Monday, November 24, 2008

The Unicycle

Once again the fine online novel Maggy has provided me with food for thought. Dredged up memories I might prefer to stay on the bottom.

" “Santa” did not bring me what I wanted, but left me a note, explaining why I couldn’t have what I really wanted. ..........

“Dear Peggy,

I am sorry I cannot give you the things you asked for this year, but I’m giving you the things you need. Even though you have been a good girl, for the most part, you can’t always have what you want.

Sincerely, Santa
"

(I am not sure if Utah Savage will mind me poaching this small drib from her chapter, "Christmas Tradition", but well, I would assume positive attention from a stranger far away might not be a problem. I will attempt to secure her permission before posting though.)

Do we ever outgrow this? This disregard for what we need against the things we want? And why do we seem determined to force our idea of what another person in our lives needs over what they claim they want.? Somehow, we know better than they what they should have and then proceed to follow up with unrequested action.

A Rolling Stones tune immediately came to mind.

"For you're own good" comes to mind.

Yet as a child I remember sitting there wondering what was so wrong about wanting that unicycle. I knew there must be something wrong after finding a game, clothes and another sweater from my Aunt Helen instead under the tree.

I wanted that unicycle. It went way beyond selfish gratification. To complete the picture I had of my immediate future, a unicycle was an integral part. To know that my parents did think of me as more than just an inconvenience and reminder of how unhappy they ended up. I had clothes, games and trains. I needed no more. I had lobbied hard for that unicycle starting months earlier providing the brand, model, and the store where Santa could find it. I wanted to feel that the presents I found under the tree had been given the consideration of a loving parent not just a parent going through the motions.

I was not a child to voice my displeasure in overt tantrum like ways. That tendency had been smacked and brow beaten out of me years earlier. We were a stoic family. Suck it up type clan. If Life didn't go your way, you might sulk. But only as long as Mom did not notice.

That Christmas I flew off the handle. Lost it. I laid into them with intense anger and hate. I will always remember the shock on the half in the bag faces of my parents as they nursed their fourth or fifth drink. I stomped out into the cold Christmas Eve night and did not return for several hours. They may have turned me towards stoicism, but in the process I learned to shoulder a big chip also. A chip that would haunt me for many years to come. It was an ugly scene.

It was a night I remember well when something pops up that digs it out from the suppression file.

As I shivered outside without a jacket and walked random circuits in the neighborhood, I realized it was more than the damn unicycle. I was angry because Christmas was always a sad time for me. My father never handled it well. His functional alcoholism seemed to reach some kind of pinnacle, some threshold he crossed into mean depression. The scenario was always the same. We celebrated Christmas carefully and without authentic cheer. The normal good tidings replaced with a process of building defenses for what I knew would be coming.

I remember a 12 year old's tears freezing on cheeks chapped and numb. I remember watching and then lurking as some carolers full of joy sang off tune in front of houses occupied by people I would never know. I followed them for a short while. Their spirited singing did not help. What I wanted and what I needed were the same. And their happy singing was not it. I realized for the first time... No, I came to grips with the notion that both what we want and what we need are not always there for us. I grew up some that night.

As the days progressed and I got over the idea that the World revolved around me, I came to understand two things. I was not to expect anything handed to me anymore. And the fact my father was not handling retirement from the Air Force very well had more to do with my situation than my presence in his life. For he had opened up to me when I came home from my cold walk. Sure he was shitfaced but he was coherent. He was always coherent. He told me it was not me, but him. He told me it was the relationship he had with my mother, it was not me. He felt bad I had to be there, but there it was. I had to suck it up and deal with it.

At what age do we start acting as adults and stop acting as children? I have tried to pinpoint the seminal moments in my life when this process moved forward. I think this was one of them. And though it was not a pleasant experience, I am grateful it came sooner than later.

8 comments:

Utah Savage said...

Wow! This is some very fine writing. I'm honored that my small moment of longing for a tricycle gave you this insight. Your writing is lovely. Sadly I never had the conversation with a soused parent who at least owned his failure. I'm glad you did. At least you got to hear the truth, and in that moment knew you were on your own. Reality is far preferable to unattainable longing that is held out but never given. Truth never told is a horrible thing. And I have a feeling there are so many stories like ours. We may start a trend of honest remembering that will set us all free. Wouldn't that beloverly?

Dawn on MDI said...

Wow. Another gut punch. Felt it from here. Well done.

PresterJohn said...

Grow up? Guess I never have, Crummy. I'm one needy s.o.b. .... need lots of love. Lots. And I try to give it right back.

And still can cry. Had to relearn that one about five years when the Grim Reaper was by my hospital bedside. And a nurse held my hand, and said it was ok to cry.

So for me growing up was unlearning all the crap I had been taught long ago.

Best,
PJ

Bull said...

Wow. Where to start? I read it three times, and couldn't figure out where.

Having watched my own parents' relationship change after my father retired from the military (albeit I was 29 and out of the house when it happened) I can relate.

Having the first of my kids coming into that "tween" age where his wants and needs become more sophisticated, and making sure he continues to realize how important he is even though I sometimes will "ruin his life" while simultaneously not letting my own issues eclipse him - there are lessons here for those of us sill raising our own.

Thanks for this. Looking at the most unpleasant things, recognizing them for what they are, putting them in their place and drawing what we can from them is all we can do some times.

BBC said...

There were things I wanted when young also, I got so little. But I didn't grow up being bitter about and wanting to make up for it, always preferring the simple life.

Not that I haven't had some nice things as an adult, I just didn't go overboard and deep in debt to have them.

And what I couldn't have I accepted. As I've traveled through my adult life the only thing that has got me in trouble is women wanting them having all they wanted and my saying no.

Hell, there has to be one adult in the home.

BBC said...

You don't list an email address in your profile for I would send you a cute XXX Santa thing.

NorthCountryLiberal said...

Well done. You pushed a few buttons. Lots of unmerry christmases.

But, when did you finally get a unicycle?

Kris Holm didn't get one until his 50's

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uPznTbus3g

MRMacrum said...

To all - Thanks for the kind wiords. This was a difficult piece to write. Not so much difficult to post. That part was easy. It was remembering the painful moment of awareness that forced me to mature before I thought I was ready. There is no good time for these moments. They come when they come. And as much as I indicate some bitterness for what may have happened during my childhood, I still love my parents. They did the best they could given the baggage they carried themselves.