Why I wore a tiara grocery shopping, walked 1,000 miles, and told strangers about my dark past by Angela Giles Klocke
I’m passed out on the living room floor, drunk on strawberry wine, surrounded by wrapping paper, tape, and toys, when I’m wakened by a quiet but persistent knocking at the front door. I glance at the clock. It’s after midnight. I haven’t been out long. Drinking away Christmas Eve was a good plan to get through, so I’m a little pissed as I stumble to the door to find Mom and my oldest brother standing there. Though they’ve driven over eight hours, I resent them in that moment. I don’t want to feel right now. I just want to get this night over with so I can get through Christmas day and on with my life.
I resent them even more because here they are again, a team, like they’ve shown up together to save the day. I don’t need them or want them there. A sleepy stupor awaits after weeks of no rest and no peace.
“We came to bring Christmas,” they say, way too chipper for this hour of the night.
Christmas has already vomited all over the living room, though. When death visits, people bring food. And when death shows up right before Christmas, people bring toys for kids instead. Even with all everyone has given them, I still bought gifts, hoping to numb them with toys the same way I needed to numb myself with strawberry wine.
Mom and my brother unload while I sit on the floor and continue to stare at unwrapped gifts still awaiting tape and paper. A waste, all of it. Paper meant to hold back surprise just ends up revealing one more cheap plastic doo-dad that no one really wants.
They laugh, oblivious of my mood, of my drunkenness, of my life. I’m free now so I’m supposed to be happy, I guess.
My earliest memory of these two together has them laughing too, oblivious of my feelings, only on that day, somewhere when I was 7 or 8, they were laughing at me.
These two have been a team as long as I can remember. Though my brother believes me to be Mom’s favorite based alone on the fact that I’m the only girl out of four kids, everyone knows these two have the closest bond.
That day so many years ago, the idea that it was the two of them and then us was solidified in my heart all because together they thought up a prank to play on me. I don’t associate much of my childhood with warmth and real humor — only a series of events meant to be funny to them but which always caused pain for me.
Mom called me in from the yard, where I was out exploring the four acres of pine trees we lived on. I loved finding new treasures — sand dollars, arrowheads, and fun rocks. I often whisked myself away to lands of make-believe in an effort to carve out a fanciful life, one where yelling and hitting and fear did not live.
Running into the house as quickly as possible, because you never want Mom to have to call you more than once, I found her standing over my brother. He lay on the kitchen floor, covered in blood, and she stood over him with a butcher knife in her hand.
“I killed your brother and now I’m going to kill you,” she said, stepping toward me.
Fight or flight is strong with me, heavy on the flight, and I ran back the way I’d come. I’d head out straight across the street and have them call the cops, but if she was following, I’d dart left instead and run through the woods to another neighbor, one who was used to one of us kids showing up on their doorstep at least once a month, begging for them to help. I’d lose her through the trees; no one could jump and crawl as fast as I could.
No sooner than my feet hit the front steps, though, she was laughing. Worse, I could hear my brother laughing too. I turned back around and saw them both standing in the doorway, him still covered in blood, Mom still holding the knife, which was also covered in blood. A trick. A joke. A nasty prank.
The memory drops away to gray there, fuzzy distortions of how they convinced me to come back inside, how no one would really hurt me. But the damage was done, and it would be several more years before I put the pieces together: they were a team, and I was not on the team, and that was the day I learned I couldn’t trust even the two people I loved the most in all the world.
In my late thirties, when I share this story with my counselor, she leans forward, unable to hide emotion from her face. She is angry, disturbed.
“You do know that’s not okay,” she says.
I nod. “Of course. I know it’s not normal.”
“It’s more than ‘not normal.’ It’s cruel. It’s not how a mother behaves.”
I’ve known this but I don’t think anyone has ever just said that, that she was being cruel, not just using poor judgment.
But like so many other moments in our lives together, I pushed the bad things into the void and held on like hell to every good moment. Survival existed only in the good moments.
In the early hours of Christmas morning, I don’t think I can pretend I’m fine beyond what I need to give to my kids. I can’t play along, laugh, and pretend like laughter has a place in my life. Yet, I’m torn between my anger at seeing them and my pleasure at her showing up for me, for my kids. All I ever long for, all I keep wanting, is for her to be my mom, to love me the way I love my own children.