A Christmas Peril
I grew up in a house with my grandmother, so every Christmas there were a lot of people around. Traditionally an aunt or two would spend the night, and when the kids were sent to bed, all of the adults would prep the gifts and set everything up for the next day. The last of the food would be prepared, the tree would be lit, and then, well, I never got to see the rest.
One of my aunts loved to tease people, and I was a sensitive kid, so she was on me for many years. One Christmas Eve, she spent the night at our house and started in on me early with suggestions that I wouldn't be getting anything this year, followed by descriptions of what my cousin (her son) would be getting. Then she tried to come up with some nicknames for me. Peanuthead, Crybaby, Gunboats, and Wheezy (I had asthma) were the standouts. They didn't take, but when you're young and lacking comebacks, it's the intent that really bothers you.
When I lay down to sleep that night I was relieved to get away from her merciless taunts, and since I was 11 (and already knew the truth about Santa Claus), it wasn't as hard to start drifting off as it was for younger kids. Just as I was reaching that sweet spot before sleep, my room erupted into a blaze of light. I looked up and with blurry sleep-heavy eyes saw my aunt standing in the doorway with her hand on the light switch. I'm not sure if she said anything--the whole incident is a haze--but what I do recall is that my hand slowly rose from under the covers with the middle finger as its sole representative.
As it hung out there I realized what I was doing and sleepiness fell away. I looked at her and then at my finger. "Oh yeah?" she said and went downstairs. Undoubtedly she was going to tell my parents what I had done and my life would be over. I started to review my life up to that point. Though generally a good child, I had been beaten (or spanked) and punished in other ways. For this offense I imagined the only thing that could suffice was the burning of all my presents and my expulsion from my home to live life as a shoeless beggar. I wondered if my mother would rip the offending finger off? Perhaps they would take turns beating me with sticks?
The middle finger! I gave my aunt the middle finger--on Christmas Eve, no less. Maybe I could say I was possessed. I had to be. I had never even defied an adult on a small scale up to that point. How could I have done this? Why didn't my other fingers try to protect me, like friends holding someone back from a fight? If one more had aroused itself, I could have made a peace sign, but instead I was going to die on Christmas Eve.
Then I heard the worst sound I've ever known, my mother coming upstairs. I prayed to God and Mr. T because I knew it would take both of them to save me. I wondered what death felt like, if Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat would ever recover from that bell wound to the throat, and if I were a Jedi would I be able to save my life? As she neared the door my mouth went dry, my hands gripped the covers, and I wished for a quick death. I contemplated peeing on myself but remembered that when I died my body would take care of that anyway.
My mother opened the door and said something I will never forget: "I know she teases you, but next time don't do something like that. Go on to sleep." She hadn't breathed fire. I wasn't dead. I wasn't even in trouble. I would get to open my Christmas presents. I thanked God (and Mr. T) and went to sleep.
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