But Christmas makes me want to cry. It starts just before Thanksgiving. As the days shorten, the temperatures drop, and the inevitable countdowns and jingles infiltrate every media source, my mood plummets.
I stared at a beautiful tree today and felt the familiar tightening in my stomach and sense of dread welling in me. All of a sudden I heard the words to Bon Jovi’s hit tune from the 80′s “Living on a Prayer” :
Gina works the diner all day….she brings home her pay for love. Tommy says it’s OK, someday….
Like a storm surge just after the levy breaks, memories flooded my mind. And, it became very clear to me exactly why Christmas makes me sad.
In 1980 everyone in South Jersey had a fake tree. Because Egyptians believe that “more is more” when it comes to decorating, our tree at home tended to be a sight to behold. One gloomy Saturday evening my Mom called my sister and I down to the family room. She had a twinkle in her eye and seemed giddy. She had dragged the tree and all its branches out of the crawl space. The floor was littered with boxes of balls, strands of colored flashing lights, a huge iridescent star, and piles and piles of fuzzy, sparkling tinsel garland.
“We are going to surpise Daddy!” She announced happily. “It’s his birthday, and soon it will be Christmas!”
We all set to work. We squinted to see the color coded holes in the fake tree trunk so that we could shove the matching twisted wire of the branch into place. Bit by bit the tree went up. Followed by every ball, every strand of light and the flashing star. We saved the garland for last. My sister and I danced around and giggled. My Mom wrapped a garland boa around her neck, threw back her head, and in her broken English declared “I am Mar-Lene Moonrow–you know her?? She so beautiful!” We laughed and laughed and stood back to admire our handiwork. None of us cared that the tree was leaning or that the extension cords were showing. It was perfect.
As my father’s headlights turned into the driveway, she bustled us into a bedroom closet so we could surprise him. We could barely contain our excitment.
The key jangled, the door opened and I heard my Mom’s “happy voice.” I loved that one. We couldn’t make out the words but before long, my father’s voice was growling. The cabinet was opening. My mom was pleading in Arabic “Balash En-Naharda, il banat fo.” Please not today, the girls are upstairs. The cabinet slammed shut. Ice clinked in a glass and the familiar glugging of the Johnny Walker from the gallon size bottle began.
When we finally got up the courage to come out of the closet, the house was quiet. We tiptoed downstairs. He was sitting in the chair nodding off, half full glass just seconds from spilling. “Where’s Mom?” I squeaked.
“She just went to the store, she will be right back.” I must have seemed suspicious because he then smiled feebly as he slurred ”Mafeesh Habebty.” Nothing’s wrong my love. The last thing that caught my eye as I trudged up the stairs with my baby sister in tow was one sorry strand of garland that had slipped off of its branch and hung half suspended as if clinging on with its last breath.
My mother did not come home for one full week. That, it turns out would be the first of many.many “trips to the store.”