Pieces of an unfinished puzzle

Pieces of a puzzle

Pieces of a puzzle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think I may have found a clue to my holiday misery, a piece of the puzzle anyway. After reading and speaking to my therapist, I was encouraged to examine the darkest recesses of my mind and see if I could find a trauma related to the holidays specifically. At first I came up with a few slights, where I had been dismissed as nothing, but those were fairly routine and I have so many examples of that.

Like I remember one Thanksgiving (I’m thinking I was about 6-8) where I worked for weeks making decorations, centerpieces, greeting cards, posters, place cards – you name it. I had hand drawn turkeys, pumpkins, cornucopias, fall leaves. I had written personalized poems for everyone in my family. (surely not my best work, but I remember working hard to come up with rhymes for turkey and something about gravy yummy but murky) I taped my pictures up all around the house and on the windows. I wanted our house to look happy and cute like all the other houses. I was looking forward to our big day together. I delivered the cards to each person and recall their responses to my days of planning. My mom was busy cooking and set it down without even opening it. My brothers laughed at my poems and called it stupid, and kept repeating the turkey-murky, making fun of it. My mom flipped out about the ‘mess’ I made and told me to take down all the decorations. She scolded me especially for the ones on the windows, and said “get those off before anyone sees”. I’m still not sure why that bothered her so much. I remember crumpling each piece I had so lovingly designed and tossing it in the trash. At dinner, everyone put their plate right on top of the place card like it was in the way. Strange though, I can’t remember my father’s response or if he was even there that day.

Sad? Yes, but so normal for me that I don’t count this as trauma. I was either invisible or a bother to them all. I preferred being invisible.

The next one is a bit worse, and I had a good cry with this one. I’m realizing I was never allowed to grieve as a child, and I think I have so much unfinished business. I knew I had to process the active abuse, but I’m finding that the road to peace requires closure for all the emotions I was not permitted to express.

My childhood best friend, my neighbor, died a few days before Christmas when I was about 7-8 (woah, this may have been the same year as the earlier memory, but I’m not sure). I was told the news like you would tell someone they had toilet paper on their shoe. My mom stopped me as I was running through the dining room to go to the computer and blurts out , “Hey, ‘your friend’ passed away, so you can’t play over there any more.” Mom turned around and went back to what she was doing in the kitchen. I stopped in my tracks and just looked at her back, trying to understand her words.  She was my best friend for as long as I could remember, and it didn’t matter to me that she was 72. There were no children on my street to play with. Every day I went to her house after school. We played cards, barbies, watched TV, read books, gardened – you name it, I did it with her. She had a glass coffee table that was perfect for drawing, and I loved to lay under it and look through it to see the rainbows in the corners. She had a special table with edges that was just for jigsaw puzzles and we were always in some stage of working on one. I even loved that she was quirky and odd. she called her sofa a davenport and kept a blanket on top of it that we couldn’t use, you had to get a blanket from her bedroom chest if you were cold. She had a mini window shade she pulled down on her TV screen to protect it from sun fading. She had different shoes for wearing in different rooms, even 1 pair just for getting the mail. I realize now she must have felt grandmotherly towards me, but not knowing any of my grandparents like that, and not having any friends my age, she was simply my best friend.

She got me from school when I was sick and my parents were working, and always had a bag and tissues in case I felt queasy on the ride. She told me I was smart and funny and we always laughed together. She loved my handmade cards and poems and hung them up on her wall. She gave me great big hugs and I didn’t mind her bony shoulders digging into me. She always smelled like apples, her favorite snack. Every day she would make me a cup of tea and we would share a granny smith apple, we both loved the tart shock and would giggle about it. I thought her white hair was soft and beautiful. She had a tapestry calendar on her wall with the names of the months and holidays in it that she let me move a pin from month to month. I loved her. We had a puzzle half way done over there, how would we finish it now? I had made her a gift, a big paper flower with curly ends, it was in the special safe place in my closet. I also had a box of her favorite licorices. How could I give it to her? What would I do after school now? I had so many questions, and only a back turned towards me. I knew there would be no one to answer my questions, that no one wanted to deal with my questions.

I realize now, that this is someone else I never got to say goodbye to. Just another hole in my heart. We did not attend the services or funeral. I simply never saw her again and never went to her house again and we never spoke of her again. She was just gone. I hated the new neighbors that eventually moved into her house and hated their big, dumb dogs for destroying her house and yard with their jumping and digging. I couldn’t look at her gift, I just let it sit on my closet shelf forever, invisible like me. I must have stuffed down my sadness deep into that pit where I kept my true self. I don’t think I ever cried for her, so I have done that today and will do some more I’m sure. She was so good to me and I loved her and missed her for so many years.

Christmas itself was cold in my house. My brother and I would climb up into the attic and fetch the tree and ornaments each year, and put up that tree. Dad was really particular about the decorations and insisted on a certain tinsel that mom hated. He was the only one allowed to put on the tinsel so it would be done right. December 1st a wishlist would be hung on the wall for each of us to write what we wanted, with a budget clearly posted. Christmas Eve, we usually went out to eat at Pizza Hut, and then would watch TV until Christmas, right at midnight. At midnight we would all open our gifts, find exactly what we asked for, and stay up all night playing with it, each of us alone in our rooms. Everyone slept in on Christmas Day and it was like every other day then, nothing special, and each of us all alone with a new toy. No surprises. I always wondered why getting what I wanted felt so empty each year, but now I know it was because I had no one to share it with. Back at school I would tell everyone what I got, just like every other kid, and I’m sure I appeared to be normal and that I had a great holiday break.

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10 thoughts on “Pieces of an unfinished puzzle

  1. Wow. I’m so glad you had your best friend for those years, she sounds like a lovely woman who really cared for you. God knows you needed someone who loved you openly and affectionately in your life. I have similar memories of Christmas and there’s a certain blankness that comes over me when I think of them. Luckily, we have our kids to focus on now…make the holidays as special as we can for them. For years, I hated xmas. Now…I’m looking forward to it.

    xoxo

  2. What a sad yet beautiful story about your friend. It seems she really was a grandmother for you (as well as best friend) and I’m glad that you have those memories and that you had her as an escape during that time although things happened the way that they did. Your post made me think of how close my daughter was to my mother and how I could not allow myself to grieve which made things much more difficult for her because she was 8 years old at the time. I think that in my attempt to be strong, (trying not to break down for fear that I would never recover), I somewhat neglected the fact that she too had lost her best friend. 3 years later, we finally grieved – together and just let it all out. I apologized to my daughter and felt horrible for a long time, but we are handling it in a better way now. I woke up this morning crying with thoughts of how my parents passed away while hearing her voice recite a poem that she wrote well over 10 years before her passing. I realize that this -(spontaneous moments of grief) will continue, so your post really hit home for me. I’m so glad that you were finally able to grieve properly. This will help you in the long run as you gain more understanding from the situation although it may not seem that way right now. You have made a very big step in the right direction. All that is left to do now is to take another. In time, we will get there. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for sharing this. Losing someone is so difficult and no one knows what to do, so we just get through it one way or another. I completely understand your fear of completely losing it and wanting to stay strong and protect your daughter. I think this is where some of my own mother’s actions stem, not that she is cold and cruel, but that she can’t face strong emotions. I’m happy you have taken the right step to grieving with your daughter. I had no idea that grief could stay contained within for so many years, I lost my friend nearly 30 years ago, that is so long to still be hurting. I’m trying not to hide any more and just let the tears fall when they fall.

  3. I so sorry for your loss. You are not crying alone. What a remarkable woman. The holidays are touted to be all about love… To have lost such a significant giver/teacher/receiver of love in your life, especially at the holidays… maybe do something special in her memory… though from reading what you do with your children, you do, every day. Maybe it’s time to have a little memorial service of your own.

  4. what a touching tribute to your friend, and I’m sorry that your lost her as a presence in your life, although it does sound like the memories that you’ve uncovered are precious sparkling jewels

    • I think you and Judy are right, just have to think of what to do. I have a special box she gave me, I’m thinking I may write down some of my memories and put them in that box and thank her. Maybe I can tell my kids all about her. I’ve told my daughter a little, when she asked me about the box. Maybe I’ll pick up some granny smith apples too.

  5. I learned from my experience that emotions never allowed and put into boxes stay as potent as when I put them in cold storage. Feelings morph and change when felt and processed. You had a remarkable friend. You are so blessed. Just sharing your memories I can feel the love that you felt for each other. Allowing the grief lets the love in too. Thank you for sharing such lovely memories of your very special friend.

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