Friday, December 14, 2012
"Dat's a Chawwy Bwown twee!" the little girl said smiling as her mother carried her to bed.
"Yes, honey, it is," Lori replied to three year old Susannah. Lori was glad that her daughter was only repeating what she had heard Lori say, but she was troubled by the truth of it. It hurt that her child's Christmas was nothing like those she had known growing up as one of Emily Sullivan's daughters. Her father, Carl, made a big show of it, but that's all it ever was. . . . Just another episode of the grand spectacle that was Carl Sullivan's life. Her mother, though, did all she could to make Christmas special and memorable.
Money was no problem in the Sullivan household. Emily tried to raise Lori and her big sister, Laura, to be appreciative of what they had. She wanted to give them a good Christmas without being exorbitant or showy. Carl, on the other hand, was all about the show. It had nothing to do with "look at what you got" and everything to do with "look at what I got you."
Laura pretty much ate it up. And by the time she had grown into her teens, she knew well that the more she fed her father's ego, the more he did to ensure that she maintained her social standing. Laura either ignored or failed to see the reality of her relationship with her father. Lori, on the other hand, never bought into Carl's attempts to bring attention to himself by spoiling his daughters. As a result, Laura attained and held "favorite daughter" status to this very day, her one great transgression never spoken of, but always held before her. Lori harbored no ill feelings for Laura. She loved her sister and felt sorry for her. Laura never really had her own life. Her bid to please her father had cost Laura in ways she did not yet understand herself. And, it had cost others as well.
Lori was not so much a victim of Carl and Laura's relationship as she was her own disdain for him. What she knew about Carl, but could not reveal, had placed a barrier between them when she was only thirteen years old. Now twenty, she was unrecognizable as Carl's daughter in that she carried none of the trappings that went with being a Sullivan . . . especially at Christmastime.
The apartment in Tupelo was small and sparsely furnished. Two scratchy Christmas albums provided all the Christmas entertainment they had. Their television had gone out months earlier and Davey, despite his repeated promises, had not taken it to the repair shop yet. Lori missed the Christmas specials she had grown up watching. She did her best at baking cookies and a cake, but it was not the same as the sideboard full of deserts she and Laura and their mother had prepared together every year.
Her little artificial "Charley Brown Tree", found in the Mission Store, lacked everything, including sincerity. At least Charley Brown's tree had that much! A string of lights did little to brighten and highlight the few cheap ornaments she could afford. Presents under the tree included three for Susannah; one each from Laura and Emily, and one from Lori. And then there was one for Davey from Lori. Lori had one each from Laura and Emily, but nothing from Davey. "I'm bringing you something special when I get off the road," he had declared. Thinking of it, Lori shook her head sadly. It would not materialize. It never did with Davey.
Marrying Davey was a bigger mistake than her brief marriage to Tim had been. Now, pregnant with Davey's child, Lori felt trapped in a marriage that was not working and never would. For one thing, Davey was gone most of the time. He was a truck driver and he took every load he could get. Holidays with the family meant little to him . . . even Christmas, apparently. "Gotta bring in that money," he would always say. Somehow, Lori rarely saw any of it.
She had gone to work as a cashier in a grocery store to make sure as many as possible of the bills were paid. It took all she earned and more to keep the household going. She could make more waiting tables she knew, but she needed to be at home with Susannah at night. Even then, there were often late nights at the store.
So, here she was, alone, having put her very excited daughter to bed. She was having second thoughts about refusing Laura's invitation to come down to Dover and spend Christmas with her and Clint and Emmy. True, she had to work until six that very evening, and she was supposed to be back on the job early on the twenty-sixth. She could have worked something out had she tried. She suddenly felt very guilty. Her pride was keeping Susannah from having a great Christmas. Carl would ignore them at best, but Laura and their mother would have made it very special.
"Bad decisions," she muttered to herself. "My life is just a string of bad decisions."
Thinking back to Davey, she was instantly hit by that ever present awareness. He didn't love her. Not really. But then, she didn't love him either. It was something they both entered into without much thought. The difference was that she stayed faithful to Davey. She had doubts that he did the same. The baby she now carried was unplanned. The effect of her own mistakes was ever-expanding in its intrusion into other lives . . . lives of those most important to her.
Lori knew that marriage would not work for her. Tim was a "have to" situation. They had made the wrong choice, which left them with no choice. Davey was a cute charmer. It was as if he and Lori each thought they could make a proper mate of the other. It was soon evident that no such change was to be made by either for the sake of the other. And then, always with her, was the one constant of her life, . . . Ray.
Her heart belonged to Ray. For as long as she could remember it had been Ray, but he didn't know. He didn't know then . . . and he didn't know now. He never would or could know. Lori had last seen him seven years before. It was at her home, in Dover, where she lived with her parents and sister. Ray was in handcuffs being helped into the back seat of a deputy sheriff's car. She couldn't hope to see him for another thirty-three years, if then. There certainly was no reason for her to be on Ray's list of people to look up when he got out.
Four decades is a long time to a twenty year old. And waiting for Ray Bennett to be released from Parchman Penitentiary and fall in love with her was not much of a plan for her future, Lori knew. But then, neither did marrying someone just because she needed a husband. Her own future appeared to Lori to be no more than a crystal clear reflection of her past. She had to do better. With a three year old and another child on the way, she knew she must make a good, stable home for for them. She could do that. After all, hadn't her own mother done pretty much the same thing? Well, the immediate future meant giving Susannah the best Christmas she could. So tomorrow was her little girl's day!
Tonight? Tonight was just another lonely Christmas Eve. She would sleep in hopes of a dream that she could in no way imagine coming true. And as unlikely as it already was, her own decisions, again, had made it an undeniably impossible dream. She felt a sadness, as well as no small amount of disgust with herself, that she could not muster up the desire to dream of her husband. Lori sighed and pulled up a blanket to warm herself as she lay on the couch for a nap. The few things Santa Claus was to leave for Susannah would be laid out later. She gazed at the lights on the tree and they blurred through her tears. Elvis sang "Blue Christmas" on the stereo.
"Merry Christmas, Ray," she whispered.