I have a secret habit. I actually have many more than just this one but I guess that is why this blog exists; to spell these quirks out in hopes that I am not as bizarre as I see myself to be.
I buy gifts for dead people. I started doing this the year my mother and sister died. First on accident; participating in the grief while still believing that they really could not be gone. Now I do it as a conscious ritual each December.
The sweater that my sister would have loved. The book that perhaps would have finally been the perfect gift for my mother. The gift card for my father to use at one of his favorite stores. These are the gifts that would have spawned "thank you"... "I love it"... "I love you". This is what I pretend in my head.
Christmas was an odd holiday in my family. More often than not, I didn't get anything. My mother would cancel my Christmas for the smallest transgression. Each time I would watch the family open their gifts and wait with anticipation for my gifts for them to be opened. These were gifts made at school. Silly, child-fashioned presents. With no present of my own to open, my waiting time was magnified.
"Well, I guess that's it" my mother would exclaim. While scooting with her foot my wrapped gift under her antique chair she would say this. Right on cue my father would begin the clean up of the paper and I would sit there dismayed as my wonky, un-wrapped gifts were whisked away as trash.
Nothing was festive. Nothing was happy. We went to my grandparents for the afternoon and evening but everything was perfect. Robotic. No kitchen disasters. No burnt food. None of the things that make each and every holiday unique. Nothing that makes a holiday memory.
I guess this is why I have no hidden memories. Instead I have a perfect sheet of white paper in my mind. Blank without a family signature.
I am a generous person but giving a planned and wrapped gift is terribly difficult for me. The unknown, the question of approval or worse, no approval, makes my stomach churn. I wait until the waning weeks to shop, too nervous to purchase even a few anxious gifts.
In those same few weeks, I make my dead purchases as well. No one knows that I do this although my husband will probably catch on in another year or so. I wrap these gifts like all the others and stash them away in a place that no one will look.
After 4 years of this madness, I have built up quite the pile of grieving gifts. Yesterday, in the Wii-filled frenzies of my daughter and husband; I slipped away. I loaded my secret habit into bags and announced that I was heading out to make returns. No one questioned me or begged to go; neither husband or child willing to brave these selfish crowds.
In my brand new car, alone, and my husband would string me up if he knew this, I headed to the poorer area of our inner city. This is an area I am familiar with and I was amazed to find even more familiar faces. I parked and grabbed my bags of gifts. I locked my car and off I went. I found a group gathered and without even trying, I easily garnered their attention.
Amidst the dirty faces, I found their eyes that told a hundred tales. I saw myself in their eyes; we share that same sad reflection of the world. I gave my hidden gifts. Gift cards, clothes, books, ornaments, all the gifts that most regard as small and typical.
And here I must insert and confess, I did not do this with an original, selfless purpose. I needed to clear out these wasted presents but could not justify using them for myself or throwing them away. I needed to disperse of a secret; before I was discovered and the questions would begin.
In handing these items out, no one pushed, no one cursed, no one threw out an expectant hand in my direction. Not knowing what each wrapped present contained exactly; I guessed my best.
What I did not expect was the reaction I received. The "thank you"... "I love this"... "just what I asked for"... "I have always wanted one of these"... reactions poured out of dirty and even drunken mouths. The very reactions I longed for from my own birth family were given to me, in response to the gifts I bought for them, that I gave to complete yet familiar strangers.
I did not do this in my family's memory. What I did do, though, was create a Christmas memory of my own.
Hanging On No More
19 hours ago