A photo of the top part of what appears to be a plastic Christmas tree. The tree has red and gold garland, red and gold round ornaments, and a glittery star on the top. The photo is bordered by a black frame. Photo by Lisa on Pexels
Photo by Lisa from Pexels

When my father decided to throw the Christmas tree out into the snow covered front yard, I realized that this was not “the most wonderful time of the year”.

My mother and father had spent most of the morning loudly arguing with each other. My mother asked my father to go into the garage and bring in the plastic Christmas tree. She could not do this herself because the garage was stuffed full of boxes of things. It had not yet occurred to younger me that some of my family members were probably hoarders.

My father was often grouchy and self-centered. I had no idea what he was intending to do that day, only that he was heading out the door. Before leaving, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to bring in the Christmas tree. My parents argument got louder and louder, until all we could hear was my father’s extremely loud and angry voice overpowering all other sounds.

He slammed the door hard as he left the house, while my younger siblings cried.

After a little while, my mother decided to brave the severely cluttered garage to find the plastic Christmas tree she asked for. She was out there for a while, and returned with a small plastic tree. My best guess was that she couldn’t find the bigger plastic tree. Her eyesight wasn’t very good, and that likely made it harder for her to rummage around in a garage that had the windows blocked by shelves loaded with boxes.

In addition to the small tree, she returned with a white tablecloth that fit an octagonal wooden table that was in the living room. She inherited the table when her mother died, and the tablecloth fit the table well. She opened the boxes of ornaments she found and started handing them to my siblings so they could put them on the tree.

The simple activity of decorating the tree calmed my siblings, and my mother began smiling again.

When my father returned home, he immediately became furious when he saw the little Christmas tree on the table. He started yelling at my mother, and this made my siblings feel afraid. They ran out of the room. My mother yelled back at him, and I just tried to stay out of the way.

My clearest memory of that day was my father screaming: “You don’t deserve a Christmas tree!” It wasn’t clear exactly who he was referring to. Maybe all of us? He kept yelling that same sentence, over and over.

My father grabbed the little tree, opened the front door, and threw it outside into the snow. His booming voice carried and I was certain the neighbors could hear him. My parents continued arguing as I left the room.

Sometime later, the little plastic tree was back on the table.

This is just one example of why I find Christmas time to be traumatizing.

There were several years where the only way to get my mother to do some Christmas shopping was for me to accompany her. She was easily distracted, and never remembered what size clothing my siblings wore, or what they asked Santa to bring them this Christmas. In addition, I ended up doing most of the wrapping of the presents, and sometimes filled the stockings.

It was a lot of pressure to put on a child.

In 1999, I broke up with a long-term boyfriend who had been cheating on me for most of our relationship. The separation dragged out. Fill my car with my stuff, move it to my new apartment, repeat. The new apartment was cheap and closer to work.

Shortly after I moved, my family learned that my grandmother – my father’s mother who lived with us – was very sick. Things got worse as the days grew colder. It was hard for me to focus on my job, and my ex was trying to convince me to come back to him.

I started therapy. My family called me with updates, that came more and more frequently, about my grandmother’s health. She was dying. They didn’t know how long she had. I lost focus on everything for a long time. My grandmother was the only adult that honestly loved me and tried to take care of me. The thought of losing her was too much.

While under unimaginable stress, something happened at work that was the last straw. I grabbed my things, told a few co-workers I was quitting, and left the building. After I got home, my boss called. She was unsympathetic to my situation, and I was now jobless.

From memory, I was still getting calls from my parents, who told me what was happening with my grandmother. One night, the very hot musician who lived in the apartment below me knocked on my door.

In short, he came in with a bottle of wine and some marijuana. We nervously sat on the couch in front of the TV that was already unplugged.

“Are you moving?” he asked.

“Yep. Tomorrow morning,” I responded. The place I used to work for was a daycare center attached to a hospital. I went there to get a copy of my medical records – which was a struggle.

He confessed that he was attracted to me. Without being too graphic, we fooled around for what seemed like hours. It was cathartic – and the first time my body was able to calm down enough to release some stress.

The very next morning, I went back to the hospital to pick up the results of whatever they found. I was barely awake, wearing an old army jacket that I picked up from a Goodwill somewhere, and smelling of pot.

In the days that followed, my father and my sister arrived, filled my father’s van and my car with stuff, and moved it back home. It took more than one trip, and my sister drove my car for me. There is a vague memory of my father intimidating the landlord to let me break my lease without having to pay. There is another memory of my sister insisting that I had to get over my phobia of driving.

While they were helping me put my stuff into my car and my father’s van, I noticed that the hot musician who lived downstairs had left his shoes in my apartment.

“Are those your shoes?” my father asked.

“Nope. A friend left them here. I’ll go bring them back.”

I picked up the shoes, walked them down the stairs, and placed them on his doormat before knocking on the door. He answered, and it was at that moment I realized that he was a hoarder – just like my parents.

The next step was to find an apartment, which we were able to do. Most of my family made an effort to spend time with my grandmother, who by then was on what amounts to life support. Family members, including me, visited her as often as we could.

The landlord of the new apartment set a time for us to view it – and never arrived.

My father called her, and she said she was baking Christmas cookies wouldn’t come to let me see the apartment. My father drove us back to their house. We learned that my grandmother passed away while we were gone.

It was a few days before Christmas.

Eventually, my family got together and decorated the big plastic Christmas tree that my father decided to bring out of the garage that year. We put the handmade ornaments my grandmother made on the tree. The weight of the air in the room was so very heavy. When it was done, we all stared at the tree, silent, and sad.

I wrote this in 2021, the year I lost two people that I care about, one after the other. These two people didn’t know each other, and their deaths had nothing at all to do with COVID-19. I’m having a hard time with this because I miss them both. Christmas always brings up trauma for me, and this year will be especially difficult.

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