The next Christmas I think I’m ready for it. I know there’s no Santa. I’ve told them I don’t believe. My brother and I have both said we’re too old for stockings. It makes my mum sad, but my step-dad seems relieved. I don’t understand how my mum, in the face of it all, can still look forward to Christmas, can still ‘believe’ in the magic, but it seems she does. However bad it gets, she’s going to have a good day.
She must have a bit more wit than I’m giving her credit for though, because this year it is going to be different. Quite different. This year we’re not alone. When it’s initially put to me I’m not too keen. We’ve got a family of dad, mum and one boy coming to stay for Christmas. I can’t remember if they’re staying overnight or just coming for Christmas dinner. But looking back I recognise it as the start of my mum’s new strategy. She’s killing two birds with one stone.
We have a big flat. Six bedrooms. We have it on a peppercorn rent – or HE does – and my mum’s idea is that if we have other people there, they will act as the distraction that has previously been reserved for the threat of calling the police. He won’t behave as badly when other people are there (is the theory.) And the second bird is – we can sublet. Charge people, usually students, to come and live in the spare rooms. Those students may not know it, but they’ll keep us safe. They’ll keep me safe. Or safer. Because they’re not always there. And sometimes they can’t stand the atmosphere so they move on. Often they ‘flit’ in the middle of the night, owing rent or not owing rent. It’s a tough gig living with us. The foreign students stay longer. They don’t pick up the vibes as easily. But I’m getting ahead of myself and outside my Christmas remit – we haven’t had the students yet – but this year we’re giving some homeless people a Happy Christmas.
My brother and I are corralled into the sitting room while it’s explained to us that in the spirit of Christmas, and it’s better to give than receive… and that while it should be a time for family… and I’m not even listening. Yes, it would be a bit disappointing to have to make room at the inn for strangers if you were anticipating a Happy Family Christmas, but for me it just seems like the greatest idea.
We don’t have any more money of course, so sacrifices must be made. That’s when we tell them we don’t believe in Santa and we don’t need stockings. And the boy can have whatever present he wants, we don’t need anything. I certainly don’t remember any Christmas present I got in the next seven years so whatever they bought me was a total waste. You can’t buy your way out of this sort of hell. There’s no advent calendars any more, it’s just a lot of stress leading up to a couple of days when the chances are that extreme violence will be served up along with endless turkey.
But this year, no. Because this year we are hosting the homeless. I think they only stayed one night. I wouldn’t blame them. I don’t honestly remember much about it. In the same way that my happy Christmases blur into one and all occurred before the age of seven, Christmases from age eight to fifteen were all one blur too. A different kind of blur. Where I learned that domestic violence is not just for Christmas, but Christmas does seem to bring out the worst manifestations.
Counting down the days is no longer anything of a treat. I wonder what it was like for those homeless people. It’s a strange thing, to know that you’ve shared an important event with people you can’t even remember. I wonder if they saw through the fake glitter. I wonder if they wished we’d not had room at our inn.
They will have had a great feed though. My mum never missed out on the opportunity to put on a massive spread at Christmas. I remember going to the shops, and like that early hunt for the best Santa, we used to trawl round till we found the biggest bird that would possibly go into our oven. I remember standing watching it go along the conveyor belt in the supermarket – supermarkets were new and smaller in those days and conveyor belts were quite exciting. I remember we started a ritual of naming the bird. Always something beginning with T. Tallullah, or Tracey or something. As outlandish as possible. I think my brother started that Christmas tradition. It seemed a bit ghoulish, but perhaps we needed some gallows humour in those days. It made us laugh anyway and few things did back then.
I remember having to go out and buy my step-dad a Christmas present. Every fibre of my being resisted it. I hated him for what he had done to my life and what he continued to do every day – including Christmas – and I hated the hypocrisy of having to be thoughtful, buy him something, and something that wasn’t socks or gloves, something ‘good’ so that he’d be pleased. It certainly took all the joy out of shopping. What do you buy for the man you wish you’d never met? Of course I can appreciate that it wasn’t all his fault. He had mental health issues. As did my mum. They should never have got together. These things happen I suppose. But like I learned when I opened the advent calendar early, actions have consequences and consequences are not just for Christmas. Some of them last a lifetime. If you live that long.
An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.