Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Take Me Home

People pack and stack  into the musty church hall. The faces are less familiar with every year that passes. It will be the final Milton Christmas; life is too busy for the family that now lives long miles apart and stretches far from its roots. Children became parents. Parents became grandparents. Grandparents became great grandparents. First, second and third cousins spring up like strangers in the family circle. We must tend to our own. The family will scatter, despite anyone’s best efforts at keeping it confined, even for one day out of the year. Memories will change, faces will change. Time will replace them all eventually, storing them in the hearts and minds of the living, replenishing the leaves of the family tree. The odd arrival turns up the more conservative noses among us...a new-to-the-scene boyfriend or girlfriend donning the garb of the new youth. They boast piercings in odd places, tiny skirts, strange tattoos, purposely torn blue jeans.  

Uncle Ron’s brow tightens as he peers down on the gifts that pile up on the table against the stage. Surely store bought again, one and all, he quietly steams. Giving was supposed to be a deeper affair! Ron, seasoned woodworker, had gotten everyone to agree years before that presents would be personal, hand made. It worked for awhile, when the family was much smaller and Ron’s idea was still novel in everyone’s mind; knitted scarves, mittens, crochet picture frames and macaroni masterpieces brought good tacky cheer to all. Now it’s ‘89; life is fast and only Ron can truly muster the patience or the time to see such a sentiment through. He will once again stand alone but proud as a lucky recipient unwraps a toy wooden truck, or other expert creation. 

You wonder more than anyone Mother, if this annual gathering of the fold is necessary any longer. You sit  in a carefully selected corner gnawing at your nails. I watch you and wonder what drives your disposition. Your mind is on Matlock and a box of Laura Secord I’m sure...a quiet room devoid of intrusion. Social scenes rarely excite you; it’s always an in and out affair. You were always a nail biter. You drift off to a far away time and place as Christmas cheer surrounds you in a swirl of music, color, candy and laughter. Amidst the gaiety there are some family stories that will never be shared. I can see the reels turning in the lenses of your eyes as you tread back in time...

C-R-R-A-A-C-K-K! His knuckles tear through your upper lip. You taste hot blood. Your head snaps sharply to one side. The violent motion wrings the bundle of nerves in your neck like a dish rag. Your ears squeal. Instant migraine. Your heart falls from dizzying heights and shatters on the floor of your one last hope. This is the moment of your death. The little girl who swung around the backyard tree, who danced, who laughed, who dreamt of a white horse hero, she’s running now from the merciless storm. Brooding clouds chase her down. She falls and breaks her heel, tastes some mud. Rain pelts her like a shower of bullets. Her dress is ruined. Darkness blinds her. She has nowhere to hide. She curls up on the ground and covers her face, allowing the assault to tear through her.

“MISTER BURTON! Get to your class immediately!”

The nuns grab hold of the teacher and usher him down the hallway into his home room. They insist that you leave. The final insult, the vinegar on the wound, this will go no further. There will be no cop car pulling up, no willing witnesses. You’re on your own, sister. They toss you a stern, sterile glare as though you had forced him to backhand you when you cornered him in the school lobby and howled at the moon in front of awestruck students and staff. You were just tired of it all. Did they know that the bastard rarely made an appearance for dinner, that he'd never changed a diaper, that he was nearly never sober, that he lived in the Lazy-boy when he did make it home? You hate the Catholics now. You send them all to hell as you counter their stares with blood red fire in your eyes. They hate you back. Mr B. is one of their finest. Soon they’ll eject you from the holy church. Soon we will resume our education in the public realm. You’re the sacrifice today. 

You stumble to your car.The wound grows numb. The tears dry. The little girl dies. You won’t rise from the dead three days from now. You won’t ever forgive.

“Di!  Di, you’re up!”

You're plucked from your past as a gift is pushed into your hands. You’re weak as you stand. You swallow a tear and lift your lips to form a feeble smile. You cough to clear the sorrow that swells your throat and whisper out a thank you as you unwrap some soon to be forgotten trinket. The last Milton Christmas. When will it end, you wonder. You just want to go home. You’ve always just wanted it to end. You’ve always just wanted to go home.

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