I was about six or seven.
Our halls were decked.
That unquellable anxiety resonating from the pit of my stomach made me feel like I was at the top of a roller-coaster, about to roll over the edge.
By that age, Christmas had completely taken over my waking hours.
Everything else was irrelevant.
The fresh cut pine tree permeated the house, slipping into every nook and cranny of our three bedroom ranch style chunk of suburbia. The cold, crisp winter landscape stood outside, fogging up the windows as it stared longingly into our warm living room.
I had never seen so many presents in one place in my entire life—and Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet.
Though by then I was skeptical at best of the fat man’s existence. I was pretty much just playing along to keep my parents happy. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for them, or lose out on any potential presents, just in case I was wrong.
Just a few days before Christmas, we heard a noise coming from the pile of gifts—it would seem a creature was stirring.
We were sitting at the kitchen table in our long underwear when we heard it, drinking hot coco and thawing out, celebrating the completion of another snowman to stand guard over our backyard.
I had shed the numerous layers of sweaters, coats, mufflers and mittens—my moon boots sat over a heating vent and my stocking cap was laying by the window next to my three pairs of socks, and two plastic sandwich baggies, drying.
My mom always put sandwich bags on our feet before the boots in a futile attempt to keep us dry, but there was nary a spot left on our bodies that wasn’t soaking wet from melted snow by the time we returned indoors.
As we sipped our coco and took turns staring out the window to marvel at our handy work, a strange voice called out to us.
“Help! Let me out of Here! Help!”
My father, always one to jump head first into the Christmas spirit, was playing with his new toy, a Panasonic tape recorder—the type you had to press the play and record buttons down simultaneously to record. He had placed it under the presents as a fun little joke, to get us excited about Christmas—as if we needed help.
My sister and I darted out of the kitchen, into the living room. To this very day, I can still feel the rug burns cutting through my long-johns as I slid across the carpet towards the tree.
At this point in the story, I feel I should backtrack for a moment.
Two weeks prior, in what could only be categorized as a momentary lapse in security, I plodded into my parent’s bedroom and found my mom stuffing a gigantic stuffed brown bunny into the back of her closet. She froze like a deer in the headlights for a moment, her foot on the bunny’s head, before saying,
“It’s for your sister. It’ll be our little secret.”
I nodded my head complacently, wondering quietly what the word secret meant.
And that’s why, as my sister and I danced around the tree, giddy with curiosity while my dad stood with his arm around my Mom’s shoulder, basking in Christmas spirit, I said,
“It must be that big brown fuzzy bunny that mommy got you!”
Everyone froze momentarily as my exclamation was processed.
This was the first in a long line of metaphorical cats let out of many, many bags.
My sister wasn’t sure if she should be excited, or upset that her Christmas morning had been ruined as she stood there, exchanging glances with the presents under the tree and my parents, their facial expressions morphing into what can only be described as the “Dammit” face.
If there was indeed a Santa Claus, I had just made his naughty list.
I still can’t keep a secret, and have yet to find my way off that damned list. I could B-B-Q for the next ten summers with all the lumps of coal I’ve earned.