Accept an invitation to your parents’ home for Christmas breakfast, knowing your marriage is about to impact a cinderblock wall. It will fuel the ride and give you witnesses to boot. Use passive/aggressive techniques to lob subtle accusations in the general vicinity of the antique chandelier and then act victimized when they come barreling back at you. Say, “See, Mom, Dad—this is how it is.”
Once you’ve goaded your husband into making a spectacle of himself, launch into your own tirade. Tell your parents how Trace never helps at home, is always out with his friends, and blows what little money he makes on selfish pursuits.
Don’t tell your dad you rushed marriage to escape his overbearing personality. Don’t tell your mom, you resent her mousiness. Instead, ask for the eggs.
When too much has been said, and the silence swallows the gathering, prepare yourself for your announcement. Pull your shoulders back and modulate your voice. Don’t cry. Say, “I’m leaving Trace and would like to move back home.” Pepper your gravy.
Be gracious when your parents excuse themselves. Ignore any guilt which threatens your throat and definitely ignore him.
Lean back with your coffee when your parents return. Act impervious to pain—a glance over your shoulder with a raised chin should do it—when your father says,”Pearl, we’ve raised you the best we knew how and have done all we can for you. You’re a grown woman and you can’t come running home. But Trace, here is still a boy. We haven’t done everything we can for him. He’ll move in with us, and I’ll teach him tile work. There’ll be church and rules. We’ll give it one year—no more, no less—if he’s willing.”
Try to keep your lofty chin from dropping when Trace accepts.
Wander your apartment for weeks—wondering what went wrong—before signing up for business classes. It’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t because your father encouraged it. Stubbornly, stay away from your family the entire year.
Wake up early Christmas morning because you just can’t help it. Get dressed in at least somewhat matching clothes, and pray to God you don’t poke your eyes out applying mascara. Don’t run yellow lights. Use your hip to prop your enormous box of gifts as you let yourself into your childhood home. Leave any remnants of pride at the threshold. Don’t cry.
Find your mother in the kitchen. Kiss her cheek and tell her how good everything smells. Note her sorrow when she says, “It was my idea, not your father’s.” You don’t have time to dwell on this because you notice your father coming through the back door with an armload of wood he takes to the fireplace. It strikes you that everyone carries a weight.
You hear your mother tap the floor as she says, “Trace designed this.”
You crane your head around your box and see a work of art. Overall, there's a diamond pattern made of a bluish-gray slate, but in the corners of random tiles, there are miniature mosaics made of pewter stones forming fish and Bible references. A tremor migrates across your abdomen. You’re grateful when your father lifts your burden and kisses your cheek. Cherish his “Merry Christmas”—it could be his last.
You recognize the steps coming up from the root cellar. But you’re hard-pressed to recognize the man. Trace has filled out. His forearms look incredibly strong extended beneath his rolled shirt-cuffs. His smirk is gone. He says, “Here’re the potatoes, Mom.” Your mother pats his shoulder, and your parents excuse themselves for the second Christmas in a row, and again, you are mute.
But this Christmas he has a voice.
“You’re wearing fuzzy slippers.”
You look down at your feet and nod. You say, “This tile work is beautiful.”
“Dad wants me to take over—if I can get the business end under my belt.”
This you must ponder later, because now you have to ask the one question that’s been burning in your heart for a year.
“What made you accept my father’s offer?”
“I don’t know,” you hear him say. “I didn’t mean to, really—but then it hit me. Somebody wants me. And I heard myself agree.”
You don’t need to stem the tears butting up behind your eyes.
These you may let fall. Your father has taught him to carry a handkerchief.
You will never forget this Christmas.
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