As a toddler, I had never understood why Mommy was ashamed of me. Of course, she wasn’t my real parent, but the innocent mind of a six-year-old saw no difference; my stepmother, evidently, saw many.
After Dad’s re-marriage, my stepmother had gotten to work keeping me out of sight while she was in the house. That meant that the school year saw me go straight upstairs to my room after school, while the summer was even more dreadful. Never would I go to the beach or amusement park like the other kids in my grade; the one thing I truly had to look forward to during those dark times was the daily visits from Dad to my room.
Dad posed an extremely unpredictable figure. The few times I chanced a glance from the top of the stairwell at the procession of guests (usually my stepmother’s) who filled our living room every weekend, Dad was the fidgety, unconfident man in the corner, while my stepmother would act the host. Never a very vocal man, he liked to pass hard decisions on to his wife, who normally took special delight in making such decisions if they regarded our family’s income. Nevertheless, he did have a cold side to him.
The kid inside of me never could understand why my parents had decided to marry. One was a portly, frugal, hardworking man, while the other was a beautiful, glamorous, opportunistic woman. I saw the clear clash in personalities, and I also consistently saw their violent arguments.
Most of them were about money, and specifically, Dad’s low salary. My stepmother would suddenly erupt downstairs and begin ranting about the cheap clothes, the cheap food, the cheap TV, the cheap fridge. “Melissa, everything’s gonna be alright,” Dad would say. “You know that. What’s the real problem here?”
The conflict would usually end there; then, I could finally go to sleep without having to cower in bed, bracing myself for the next shout. But one summer, when I was eight, my stepmother went too far. After Dad’s usual reassuring line, she added, “What about that project, Harold?” A moment’s silence. “You said that DAMN PROJECT WOULD GET YOU A PROMOTION AND A RAISE, AND GOD KNOWS I NEED IT. WHAT DO YOU THINK I MARRIED YOU F–“
In the coldest voice I had ever heard, Dad interrupted, “Stop there, Melissa. You don’t want to go any further than that.” And that was the end of that. Dad no longer seemed the jolly, good-natured man I had known before, but the arguments subsided after that summer, and things actually looked to be on the up.
By Thanksgiving, the decrease in fights between my parents had been made up for by some “quality family time”, as Dad called it. My stepmother would stop groaning every time she caught sight of me; we even started having meals together, and that year, we had our first family Thanksgiving. Caught up in the abrupt changes, I even started calling her Mommy at times.
That Christmas, all three of us were in a celebratory mood. Dad had strung up some Christmas lights around the house, and Mom had fixed up the most delicious Christmas Eve dinner. We’d played some board games and watched TV together, until Mom sent me upstairs at exactly 9:00 PM (she still wasn’t too inclined to let me roam around the house freely).
I had a hard time falling asleep that night. I’d seen the one massive present under the tree, and I knew for sure that it had to be that mega-sized action robot I’d pointed out at the mall. Also, Dad had kept some Christmas carols blaring on the radio downstairs, so that every effort to let my dreams consume me utterly failed.
I forced my eyes closed. I counted sheep. I slipped my head between my pillows. After trying every trick in the book, I checked the time. 11:00 PM.
And then–a yell. A crash. A dull thud echoed from my parents’ bedroom. “Dad? Mom?” I called out. Stepping carefully out of my room, I was met by an empty, dark hallway. Creeping down towards my parents’ bedroom, I made to open the bedroom door as quietly as possible…WHAM.
A ragged-looking man, dark-haired and sinister, crashed into me as he rushed out of the room. As he turned to look down at me, I noticed his shirt, shining red and still wet. Had he painted it just now?
“Who–who are you?” I asked. “Who–you–but Melissa said–“ the man stuttered. At last, he seemed to reach comprehension. “Ahhh. But you must be George, no?” I nodded yes. “Ho ho ho!” he cried enthusiastically. “I’ve come here from the North Pole with all your presents! I know you’ve been a good boy this year, but if you want to keep it up, you’d better get into bed while I fill up your stocking, okay?”
I wasn’t a good boy that night. After I had closed my bedroom door behind me and heard the man step slowly downstairs, I walked down the hallway, past my parents’ bedroom, past Dad, who was lying bloodied inside of it, and silently down the stairs, and then–and then, as Michael Jackson sang from the radio still blaring, I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.