Friday, December 22, 2017

Joy To Everyone Else

We are in the middle of the holiday “season.” What do you like about the holidays, and what drives you crazy?

Of course, my likes and dislikes over holidays mirror the average. Who to buy for. What to get them. Will everyone just make up their minds?? Who is cooking? Who is traveling? To tree, or not to tree? When is everyone leaving? When is the cleaning lady coming??

For me, it goes even deeper, into the bedrock of my identity, where lie deep cracks that, even at this stage of my life, feel unnecessary, and incredibly unfair.

The first nine Christmases of my life were rather loving and lush affairs. Similar to many working-class Chicago families, we had middle-class conceits, and my parents were adamant about ensuring my brothers and I had more than enough, and it served as leverage: from Halloween until New Years Day, we were crafty bastards. Wolves in sheep's clothing. Chores gleefully completed. Grades aced. Not a whimper about our behavior from other parents in the neighborhood. I'd like to remember it as if we were just happy children who respected the hard work and commitment of our mother and father. It was the haul under the tree. And it was a boon. The vacillation between Andy Williams's and James Brown's Christmas albums. Eggnog, both spiked and virgin, and me always choosing the wrong one. Drunk relatives showing up later. Fingers crossed there'll be no fighting, then starting one when one of my cousins breaks one of my new toys or, heaven forbid, didn't turn the pages of one of my comic books correctly. My brothers eventually getting into it and nearly ruining everything. The snow. Having my father to myself for just a moment. Realizing I didn't get my mother a present and feeling guilty after she gave me so much. Making up for it with a kiss. Night falls. Falling asleep with my new toys in the bed. The next morning it'd still feel like Christmas. The good times.

From eleven to eighteen, Christmas just didn't happen. There wasn't money. Moreso, there wasn't interest. Our family went from day to night. Being left alone. Inventing excuses for my family to my friends' parents about why we weren't celebrating. What was once so important stopped mattering to anyone but me, and there's no more lonely position in life than being the only one who cares. I remember when my moms forgot my fourteenth birthday. Indignant, I seethed for three days until I confronted her. Her reply explained what the rest of my life from that moment forward would be.

"We all have birthdays."

She shut the door in my face after that parting shot. It felt like a scene in a movie someone wrote for Meryl Streep in the eighties. I can't remember if the blood rushed to or from my head, but I was dizzy. schooled right then and there. Since then, birthdays and holidays were anathemas to me. They got in the way. Life doesn't care about my birthday, or Christmas, or Kwaanza, or whatever nonsense, thus why should I? And for about four years, I didn't have to worry about any of it.

Then I became a parent.

To have children is to know fear, which seems to stem from the notion of inadequacy. Will there be enough? Am I doing enough? Am I man enough? Will anything ever be enough? I went from ripping through my presents, one after another, relishing all my gifts to avoiding my friends' homes during the holidays because their happiness with each other seemed like wretched excess, just to, a few short years later, stare into the faces of my own children as they opened their presents, concealing my anxiety over whether they'll appreciate whatever is inside the wrapping paper, and then my dread when they didn't, and then swallowing my own grief over things that happened long before I ever thought I would help bring them into the world. The absence of joy inside me while, everywhere else, folks sang Joy To The World was far too much irony for me, high IQ 'n all. I'm not just a pretty face. The complexities inside me weigh heavier than uranium.

It isn't all dark. I do dig how holidays and other special occasions provide me with opportunities to show people I value them. What drives me a bit crazy is how, more often than not, I'm addled inside from rising to meet that chance. I do alright. I even come through like a champ, but my own enjoyment feels impaired. Handicapped by things that happened so long ago, they feel less like memories and more figments of my imagination, as if they were elements of some dream I had one night that I took far more seriously than was warranted.

Holidays move me to gratitude because when all these thoughts and feelings rise up, I realize I'm a writer and therefore have a place to put them.  If I didn't write and release so much of myself into my work, the cracks would show. I can't say it gets any better, but my writing is improving. That's something.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


1 comment:

Paul D. Marks said...

Danny, you make a lot of great, though sometimes painful, points. And, as you say, we have a place to put our painful feelings.

I hope you have a great holiday and a good New Year.