Monday, December 28, 2009

Gifts

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.

26 comments:

English Rider said...

Only positive, warm thoughts can be generated from reading this post. What a big step to be able to give away these gifts and well done for how you chose to do that. Can you share this story with your family and let them join with you in exorcising Christmases past?

Deborah said...

Jennifer, it doesn't matter what your motivation was to do this. It was absolutely the right and the only thing to do, and it was also a cleansing and healthy act. To have created a little bit of happiness out of your sad Christmas history is almost magical and I'm full of admiration for you.

Happy New Year, Whole-Woman-In-The-Making. All the very, very best to you.

shadyrae said...

I don't think this is particularly unusual (well it is..) rather, it is a way that YOU deal. We all do weird things. Me, for example, I have rituals, rituals that come from the past.

My fear from the neglect and sexual abuse has given me ONE strange habit, making my bed BEFORE i go to sleep. Never in the morning. Why?

Because when my bed was made, it was safe, and clean and mine. I was warm, and cared for, and not abused. I like to climb into a FRESHLY made bed, so I know that it is safe.

It has no logic, no reasoning, but it helps. It may seem unusual, but you do it for a reason.

I understand. IN my own little way.

Rising Rainbow said...

I think it's amazing you were able to take something that originated from hurtful old Christmas memories and turn it into a wonderful new Christmas memory.

And while you see those strangers grateful acceptance of your gifts as a gift to you, I can only imagine what a gift it was to those people so down on their luck. A win win for all of you, that's for sure.

Friko said...

You poor, dear, girl, still trying to get your family"s approval, even after death. You will never, never, never, get their approval, they are dead and gone (your father might as well be, surely?). Fact is, that you are alive, you are the survivor, with a family of your own, a family to create its own warmth and happiness, its own rituals. To break the evil circle is your task. By all means buy presents for the poor and desolate, by all means relish their gratitude but stop buying them for the dead. That is just creepy and not worthy of you, you who have survived, you who have a future.

I have come to admire your strength and resilience. Forgive me if I my comments are blunt; I have no wish to hurt you, but would dearly love to make a small contribution towards your recovery.

I would like a present from you too: as you are so very kind to read my blog quite regularly now, would you please follow me by clicking on the Google Friend connect button?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. You are paradoxically so raw and honest even in your secretness. For me it matters not that you buy presents for your mother, dad and sister who have died. For me what is intriquing is that you followed your yearnings to buy the presents and also followed your yearnings to give them away. It feels healthy to me even though as you admitted it wasn't a 'selfless act'. There is something so open and honest in you that is priceless. Merry Christmas to you.

Andrea said...

And what a beautiful Christmas memory you created, dear friend. "Just what I asked for" and you could not remember what they were...that my friend is GOD working a miracle through you....you were the angel of Christmas miracles. I love it..You now have a memory to cherish from this day forward.
GOD BLESS YOU...it does not matter what your original motive was...GOD in HIS perfect wisdom used you to heal other hurting hearts while working to heal yours at the same time.
Blessings, hugs, and prayers, andrea

The Pliers said...

Ma chère Shattered mosaic making friend,

The first thing that I would like to say, having read your post this evening after 4 days away from the computer, is that it would be, in my humble opinion, helpful and supportive if you could find the time to read Robert Goolrick's book, "The End Of The World As We Know It." He does a very good job of articulating what it feels like to be a child who is being deliberately mistreated precisely because that child has been/is being abused/tortured and all the members of the group involved–actively or passively, by commission or omission–know it and must make it appear that the child "deserves" it OR admit to being an abuser/torturer or one who colludes with such a person. Which, would, of course, be all the other members of your family.

I think that your secret is a brilliant way of coping with the enormous levels of disappointment, anger, grief, unrequited love, and unresolved psychic pain that the typical "family" holidays, especially where Christmas with its relentless demands for the appearance of cheerful perfection and "family" solidarity is concerned. Christ! I live for December 26th.

I have been known to send myself both Christmas and birthday cards so I would get the one I'd actually like to be sent!

If you weren't ingeniously buying gifts for the dead people who live on in your heart, mind, and spirit, and giving them to the poor and disenfranchised, you would be gambling away the rent money or having sex with strangers in cheap hotels. Stress must be coped with in some way and yours is damn good in my opinion. Just ask any one who lives with an alcoholic or a kleptomaniac what s/he would prefer, if it came right down to it.

I also think that it would be very supportive to give anything and everything written, said, or done by Andrew Vachss a review. He advocates for children who have suffered from the types of torture that you have as a way of life. And while it is imperative to tell your own story, it seems to me to be critical to have a context in which to exist with it and one of the contexts concerns the fact that you are not alone in having been tortured. "United we stand, divided we fall." The children who were tortured by priests would never have been able to bring their suffering to light without their numbers seen in context.

Having survived such torture for the time that you have also means that you have developed many talents that the average person would be unlikely possess, besides the Troops for Shattered, if you will. Thus, the work by Gavin De Becker is also worthy of review because it discusses another context in which your responses to life's challenges and your accomplishments are valued and put into high relief and shown to be extremely necessary and useful.

You will not always need to buy the dead gifts. Your life is a process. Two weeks ago I had a session with the hypnotherapist and we did a little visualization in which I just told everybody under the sun that s/he would have to take care of her/himself because I was now going to do what I wanted. I started out by telling my mother and then I filled an auditorium. I didn't even know I knew that many people to put on notice! It only took me 57 years to spit that out. I've been taking care of a pack of dead people of my own and a couple who have been working hard at becoming dead sooner than is/was necessary. I put my pom-poms in a box when my mother shot herself, but I think I'll burn them now.

I'm going to post this now. If I don't get that "you're too verbose" message.

Happy New Year in 2010! I'll be looking to see how it's going for you.

Amitiés,

The Pliers said...

The point of reading Goolrick, by the way, is to find friends with similar experiences, not to find someone who articulates it better or worse than you do. It's about context, not atrocity.

Annie Coe said...

Your post made me cry, first for the awful, cruel parents you got stuck with and second because you dealt with your pain and now you have completed the cycle by giving those gifts and getting the reaction you always wanted, which you always deserved. Beautiful post.xoxo

Shattered said...

ER, I have thought about it and I still don't know if this is something I can share with my husband. He doesn't know the full story of my family so it's hard to share these things with him sometimes. I know it would probably be good for me so I will continue to consider it...

Shattered said...

Deborah, thank you for the encouragement. I second guess myself a lot... especially my motives and intent.

Happy New Year to you as well!

Shattered said...

Shady, I am sorry that you can understand this and that you have your own rituals you follow to make yourself feel safe.

Shattered said...

Rising Rainbow, thank you for visiting my blog. I do hope that the gifts I gave, made their days. It does seem like a win for everyone. Thanks again for stopping by.

Shattered said...

Friko... Creepy? LOL. I suppose part of the reason I hid this was because it is a little creepy. You are right, I am never going to get their approval. It sucks but it's the truth. I think after this experience I can stop buying gifts for them. Perhaps I will continue to give gifts to those less fortunate; I'll just stop originally buying for my birth family.

Don't worry about hurting me or offending me. I always appreciate multiple points of view. :) I will follow you on Google as well, friend.

Shattered said...

Anonymous, thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog! A paradox is certainly a good way to describe me. I think one of the biggest things I have learned through therapy is that my feelings are neither good or bad; they just "are". Yearnings are just feelings so I guess it's OK that I followed them. Thank you for your encouragement; I hope that you will visit again soon. Merry Christmas to you as well.

Shattered said...

Andrea, thank you for pointing God out in all of this. Honestly, I have my issues there and I often forget to look for God in my life. But you are right, I can see how He worked in this situation. Thank you for your encouragement!

Shattered said...

The Pliers, I always enjoy your "verbose" comments. Thank you for the book recommendations; I will have to look them up. I do love to read! I hadn't really thought about my alternatives for coping with stress but you are right, this is a good one compared to some of the other vices used to deal with life.

I really like what you did with your hypnotherapist! That sounds very healthy if you are prone to taking extraordinary care of those around you who don't happen to always deserve it.

Best wishes in burning your pom poms!

Shattered said...

The Pliers, point taken on reading Goolrick. It really is more about feeling less alone than anything else...

Shattered said...

Annie, I am so glad to see you comment here. You and your family have been in my thoughts. Like you said, I do feel a little better having broke this one cycle. I have many more to break but a few down is certainly better than none.

Mike Golch said...

Great Posting.Thank you for stopping by my blog.I'm adding you to my recover Blog List,as well as follow you.

Shattered said...

Mike, thank you for your visit! I look forward to reading more from you.

Lisa Marie said...

I am so glad you found my blog too. What an amazingly uplifting thing you did to make the lives of those struggling so much brighter. You did everything your parents didn't do for you.

Ruth said...

I think of your secret as a healing, healthy way to get down to something in you. It is safe with kind intention. It is a fantasy, and rituals of the imagination would be helpful through the grim realities you face, I would think. I say bravo and do what you need to do. This didn't hurt anyone, it helped those you gave the gifts to, and I don't think it's hurting you. Only you know that, and as you say, you'll know when to stop.

Shattered said...

Lisa Marie, thank you for visiting. I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

Shattered said...

"It is a fantasy, and rituals of the imagination would be helpful through the grim realities you face"

What you wrote could not be more true. In the past few days I have been grappling with the "how" of how I survived. I think what you said here is part of it.

Thank you for your continued encouragement. Happy New Year!