Because it’s Christmas, by Michael Davis
Last week I told a bittersweet Christmas story and this week I was going to give my Christmas list of stuff that I thought would make good gifts.
I remembered the young lady I met in an airport a while back. I never got her name but she told me she wants to be a comic book artist and has no friends. She is a bit overweight and is being picked on at school because of that. She has a less than supportive family. Trust me, when I say “less than supportive” I’m being KIND.
I wrote about her in my column and related a story from my childhood that I hoped she would read.
I know what it’s like to that kid. I may not have been overweight but there were years when I felt I had no real friends. It’s the roughest around the holidays at least I had the support of my family…well most of my family.
So once again, my friend, this is for you. It’s a bit rough but trust me, it turns out OK.
My stepfather was an alcoholic and because of that I did not take my first drink until five years ago. I was under the impression that he was my real father and I did not want to go down the same road as him.
Get this: the way I found out that he was not my real father is an aunt of mine got mad at him and told me.
That is the textbook definition of ghetto.
Before I found out he was not my father, the only thing I looked forward to more than new comics was going to his house for the weekend. I loved that man unconditionally. When he picked me up Friday nights it was the greatest feeling ever.
His name was Robert and he and my mother were divorced (yes I called him Robert not “Dad.” I told you last week it’s a hood thing you would not understand) Robert would always show up late Friday nights and sometimes not at all. When he did not show up I was a miserable wreck. I would cry all weekend if my mother did not somehow find a way to buy me some new comic books.
Here’s what I mean when I say she would find a way. My mother would send me to the store with three dollars to pick up a can of something, which cost 50 cents. She would tell me to keep the change and I would of course buy comics.
She absolutely knew I would buy comics and that would cheer me up a bit.
When Robert did show up there was a better than average chance he would be drunk. My mother would make him take a nap before we left. It was not until years later I realized that she was preventing him from driving drunk by telling him to take that nap. I did not care that we were not leaving right away I knew he was there and when he woke up I would be going with him!
This man could do no wrong in my eyes. I was his biggest fan and no one could tell me any thing bad about him. Somehow even at age 10 I knew that Robert was a flawed human being. In a strange way that endeared him to me even more. He never really achieved any of his dreams and he lost the greatest thing he ever had when he and my mother divorced. He would talk to me for what seemed like hours about my mother. I was a kid and I had no idea why he wanted to talk about her bit I listened. Robert could have talked about dirt for hours and I would have listened. He simply could do no wrong in my eyes.
One glorious year, I spent the summer with Robert. It was the greatest summer of my life. He would go to work and I would hang out all day with my friends. This was a fantastic bonus because in my neighborhood I was known for a time as a punk, but where Robert lived nobody knew me and the kids on his block thought I was cool. Every Tuesday and Thursday Robert would come home from work with new comics for me.
New comics for me EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY! MAN! That was a GREAT SUMMER!
Then the impossible happened. My hero broke my heart.
I knew he was a drunk. I didn’t care. I knew he was a lair. I didn’t care. I knew that sometimes when he picked me up I would do nothing the entire weekend except watch him drink and sleep, I didn’t care. One Christmas Eve Robert went too far, and I cared big time.
I had not seen him in weeks but the pain was dulled because it was Christmas. My sister and I had gone to bed early because Santa would soon be there. I don’t know how long I was asleep when I woke up to sounds in the hallway. My sister was already up. I listened closely and realized it was Robert at the door talking to my mother. My sister, who was my mortal enemy, tried to keep me from leaving the room we shared but I was having none of it. I got out of bed and went to see my father. I watched as my mother stood at the door and told Robert he was too drunk to come in. Robert had a shiny new Tonka fire truck in his hands and I knew that was for me. I told my mother to let him in and she told me to go back to bed. My sister tried to pull me back in the bedroom but I was not going anywhere, I wanted to see Robert and I wanted that Tonka truck, it was Christmas.
Robert saw me and started telling my mother that he wanted to “see his son and give him his Christmas gift.” My mother must have noticed something different in Robert because she would not let him in. She told him to come back in the morning when he was sober.
Wrong thing to say.
Robert started yelling that he “wanted to see his son now!” I was crying for my mother to let him in. My sister, sensing something bad, was trying to pull me back in my room and my mother was trying to close the door on Robert who was getting really mad.
Then my world changed forever.
Robert pushed the door open, took the metal Tonka truck and hit my mother in the head with it.
Hit her in the head with it.
I lost my mind. My sister lost her mind. We started screaming like crazy for Robert to leave our mother alone. My mother was never cool, she was never my friend, she was just my mom. But in that spilt second I realized that she was the one I owed everything to. Everything I had everything I was I owed to my mother.
When you are 10, realizing that is life changing.
Robert was drunk but he knew what he had done. I could see it in his face when he looked at me. He knew he had lost me forever.
My mother had a HUGE gash on her head, but when you live in the hood you only go to the hospital if you are forced to. She got some ice and applied it to her head. I don’t think I ever cried that much in my life. Then I did the most UNcool thing a 10 year old could do. I hugged my mother and would not let her go.
My mother spent the next few hours telling me and my sister that things were OK.
My sister and I somehow went to sleep. In the morning, Christmas morning we awoke to find Robert sitting in the living room. I could not believe it. There he sat. He was sober and clearly he was sorry for what he did but my sister would have none of it. In no uncertain terms she asked my mother “Why is he here?” My mother looked into her eyes and then into mine and said “Because it’s Christmas.”
I never ever saw Robert in the same way as I once did. But that Christmas after the worst night I ever had I had the best day I ever had. My mother, my sister, Robert and me had a great Christmas.
But something had changed. I never forgave Robert for what he did. Now if he picked me up late or not at all it was not a big deal. As time went on I would begin to say what once I thought unthinkable: when my mother asked if I wanted to spend the weekend with Robert, I would say no.
As I got older I began to resent Robert and soon I began to avoid him. I could not get the image of him striking my mom out of my head. My mother never tried to influence how I felt about him, never said anything bad about him and in fact from time to time she would ask me to spend time with him because he needed it.
When I grew up I would avoid his calls altogether. I did not speak to him for years.
Five years ago he left a message on my voice mail saying he was dieing and he wanted to see me. I didn’t go.
I got a call from my mother one morning telling me that Robert had died. I did not go to his funeral, I did not cry, I did not care.
Maybe. But here’s what I think. When Robert slammed that truck into my mother’s head I saw who and what was important. He alone was responsible for his actions and he alone killed the love in me when he hit my mother.
Damn this is a really cheerful Christmas story eh?
Well, I said it would turn out OK and it did. The very next Christmas after Robert hit my mom he did not show up. Instead it was just my mother, my sister and me for the first time and it was great. Simply GREAT.
That Christmas I started to really to embrace the reason for Christmas, not the toys not the food but the love of those who loved me.
So, I say to that young lady I met in the airport- I know that you are having a tough time but try and remember this; YOU don’t have the problem, others do. Find that someone in your life who loves you for you. Don’t try and please those who would take advantage of your love. When you grow up I guarantee they will regret what they put you through.
How do I feel now? Every Christmas I imagine I get another call from Robert. This time I cry and take the call. I tell him I love and forgive him.
Because it’s Christmas.
Michael Davis is a comics creator and the founder of the Guardian Line series of comics as well as being a television producer and writer. He was a co-founder of Milestone Comics and his artwork has appeared in Wasteland, Green Arrow: Shado, Green Hornet and The Question, among others.