I’vealways gone overboard on the holidays, trying to make every holiday special formy daughter even if it was just going to be the two of us. After getting sickI’ve had a harder time being “extra” and each year it gets harder.Last year Eilish wasn’t coming home until the day after Christmas (firstholiday we weren’t together in her life) so I didn’t even put up a singleChristmas decoration and honestly wasn’t going to do it this year but last yearshe had a horrible holiday and I got a little motivation from five Christmasangels. I realize now why I’ve always been that crazy on the holidays (I oncebought a pony, put a red ribbon on it and tied it the the front porch) becausemine as a child weren’t always great. I’m the adult child of an addict, Ireally don’t remember a lot about him and honestly I tend to remember the goodstuff but holidays are to forget especially if they were really good or reallybad. My father was fun to be around and I won’t tell you everything becausesome of the things are better left in the past.
Now I’ll give you some insight into whereI get my at times twisted humor. It was Christmas Eve, I have a crazy memory,and we were all downstairs because that’s where the bar was and we are Irish.People were just coming so there weren’t a lot of people yet, I was obsessedwith the Wizard of Oz and my dad did not like his Aunt Anne at all so this“prank” was a twofer. I didn’t really know her, she was cold and so stern itencompassed everything about her from the way she looked to the way she walked.For a young kid she was scary. Before she got there my dad started to tell meshe was the wicked witch and if I did anything to upset her she’d take my dogBrandy, a beautiful Irish setter. We were in the basement, he was tapping thekeg at the bar in the basement and I kept telling him ‘no she’s not’. This is aman that six months earlier tricked me into eating chocolate coveredgrasshoppers and ants. Then she walks in, tall with a large nose and skeletal,she looked exactly like the Wicked Witch.
Aunt Anne never smiled, at least I neversaw her smile and when she looked at you, you felt like you did something wrong.She made my dads job of convincing me extremely easy. I was terrified, my momsaid he was teasing me but I didn’t believe her after all Anne looked exactlylike her and I was very young. I’ve told this story for years and it alwaysmakes me laugh but today see how cruel this “joke” was. I spent most of that night sitting under my grandpasbar stool watching her to make sure she didn’t steal my dog. I’ve done thisstuff to people including my own daughter but I shut it down quickly so we canall have a laugh, he never told me. While I wasn’t damaged or hurt by this shewas. I wouldn’t talk to her, I’d run out of the room and while we never reallysaw her I never gave her a chance. The worst Christmas as a kid was the lastChristmas I would ever celebrate with him.
I remember everything about that ChristmasEve like it happened yesterday, I was at the top of the stairs and mygrandparents (my mom’s parents) and my grandmother was frantic, which wasn’toverly alarming for her. What was alarming was how quite my grandfather was, healways entered a room and filled it with warmth but not this day. Mygrandmother started to talk loudly and my grandfather looked at me and told herto be quite. Again something I never saw him do. I was in the fourth grade so Iwas more aware of my surroundings, I noticed body language and knew somethingwas very wrong. My sister and I were sent to the basement to watch TV by mygrandfather, again something he never did. We were his world, he couldn’t getenough of us. I tried to eavesdrop butall I heard was a single word in several sentence, ambulance, stretcher, dead, whitesheet, cops and side if the road. Now I’m beginning to panic and I run upstairs‘who’s dead, is my dad dead?’ All theytold me was my dads fine but he might not come home today. My poor mom had tostill host the entire family for Christmas Eve. She put a smile on her facetelling people he got in a car accident but he’s ok. He showed up after dinnerwith a cast and loudly talking about this accident. ‘The police know it was herfault’, she pulled out in front of him. She didn’t die but I believe she wasparalyzed.
This was the first time I saw a man thatwas drunk, he drank all of the time but this was the first time I saw him thatway. He was manic as he talked about it and it was scary. He went to rehabafter that but the day he came back I saw him pouring vodka into his ice tea.He gave $10 to keep my mouth shut. By the following Christmas my parents weredivorced. I think I called him because I hadn’t seen him in months and we madeplans, he would pick me up the day after Christmas. I waited all day in mygrandparent’s front yard jumping every time I heard a car turn down the streetmy heart would swell but none of them were him. He never came.
Thereis always this minuscule feeling if impending doom on Christmas Eve and eightyears ago I got the call from the doctor. She had gotten all of the resultsfrom my tests, blood work, MRI and three phase bone scan, the bone scan showeda lot of uptake in my shoulder and clavicle. It was official, it was definitiveI had CRPS. She was a bit urgent saying she has already called the top doctorfor this at WashU and I needed to immediately call them to set up theappointment. Today I can see the picture clearer and I see why I’ve always beenso ridiculous about Christmas for my daughter. I promised her the day they puther in my arms that I would protect her, I would make sure she had a good lifefull of love. Although she’s never had to endure what I did with my father Idid watch her suffer the loss of an absentee father but some how I managed togive her something I never had, the truth. It’s not her fault, she deservesbetter and this won’t be her loss in.
Thomas Wayne Byrom died the end of June in 1998, a month after I graduated High School.