After all was said and done—as all the broken dishes, broken Christmas decorations, and all the broken hearts lay in shards in the middle of the kitchen floor—it seemed Johanna herself was finally broken. Her outburst of ruthless accusations and hysterical excuses were at an end. She sat exhausted in the corner of the living room staring out the picture window.
The shock of what had transpired was unmistakable. Johanna’s mother, brother and sister-in-law silently cleaned up, avoiding making eye contact. Johanna’s father made his way out into the backyard where Johanna’s eldest brother had escaped at the onset of her explosion, ostensibly to supervise the children. The children, by contrast, happily romped, chasing after each other and laughing, still wound up with the excitement of Christmas, completely unaware of most of the histrionics that transpired inside.
Johanna watched her brother finish setting up the circus play set the Baby Jesus and Reindeer Vixen gave all the grandchildren; “For when you visit Grammy and Grumpy,” the card read in a contrived child’s hand. All children in Johanna’s family, young or old, received Christmas gifts from either the Baby Jesus or Santa’s Reindeer Vixen. Big gifts came from both. Baby Jesus’ handwriting hasn’t improved in all these years, a grown son kidded his mother. Well, honey, he’s just a baby. Wonder he can write at all, she kidded back. Johanna loathed the absurdity of it all.
One of the younger children ran into the house holding a small, brightly colored box with a handle on one side. Look! the child screeched, shattering the charged silence. He hugged the box to his chest and turned the handle with all the brute force of a four year-old. A nursery rhyme haltingly played on an out-of-tune metal harp until the lid of the box popped open and a large plush bird with bugged-out eyes sprung up. The child laughed, shoving the toy back into the box. I’ll do it again! The child’s mother stepped out from the kitchen to escort the child back outside.
Johanna abruptly stood. Her family froze, bracing themselves for whatever might come next. She gathered up her purse and coat, walked over to her mother and gave her a rough kiss on her cheek. Then she walked out the door.
As she reached her car, her father called after her. She turned to shoot him a look of warning.
“Dad, just leave me…”
“Shut up,” her father snapped. Usually the diplomat, her father’s harsh scold caught Johanna by surprise. He walked up to her and leaned into her face.
“What you did today really cut deep,” he said in an angry whisper, “and I am not going to put up with your bullshit anymore, little girl. That’s it. I mean it. I really have had it with you.”
“Whatever.” Johanna opened her car door, but her father yanked her aside and slammed it shut.
“Get this and get it loud and clear: You’re done.” His face was flushed. His eyes were as furious as Johanna had ever seen them. “You drive away, and you don’t come back, ever,” he said pointing down the driveway. “You don’t call with one of your hysterical pleas to bail you out of whatever goddamned mess you’re in. That goes for your brothers as well. I do not want you dumping your shit on them, ever again. I’m telling them to cut you out. From here on out, you wallow in your own stinking shit, and when you need help, because you always need help, always complaining, always making a mess of your life, then get it together and fucking figure it out, baby girl. Just like everyone else in the world who ever had to get themselves out of a jam. This is really it.”
He yanked open her car door and shoved her toward it. “Get in and get gone!”
Shaking, Johanna watched as her father walked back to the house. Her eldest brother stood at the front door also watching his father. He did not acknowledge her. He gave his father a pat on the shoulder and followed him into the house.
Tears fell down Johanna’s cheeks as she turned over the engine. She put the car in reverse and backed out the driveway. As she returned her focus forward, she saw one of her nieces standing in the driveway, waving goodbye, a large smile across her face.
Not the most cheerful piece, but dedicated nevertheless to my constant companion of 18 years, Iona Cat Named Skipper. But I just called her Kitty. Hope your heaven is full of tall ficus trees you can climb to your heart’s content and strip bare of every leaf. May giant buckets of rotisserie chicken just be sitting there, waiting for you, whenever you please. Hope you have yourself many a happy, thoroughly destructive, clawings on the biggest couches you ever saw, and long naps on a plush window sill lounge under a hot summer sun. I hope you find a friend with whom you can snuggle. Miss you forever, kiddo.