“Sanctuary” by Suzanne Stryk 2007,
see also “Christmas Cactus” by Ann Goldsmith
Let me tell you about the Christmas that ruined
Every one that followed.
Let me tell you about the night I was eight, nearly nine.
I wore a red velvet dress, with white trim,
My hair half-up with a sparkly bow,
Ready to go to my uncle’s to celebrate.
The smell of ham that had been in the oven all afternoon
Called to me from downstairs,
Invited me to come down.
Let me tell you about my mother, and how beautiful she looked.
How she was downstairs already,
Fixing her smooth hair in the mirror.
She was frowning, nearly in tears,
But still lovely.
My brother and I raced to get to her, to the ham,
To the blinking Christmas lights below.
My father then, burst out of the study, a furious storm.
He rained on her with biting words and she trembled
As she reached for the garage door and whisked inside,
Trying to find her shoes.
Let me tell you how he came after her,
And the whole world came screeching to a halt.
How the door fell closed behind him with no one to stop it,
But I could still hear the sound of my beautiful mother screaming,
The crunching of blows, the thundering boom
Of her head, slamming the wall.
Let me tell you how I stood there and did nothing,
On the fifth step from the bottom,
The one that always creaked every day when I rushed downstairs,
Now held me grounded like quicksand. Let me tell you how I always
Used to cry about anything, but this time,
not a squeak came out, not a tear.
I felt nothing, and I did nothing, my legs timber logs
That weighed several tons. I did nothing. I did nothing.
The seconds crawled, as my mother came out weeping.
She charged up the stairs,
Scooping my brother and me in her arms,
And barricaded us in her room with her. Let me tell you how
She sobbed for hours after, whispering us comforts
Let me tell you how I clutched the hand-held phone in my shaking hands,
Staring at the digits that lit up back at me, and willed my brain to work,
For my fingers to follow and dial someone, anyone.
How my mother wrenched it out of my hand and cried,
“It’s okay, hija, it’s okay.”
Let me tell you how my father murmured apologies through the door,
And when she opened it, something inside of me boiled
That still burns and left scars. Let me tell you how she forgave him,
And we went to that damned party at my uncle’s, how
She screamed at me to smile
When my eyes looked a little too far away,
How we never spoke of it again, and the cheerful pictures
From the party only proved nothing had ever happened.
Let me tell you because I was made to never speak of it,
Because at nine and ten I wondered if I had somehow dreamt it all up,
If my mind had played some nasty trick on me, and at eighteen
The sight of Christmas lights still brings me back to those stairs.
Let me tell you because it’s the only thing I still remember.
Wanda Deglane is a freshman at Arizona State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and lives with her huge family in Glendale, Arizona. When she isn’t writing, she paints and spends time with her dog, Princess Leia.