It’s Christmas time – one of my favourite times of the year. Everything just shines and glitters. It’s a time to be with friends and family. A time of cheer. Looking at our white angel at the top of our tree, she represents so much to me. She has been there for my twenty-one married years. She’s old but looks beautiful holding her little lit candle in her hands. Her eyes are closed and she has a look of peace on her face. It looks like she is blessing me and my life.
I look at her and remember the many years of excitement of “Santa” coming. In the morning, Mitchell would wake up with the anticipation of receiving his gifts from magical St. Nick who had placed them carefully underneath the tree waiting to be opened. Over the years, presents were also waiting to be opened from our rescued dogs and cat.
Our house is decorated with beautiful ornaments that we have collected over the years. Christmas is a chance to celebrate our hard work and be grateful for all we have.
Looking at that angelic light at the top of my tree, I think of how blessed I am. But this was not always so.
I was seven years old. Our family had finally purchased a house. We had immigrated from Scotland two years earlier. This was the third house we had lived in since immigrating to Canada. Each house had been in a completely different neighbourhood, so making friends was difficult. I was a full-blown introvert, in full retreat.
My brother was three years older than me. I had always desperately wanted his love, but I didn’t get it. What I did get was continuous bullying, intimidation, threats on my safety and terrible mental and physical abuse. I had endured many threats on my life, if I ever told my parents what he was doing. There was no support or protection, and my only sibling, my brother, knew it. I was an easy target.
My brother wanted to find the Christmas presents that were hidden somewhere in the house. “Come on. Let’s go look for the presents,” he said. He was being nice to me. My brother always had two faces. This was the nice face that most people got to see when he wanted something from them. “Alright,” I replied, desperately seeking his approval. I didn’t really want to find the presents, but being the good follower that I was, I participated.
Our house was very small, so we didn’t have to look too many places to find them. We had very little furniture. There was the main floor with three bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and tiny kitchen. The basement was unfinished.
We looked on the main floor. We looked everywhere. They weren’t there. So down we went to the basement. Our family had a large brown chest that stood up on its side with a huge door on the front. It was massive in size compared to me. We opened it. BAM! There they were. All the presents that Mom had bought to be wrapped for Christmas. We saw them all. All the gifts that were to be a wonderful surprise on Christmas morning were found. Christmas, that wonderful time of year for children, was ruined.
Mom came home. We told her the “good” news. She was so hurt and completely devastated. In order to try and save Christmas, Mom decided to give us a present each day. At the very least, we didn’t know which present was coming. Trying to make it okay, she told us it would be like Hanukkah. My father was Jewish and Mom was a Christian. Mom had taught us a little bit about the Jewish religion, so I had a sense of what Hanukkah was.
I remember one of my presents was a beautiful perfume bottle. I loved it very much. Such a nice present for a little girl of my age. It wasn’t glass like a normal perfume bottle. It was similar to a bottle of hair mousse. You couldn’t see what was inside the bottle. And just like a mousse bottle, you could shake it.
That night I laid in bed. I put my hands together and prayed, “Dear Jesus, thank you so much for my perfect gift. It is beautiful.” My family wasn’t religious at all but I was a very spiritual little girl. Always grateful for anything I was given. I had never attended church, but had a picture of Jesus on my dresser. I somehow loved this man from two thousand years ago. Maybe it’s because I was told he loved children.
I put my beautiful new gift on my dresser next to the picture. In the morning I planned to use the perfume and smell very pretty and beautiful. I closed my eyes in anticipation of the morning.
I was drifting off for my night’s sleep when my brother quietly snuck into my bedroom. He was crawling on his knees. My parents were asleep. I opened my eyes, “What are you doing?” I asked innocently. “Shhhhh! Be quiet!” he whispered angrily. He showed me his other face. The one of hate and anger that I was used to. The one with the cross eyebrows, squinted eyes and lips pressed tightly together.
He took the new Christmas bottle from my dresser and shook it violently. He then carefully placed it at the bottom of my bed next to my feet. “Don’t you dare move or it will blow up,” he threatened, making sure my parents hadn’t heard him. “It’s a bomb and if you move it will go off and blow you to pieces,” he added, with such meaning and hate in his voice.
I was terrified of moving. I was frozen. Scared to death. I was always so trusting, so I believed him. Then he gritted his teeth and looked at me, enraged. “Don’t you dare tell or I’ll kill you!” I believed that too. I had seen him kill and torment animals. Why not me?
This was one of his many threats to kill me if I ever told anyone what he was doing. I didn’t sleep well that night. And, I held it in and didn’t tell. He’d kill me if I did.