pile up

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

No, everything’s not okay. I just can’t get into this holiday season. The tree is nice, with original ornaments we’d picked up over the years.

But it’s cold out. We had one warm day and then more freezing cold and the existing snow is now just ice.

And it’s dark at night, and the Christmas green and red and blue little lights just remind me of youth, being alone a lot, and not really being in control of anything.

The lights glisten off the frozen ice outside, and there’s an eerie silence. The white yard feels like I am in a snow globe, or on a movie set. I feel encased. It’s claustrophobic.

I have my own family now, but I can’t escape feelings of Christmas past, getting little from anyone. Getting little wasn’t the problem — it was that I expected little, how I became, that’s the lingering issue.

One year, my parents got my siblings and me nothing — and had told everyone beforehand that they were tapped. They were trying to elicit sympathy.

Relatives broke into our house while we were out — though my parents could afford a few drinks that night — and put gifts under the tree — without my parents’ knowledge. We got home but my mother panicked, considering the house had been broken into, and thought, for some reason, the gifts left under the tree were “bombs” and hysterically retreated to the car — outside in the dark, in the frozen snow — and wouldn’t get out. Way to put a damper on things, mom.

Other years, I did get gifts that seemed to be on par with what some other kids got. Never A-list gifts, but close enough. For example, when most of my peers got an Intellivision or Atari, a year or two later, I got a Magnavox Odyssey 2 with knockoff games that imitated “Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man,” but with different names and slightly different art. Eventually, I got a Mattel Aquarius computer, that had been in a clearance pile. But, I mean, good enough, right? I learned Basic programming on it; though most people had a Commodore or Apple II a good couple of years before me.

Not that gifts are everything, and, being trendy can be overrated.

But my Christmas was never like the marketing, and it wasn’t all that much of a bonding experience either.

As soon as I legally could, I got a job, at 12, as a paperboy and I’d go out collecting from my 96 customers in the frozen cold. This time of year, some would give me a dollar as a tip. Some big spenders, five dollars.

One of my customers was my former fifth grade teacher. She’d always felt sorry for me, that I always was disheveled looking and unkempt. That I never got the help with take-home projects the other kids got. When I’d go collect, in the single-digit temperatures in my worn out coat, she’d look at me with pity. That look I never wanted. Just like I didn’t want donated Christmas gifts or reduced price lunch or any of that.

Or sitting alone, year after year, in the dark, while the parents were out, and jubilant Dick Clark was on the TV with thousands of people behind him, while I was in a dark room, alone, frozen outside, with green and red and blue little lights mere flickers in the night.