Since you died I've considered myself successful during the holiday season if I can avoid hearing "Little Drummer Boy". For some reason I can tolerate every other carol but that one. I burst into tears when I hear it because it reminds me of you.
I've been a nurse for six months now. Remember when I first told you I wanted to be a nurse? I was working in the dietary department at South Coast Hospital when, one day, I knew I was supposed to be a nurse. I started taking classes then, and I remember you were very supportive. But then I divorced my first husband and started using drugs and selling real estate and education just didn't seem as important. I thought about it again during that long stretch when Daddy was in ICU at that same hospital, but by that time I was way too deeply involved with finding my second husband to be in college. Then Daddy died and I spent the next ten years or so wrapped up in some really dysfunctional grieving and being mad at you because you got involved with another man.
Virgil, our roommate and her daughter and I decorated our tree very early this year. It was before Thanksgiving, in fact. The thing is, it's so dark at this time of year in Alaska that the tree with a whole bunch of lights on it seems like a good idea after about November 1st. We leave the lights on all the time and I suspect we won't pull that tree down and box it up again until February. Some of your ornaments are on it - all those Hawaiian angels you bought while we lived there, and a couple that you made. I smiled when I hung them on the tree.
We don't really celebrate Christmas with gifts. Not like we used to when we were all together. You always bought so many gifts for me, and I remember that even when I was 18 I was beyond excitement waking up on the morning of the 25th of December. You'd cook a great dinner, the house always smelled wonderful, and there would be Christmas carols playing. Daddy could never do too much because of his COPD, but you would bustle around and drink your toddies and then we'd sit down to "open". One by one we'd each open a gift, and ooh and aah over it, and you'd keep a list of who we needed to thank for what. It would always be warm in the house, and the sun would be shining because we were, after all, in southern California. Some years we were really lucky and could see all the way to Table Mountain in Mexico from your deck. That was some view. I can close my eyes and see the curve of the coast and the sunlight sparkling on the ocean to this day. That view is forever etched in my memory.
So anyway, I'm writing to you this year to tell you that I forgive you. I'm a couple of years older than you were when Daddy died, and now I realize that you deserved to have a man in your life once he was gone. I've worked through a lot of anger about how you latched onto me when I was very young and treated me like your best friend, or your mother, instead of your child. I know about fear now, and I know you were afraid of being alone. I know you were afraid of all the uncertainty in life, and having enough money, but most of all you were terrified of being alone. I know it must have been very difficult for you to be a parent, because yours died so young and you had no models. You were, in essence, abandoned. Sometimes when I think about how difficult it was for me to please you, or get along with you, I still feel angry for a minute or so, but these days when I feel that hurt rising up in my heart I tell myself that you did the best that you could, because I believe that you did.
I forgive you. Thank you for the nights you spent teaching me new words. Thank you for saving your money so that you could leave me enough so that I could leave California and go to nursing school. Thank you for teaching me how to be a good conversationalist, and a good hostess. Thank you for that day in the nursing home when I left your room and you called me back in just to tell me that you loved me. That was the first time you ever said it to me that I believed you. I think it was because I worked so hard those last six years you were alive - to make sure that you were safe and that your care was good - I finally believed that I was good enough and had made up for all the times I disappointed you.
Wow, I've gone on too long with this. I'm just having lots of feelings and missing you terribly because now I can see through the fog of resentment and anger and look at the scared woman behind all that who made fabulous Christmases for her daughter.
I heard the damn carol the other day, sung by a new group, and as I listened to their beautiful voices I smiled. I cried, too, because it was "that song", but the way they sang it was so sweet and smooth and full of joy that I think it sort of healed me. I think you know that, too, because I could feel you there while I was listening. I could smell dinner cooking in your oven and saw the light shining on the sea and you were there with me and we were really smiling at each other. Especially when they sang, "I played my drum for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, I played my best for him pa-rum-pum-pum, rum-pa-pum-pum, rum-pa-pum-pum...then, he smiled at me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, me and my drum."
Merry Christmas, Mom.
Your little drummer boy