Truth in Red

Lauren Lubas

 

 

“Between seven and eleven, life is full of dulling and forgetting.  It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse.  As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armor themselves against wonder"

—Leonard Cohen

 

In kindergarten, I fell madly in love with a boy named Justin Frizzell. I wasn’t sure how to get him to love me back, so I started doing everything that he did. I copied off of his worksheets, knowing that some of the answers were wrong, but deciding that it was for the best considering we’d have something to talk about when the checkmarks came.

 

When young Amy Smith asked him what his favorite color was, he answered without raising his head to look at her, “Red”. Immediately red had a much stronger appeal to me. I wanted everything to be red. It was bright, and alive, and Justin Frizzel loved that color.

 

* * *

 

Two years later (but still during a time when there was snow on Christmas day and my brother and I would sit on the radiators to warm up in the drafty house) I dumped my stocking onto the dining room table and began counting.

 

Somewhere short of 52, I stopped to put one of the dubble bubbles in my mouth. The anticipation of reaching 100…scratch that, 99 became overwhelming.

 

My sister, Julie, sat next to me, pouting. With my counting, I hardly noticed her silence.

 

“Ninety-five, ninety-six…HEY!” I had reached ninety-six; ninety-seven including the one in my mouth.

 

“That’s no fair!” I yelped. “The bag says there’s a hundred pieces…Mommy!!!”

 

My sister grumbled under her breath, and for the first time since my counting began, I acknowledged her existence.

 

“Wassa madder?” I asked.

 

“Psh, Santa really jipped us this year.” She said matter-of-factly.

 

Five years my senior, I wholeheartedly believed Julie’s intelligence to be far superior to my own. This revelation sparked my interest. I turned to my mother. “Mommy?”

 

“Yes dear?” Her voice was quiet, almost defeated, a cup of coffee in one hand, a Salem full-flavor in the other.

 

“Why does some years Santa brings us a whole lot of stuff, but this year we only get a bag of dubble bubble?”

 

My mother thought intently for only half a second. And with no other option of explanation, she settled on telling me as much of the truth as possible without breaking my heart. “Because, baby, I didn’t have a lot of money this year.”

 

Forty questions raised simultaneously in my head. But I only asked one. “But doesn’t Santa buy the stuff and then bring it to us?”

 

“Well, yes, honey, but I have to pay Santa back.”

 

My entire face nearly imploded in confusion. “Well, I think Santa is just a big buttface.”

 

* * *

 

Somewhere in my mind, a scenario played out. Santa was pounding on the front door. And when my mother opened it, he presented an empty hand, palm up in greed. My mother shuffled through her purse, counting pennies. Santa grew impatient, and began tapping his buckled boot.

 

“Will you take a check?” my mother asked nervously.

 

Santa scoffed, rolled his eyes and agreed.

 

After the check was signed, as the ink was soaking into it, Santa snatched it from my mother’s hand, gobbled down the cookies we had made him, washed it down with milk and pocketed the carrots we left for the reindeer. He threw a walmart bag to the floor; it contained six 100 count bags of dubble bubble.

 

My mother fluffed the bags, and inserted them into our stockings. She made herself a pot of coffee and lit a cigarette.

 

* * *

 

The faster the thoughts came to my head, the more I hated Santa. I hated everything about him. His stupid reindeer, his fat stomach, I hated jelly because Santa shook like a bowl of it. I hated rosy cheeks, and sacks of presents. I hated sitting on laps, and Christmas and the crappy-ass stuffed animal he gave me every year. Mostly, however, I hated the color red. I hated sleighs, and red wrapping paper, and the stripes on candy-canes. I hated apples and coughdrops and cherry lifesavers and the backs of our stockings; and I hated Justin Frizzell for loving the color red.

 

* * *

 

It’s a lie we tell all children, and expect them to understand when they grow older. The magic in belief is what separates them from the coffee and Salems that keep adults going. Magic and belief is a child’s vice, and when that addiction is overcome, we turn to new outlets and fillers for the void. Our mothers are supposed to uphold this lie until we learn from school friends that Santa doesn’t really exist. My mother delivered to me, more truth than any mother could have; for even after learning the truth about Santa, I still knew my mother had to pay for everything we had. Although, hating Santa made it very relieving to hear that he didn’t exist.

 

When my sister couldn’t afford to buy her children Christmas gifts one year, I told my twelve-year-old niece that Santa couldn’t get past the snow plows, but he gave me a check to buy her and her brother some clothes.

 

“But Santa made it to my Dad’s house, and there was lots of snow there too.” She replied.

 

“Well, dear,” I began, “Santa’s just a big bastard, what can I say?”

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