Christmas time is supposed to be full of cheer, good food, and goodwill toward men. For Tabitha and me, Christmas time… well, let’s just say it isn’t our favorite holiday. Each year we put on a pleasant, smiling, cheerful face for our spouses and our kids, but Tabby and I both hate it with a passion. Especially now, but I guess I’m thankful that we’re old now and it won’t matter much longer.
My earliest memories of Christmas are from age three. I don’t remember much other than receiving a brand new gaming console that I had to share with my sister Tabby, who is a year older than me. The gaming console was nowhere near as memorable as my fully animatronic Professor Puzzleton doll. And not just the small doll without all the goodies. Santa must have known I was a good boy by the fact my Professor Puzzleton was the full-sized four foot tall version, complete with computer software to interact with and upgrade the professor’s abilities, along with a full year’s supply of board games, coloring books, and sing-a-long activities.
My father, Jason Gould, was a realtor at the time, and by my third Christmas he was earning more than mom. Rochelle Gould, my mother, worked as a financial analyst for one of the largest banks in the world, and from what she and Dad told me later, was bringing home six figures per year in salary alone. With bonuses… let’s just say that between the two of them, Tabitha and Avery Gould were spoiled little shits—but to be honest, so were Mom and Dad.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with living in a six thousand square foot mini-mansion and being dropped off at elementary school in a $140,000 Mercedes or a $125,000 BMW SUV. Once in a while it was Dad’s fully restored 1969 Dodge Superbee. He once told me he spent almost as much restoring it as he did on his Mercedes. We didn’t have servants, but I don’t remember Mom ever spending more than a few minutes actually cleaning anything other than the dishes after dinner. I barely remember Anita and Devonne, our regular housekeepers who showed up twice per week to do the chores none of us wanted to bother with.
Beyond our giant house was the sixteen acres of property Tabby, me, and our friends spent every possible moment exploring. Since our house was nestled within the northern foothills surrounding Boise and our “subdivision” only contained four other residences—two of them only used a couple weeks per year by their even wealthier owners who lived somewhere back east—there was plenty of “wild” areas that contained trees, creeks, and plenty of wild animals. My parents told me when I was two that I cried for days when a mountain lion had made its way down into our valley and I wasn’t allowed outside until Fish & Game caught it.
I suppose what I’m getting at with all this is that we were what I would call rich. Back then, we were considered wealthy, but in my sixty-plus years on this planet I’ve learned that rich and wealthy are two very different subjects. We were rich thanks to the housing bubble in the mid-2000’s that had homes selling for three, sometimes five time their true value. Mom was making a killing with her bonuses by the fact that she helped her bank get into the mortgage lending business with a furor. Dad made a killing by the fact that it seemed everyone and anyone was willing to spend a ton of money to get in on the real estate boom.
My fourth Christmas was even better, but maybe that’s because I have a firmer grip on those early childhood memories. Professor Puzzleton was still my favorite toy, but Santa showed up with Doctor Knowington, who was able to communicate wirelessly and work in tandem with the professor. It was like having two best friends in the entire world who were (according to age three and four Avery Gould) almost better than real friends. Tabby made fun of me for being a little kid, but she didn’t have much room to talk with her girly games about ponies, dolls, and sparkling stickers.
That Christmas was the first time I’d ever eaten prime rib, lobster, and halibut. Anita and Devonne always made us Thanksgiving turkey dinners, but Mom and Dad always took us out to Jermaine’s, an expensive local restaurant that gained some fame after being featured on a popular TV show about food. I was so happy at the time. Professor Puzzleton and Doctor Knowington waited for me at home, ready to play whatever I wanted, but in the meantime, I got to eat adult food and giggle while Dad complained about how expensive it was compared to how little I ate.
Almost a month later to the day, the housing bubble burst for my father. Houses that were selling almost daily at $300,000 or more suddenly couldn’t be sold for any reasonable offer. Reasonable offers quickly dipped into the $200,000 range, and when that didn’t work, they fell into the mid-$150,000 range. And still no houses were sold. In February, Dad sold three houses. By March, he was down to one. By the end of May, he hadn’t sold a house in almost six weeks.
Things were just as bad for Mom as well. When the bubble burst, her bank was left holding a ton of debt and few homeowners were able to pay their monthly mortgage in full. By March, her bank was sitting on a few billion dollars’ worth of bundled mortgages while the country was littered with For Sale signs along with entire neighborhoods nothing more than creepy modern ghost towns. Her bonuses were gone her salary had ballooned into untenable territory along with all the rest of her department, which of course was held responsible by the Board of Directors. She and seventeen hundred others were let go in a single day, including the CEO, CFO, and a dozen Vice Presidents of this or that department.
By July, Jason and Rochelle Gould were living on a single salary, burning through the mediocre savings they’d accrued during the good years. By my fifth Christmas, Dad had been let go from his realty company. We were now burning through the stocks, bonds, and mutual funds after the savings were depleted. They argued a lot, which was both weird and frightening for Tabby and me, since we’d never known them to be anything but affectionate toward each other and us.
Mom snapped at me a few days before Christmas, and when Tabby became indignant and stuck up for me, she got an even bigger earful. When Dad came home, we ran to him, but Mom had already told him via text what had happened. Instead of our usual (though distant lately) loving father, we were yelled at once again and sent to bed. Tabby snuck back out later and overheard them arguing in the kitchen about selling the house now that it was too expensive. They argued more about Dad’s Dodge Superbee than anything else thanks to my father loving that car almost more than he did his wife or children.
They tried to keep up appearances at Christmas, but Tabby and I knew something was up. Not just because the presents were “worse” than the previous years either. The mood in the house was a mask of joy hiding a deep, unsettling doubt of what event might happen next to make our financial lives even worse. As far as I can remember, once I opened my presents and loaded up the Professor Puzzleton and Doctor Knowington with their new updates and programs, I paid little attention to the world around me. But we ate dinner at home that night, and without Anita or Devonne to prepare it, Mom struggled to keep her loving face glued on. The food wasn’t that bad, but Mom was miserable, and nothing we said could console her.
Trips to restaurants dried up, as did the Spring Break, Summer Break, Thanksgiving Break, and every other “Break” trips we used to go on. I’d learned to ski on mini-skis the year before up at Bogus Basin. This year, Tabby and I put our skis on and pulled each other around by a rope until we were exhausted. Just after New Years’ Day Dad came home in a used Honda Civic. It wasn’t a bad car, but it wasn’t the Mercedes. Mom’s BMW was replaced a week later with a Scion minivan. The difference between the two was so great that Tabby refused to let Mom drop her off at school for the rest of the year.
By my sixth Christmas, we’d sold the mansion and rented a home in Boise itself. Dad was barely able to pay the bills thanks to the still-depressed real estate market. Mom found a job as an accountant’s assistant and hated it. When school started a few months earlier, instead of getting to run free in the department stores and pick pretty much any clothes we wanted, we were put on a strict budget and did our shopping according to which stores had the best sales.
The icing on the insult cake came during Christmas day when Tabby and I each only had two presents under the dwarf tree that Dad had talked someone into selling for $12—something he took immense pride in for some reason and spent plenty of time bragging about even when no one wanted to talk about it. But the insult was from the two presents each that turned out to be more clothes. I got a big package of white socks and a winter coat. Dad made me try the coat on while Mom explained that we’d run out of money during clothes shopping and had to wait to buy them.
Mom had spent the day drinking wine by the glass, and by the time I stood in the living room with tears desperately holding themselves in while Dad adjusted my new coat, she was completely drunk. She had already begun making me nervous by afternoon because of her words slurring once in a while and the few times she stumbled around the kitchen while trying to make Christmas dinner. By evening, she was loud, accusatory, and interrupted everyone to get a word in.
Then came the apologies. Then the tears. Then the venom. She was so mean to Tabby that my sister stood up and screamed in her face. Before Mom could do more than open her eyes wide, Tabby stomped off to her room and slammed the door. Mom tried to follow her but Dad held her. He had to drag her into the kitchen after she started yelling at me, telling me how she hadn’t even wanted a second child. I ran to my bedroom and cried until Dad came in later and told me whatever it is that parents tell children to make them feel better. All I remember is that it had to do with our financial situation, which was dire and getting worse.
Instead of accepting that our lives had changed and all we could do was our best to ride it out, Tabitha and I became monsters. I didn’t think so at the time, but looking back, we were the worst kind of spoiled brats. I don’t even blame our parents for spoiling us to the point that the only outcome possible was to grow into evil little trolls who blamed Mommy and Daddy for everything. Sure, instead of teaching us how to behave properly they placated us with a new toy, a new gift, whatever it took to shut us up or calm us down. Or make us happy.
As an old man, I understand completely why we were such terrible little shits. The old phrase “taking candy from a baby” has always made too much sense to me once I grew up and learned how the world really works. Except instead of us doing the taking, Tabby and I were the babies and our parents were stealing our candy.
We spent the next few years downsizing even more as a family, while Tabby and I ramped up our reign of terror. I refused to give either of my parents any messages whenever a client would stop by the house to speak to them while they were at work. Tabby took scissors to all the mail that wasn’t easily spotted as advertisements. Dad flipped out one day after receiving a call from the credit card company accusing him and Mom of not paying their bill for two months in a row. That was just one of many nightmares Tabby caused with her mail purge.
I took Mom’s good knives and hacked the blades together, then took them outside and cut down pretty much any plant or small tree I could find. I didn’t bother taking them back in the house and Mom didn’t notice until the next day. When she found them, instead of yelling at me she drove to the store and bought four bottles of wine and a cheap replacement set of knives from the Dollar Store next to the liquor outlet.
By my eighth Christmas, we were stuffed into a two-bedroom apartment in Garden City—and no, it was about as much of a “garden city” as New Jersey is a “garden state.” Mom and Dad were sharing the single car we had left, a ten year old Ford with a big dent in the passenger door that made it hard to open on cold days. Dad was working part-time at a hardware chain while Mom was barely hanging on to three clients she did accounting for. She’d been fired from her job thanks to her drinking, and two of her three clients were old friends from college who felt sorry for us and our dip into poverty.
Our clothes were itchy, our shoes were old, our school supplies were the cheapest items Wal-Mart carried on clearance, and our lives were absolutely miserable. Dad spent that Christmas in his bedroom, refusing to come out even for dinner. Mom kept it together as much as she could during dinner, but near the end she started in on us about every little thing wrong with our lives. Then everything wrong with her life.
By the next year, after moving once again to an even smaller apartment, with only Mom working and one barely functional used car between them, Tabby and I had graduated to demonhood. We were mouthy, brooding little terrors who acted like teenagers in the midst of puberty instead of eight and nine year old children. When Christmas came around, we got four or five presents each, and none were clothes, but they were trivial, minor things. They weren’t the new Xboxes and mobile phones and iMacs everyone else unwrapped. They weren’t the things we’d have already had as a non-xmas gift on a random day in our old life—just because Mom or Dad happened to see a commercial and knew we’d want it.
And that was the big insult. Our parents had tried to make it up to us, but to me and Tabby, it was too little too late. If there had been one good present between them, not to mention an entire week without some hardship around the house or in life thanks to our heads being barely above the water (with the promise that the economy was picking up, any time now), then maybe we wouldn’t have had a complete critical mass explosion of assholery.
We knew our parents would never hit us no matter how much they threatened to—and for the last two years those threats became ever more ominous. But one day mom did slap me across the face. I’d definitely deserved it. I told my teacher, Mrs. Elliot, to perform fellatio on me after being dared by Glenn DeZera. When my mom picked me up at school in the principal’s office, she was mortified.
That was probably more because she had to leave work since we only had one car and let everyone see her in her skimpy waitress uniform. Instead of the old days where she would show up in her BMW SUV wearing a power pantsuit and an air of superiority, she had fallen all the way down to working at Danner’s Wings—a blatant knock-off of every sports bar where the servers wore almost nothing while serving food and drinks to men who cat-called and pawed at her privates as she weaved her way through their tables. Tabby and I both heard her cry too many times during the months she worked that job. My father cried too out of frustration that both of them had fallen so far down that the hole seemed too deep to climb out of.
Mom apologized to the principal and Mrs. Elliot then led me to the car. She didn’t say anything all the way home. When she started in on me after getting inside the house, I told her to perform fellatio on me. She lost it and slapped me so hard across the face I thought I might have hearing damage—not to mention a concussion. She cried and apologized, but of course blamed me, which only pissed me off. When Tabby heard about it, she yelled at me, then went ballistic on Mom for actually hitting me. She even threatened to call Child Protective Services. Dad threatened to beat both of us to an inch of our lives, but we knew he wouldn’t dare after Tabby’s threats to turn them in to CPS.
We toned it down a little (but only a little) for a while, as some part of us knew we were maybe driving our parents to divorce—and then we’d really be in a shitty situation. But there were always blowups. Tabitha was starting puberty, which fueled her entitlement rage even further when she couldn’t have makeup, or the makeup she could have was whatever mom shared with her. Her friends were so snooty that even they would rank my mom out for her dollar store eyeshadow and such. I’m sure my mom wanted to slap Tabby like she slapped me at least fifty times in August alone.
My parents got a break from us when we went back to school in the Fall. Life was finally on a slow uptick. My father had been working as a day laborer and nights as a real estate agent again when he could take Mom to work and use the car.
Our situation was improving. We weren’t eating canned corn or cheap bread anymore. Tabby and I had new clothes and school supplies, even if they weren’t name brands. Being stuck with generic or cheap stuff like that… You don’t really understand money and finances when you’re a kid. To a kid, especially ones hitting puberty, status is everything.
Christmas that year was contentious. I wanted a new laptop and the entire Harry Potter series in hardback. Tabby wanted an expensive pair of boots that all the other girls had (Ugs or something) as well as her own iPhone. We knew we weren’t going to get any of those things, but we were kids, and knowing isn’t as important as believing.
However, Tabby and I were old enough to know that after moving once more, there wasn’t any money left for Xboxes and iPhones. At least this time we moved into a slightly nicer—but still lower middle class—house. The fact that Mom and Dad were paying a mortgage instead of rent meant our Xboxes and iPhones were lost in the down payment.
Mom and Dad surprised us though by dropping hints that Santa was definitely bringing such gifts to us at Christmas. We scoffed and made fun of them both openly and behind their backs. Santa was a joke, and we’d stopped believing in Santa years ago. All it did was make us hate the idea of him since we never got good presents. Each year there was more resentment, especially when our parents kept up the fake nonsense.
Instead of being good kids and hoping for the best, we turned up our brat meters to eleven, then to one hundred. Tabby was ace at cursing, which meant I was almost as good at it since she taught me everything she knew. She’d begun slipping in minor curse words for the last few months, shoving away from the table in disgust whenever Mom or Dad yelled at her for such bad language from a ten year old girl. I always looked shocked that she was brave enough to say such things in front of our parents, which led to Mom or Dad explaining that whatever my sister was going through I would be joining her soon.
I asked Tabby about it one night. She lifted her shirt and showed me her bare chest, explaining what puberty was. I almost cried after she put her shirt down. I didn’t want to grow boobs, especially if they were going to look as big as Mom’s. Tabby laughed and called me a few choice names before explaining that boys and girls go through puberty differently even if it was sort of the same thing overall. She then showed me some pictures on the internet which were gross but weirdly interesting.
I didn’t want to grow up. I saw enough of the older kids with pizza faces, and even though girls were starting to become less gross, the thought of my female classmates suddenly sprouting breasts and wanting to kiss me (or whatever disgusting things they did to men in the pictures Tabby showed me) frightened me more than being poor. Later that night, it was all I could think about. Poor Avery Gould with hand-me-down or second-hand clothing, a mother who was ogled by my classmates’ fathers when they had power lunches at Danner’s, a father so distant I barely saw him anymore… acne… pubic hair… my voice cracking… it was all too much.
We arrived at Christmas as a family in shambles, just barely holding on to the material possessions we still had, our relationships with each other fraying at the edges. Even Tabby had changed. Instead of my best friend, she was too busy with her friends who only wanted to talk about boys—and those boys never included me. She treated me like a stray dog, and when I complained to Mom and Dad, both yelled at me to grow up and leave her alone.
Christmas Eve was straight out of a silent movie. Tabby was pissed that she wasn’t allowed to hang out with her friends that night. I was pissed that Tabby was being such a bitch to me lately on top of Mom ignoring me and Dad being too busy to do more than lecture me about whatever I was doing wrong—which turned into yelling half the time.
I went to bed not even caring that Christmas was only hours away. It was just another day, another disappointment that I would rather avoid. We had our typical dinner after everyone spent the day avoiding each other. I don’t think more than ten words were exchanged at the table, our bitter resentments and woe-is-me attitudes too sharp, too fresh, the wounds of the previous years unhealed thanks to our inability to function as a loving, united family.
I woke with a start after a loud bang and a muffled scream pierced whatever dream I was having. I scrambled out of bed and met Tabitha in the hallway. Mom came rushing down the hall, the hem of her ratty robe damp and covered with snow, her face a mask of panic. She shooed us back to bed, telling me to sleep with my sister just to be safe. She was shaking and barely holding back tears.
Tabby and I were freaked out. We looked out the window, but our bedrooms faced the street, and there was nothing going on out front beyond a thick blanket of blowing snow. Tabby argued with me for almost fifteen minutes about sneaking to the kitchen to look out the window into the back yard. I was scared but the curiosity overpowered my fear. Tabby was even more scared, enough to convince me to stay curled up in bed with her. All we could talk about was the crazy, frightened look on Mom’s face.
I finally convinced her to go with me, though by then I was having second and third thoughts about it. We crept into the kitchen anyway, our fear intensifying because of how empty and silent the house felt. We looked through the window, but it was beyond dark and starting to snow even harder. All either of us could see at first was a blinding wall of white outlined in black.
I kept hearing a regular noise, a snick here and there, sometimes nothing when the wind picked up. I was pretty sure, and so was Tabby as our eyes adjusted to the dark, that Mom and Dad were in the back yard just off to the edge of view from the kitchen window. From what we could make out, it seemed like Dad was digging a hole—which was weird with a couple inches of snow on the ground and the temperature right at freezing.
I knew something was wrong. Before Tabby could stop me, I was out the back door. The blast of freezing wind and snow shocked me to the point I thought my heart would stop. My feet were instantly turned to ice and each breath was like trying to jam icicles up my nose. I did freeze, but not because of the cold.
Before me on the lawn was my mom in her robe, my father in his and holding a shovel, and Santa Claus lying on his back in a pool of blood. I didn’t believe in Santa, but the scene was just too scary, too weird. The looks on my parents’ faces made it all the more terrifying. They literally looked like they’d just murdered Santa—or a fat guy in a Santa suit with a bushy white beard and eyebrows—and were attempting to bury the body in the back yard.
Santa wasn’t just dead, like he’d had a heart attack or swallowed some poison. The snow all around him was dark red, made darker by the lack of light other than the city lights reflecting off the low clouds. Even worse were the ugly cuts on Santa’s arms, face, and his thigh, half of which looked open to the bone. There were chunks of flesh and even a bloody finger about five feet from the body, but that was nothing compared to the way Santa’s guts were wide open, intestines and all that hanging halfway out, some half-melted into the snow.
All I could think of in that fraction of a second was that my parents had finally flipped completely out after going broke and losing everything—to the point they had attacked Santa as he tried to get into our house to leave presents. Not only had they killed him, something I could see possibly as an accident since Santa’s magic maybe doesn’t work on adults very well so they somehow detected him, but they absolutely slaughtered him. It couldn’t have been an accident unless Santa had somehow fallen into a helicopter’s blades and landed in our back yard.
I heard Tabby’s feet in the snow behind me, her sharp gasp, then her high-pitched wail. I looked back and saw her as well as a thick bloody trail of snow that led from the house between two windows. I looked up and noticed the snow on the roof was the same dark black-red blood. I lost control and began to wail also.
Dad cringed as if totally guilty and caught literally red-handed, but Mom rushed to us, snatching us both up somehow and running back into the house through the sliding glass door. She was almost hysterical as she forced us back into Tabby’s room, then began babbling about how they’d heard Santa land on the roof and were waiting for him in the living room, hopeful that he’d brought the presents we wanted. When Santa told them because the recession and housing bubble bust had reached all the way up to the North Pole, he was also having hard times and so we weren’t getting but a couple of items of clothing.
Mom sobbed and sniffled and it took almost five minutes for her to tell us how she and Dad just flipped out, finally lost it and attacked Santa. He fought them off and made it to the door and outside but my father ran out after him in the back yard and pointed his pistol at the fleeing fat man on the roof. One shot brought him down off the roof but Santa… he’s magical and pretty tough. Santa fought with my dad until Mom ran out of the house with her biggest knife and began stabbing Santa, over and over. She whispered the part about how the knife got stuck in his ribs and was wrenched out of her hands. My dad somehow got the knife and instead of stabbing, just started slashing.
Pretty soon it was over and they’d realized what they had done. My father ran to the garage and grabbed a shovel, then began digging a hole while Mom dragged the body near him. That’s when we finally came running outside. Mom cried some more and begged for us to forgive her and Dad for murdering Santa Claus, but more because there would never be another Christmas for us again, even if Santa somehow came back to life or another person took up the job. She then commanded us to stay put long enough for her to let Dad know she was going to stay in the room with us while he dug the hole.
Tabby and I were out of our minds. The image of the shredded Santa, his guts and skin and such all exposed.. Blood absolutely everywhere… We were about to bed down for the night after knowing all this with one of the two persons who had committed such a grisly act. We debated on running away or calling the police but we were just too scared. Within a few minutes Mom was back and she held us tight on Tabby’s bed for a couple of hours, singing softly, but not Christmas tunes. Somehow, amazingly, Tabitha and I fell asleep.
By time we woke up, Dad was asleep. Mom forbade us to go into the backyard, but I couldn’t help myself, and sneaked to the window. I felt a little pee let go when I saw a red leg and black boot hanging out of the shallow grave my father had dug. Mom spotted me and angrily marched me up to my room, locking me in from the outside. I didn’t even know my door would do that. Tabby showed me a few years later how mom had probably used knives to keep my door wedged tightly shut, but at the time, I was almost terrified enough to break the window and run to the nearest house to report my parents. I was afraid Tabby or I might be next.
Tabby got locked in her room as well, and we weren’t let out until well after dinner. It was a somber affair and no one spoke. My father looked haggard, old, cold, and miserable. Mom looked like a zombie and a ghost had a mutated baby. By this time, I had no intention of looking out the window again. I don’t think I could take another image of Santa still not quite buried and the snow not melted and the blood coating everything.
After dinner, I went straight to my room, as did Tabby. This was our daily routine for almost two weeks until school was about to start. The day before, Mom and Dad sat us down and explained how we could never talk about what happened. Not only would they go to jail and we’d go to foster care, but we’d all probably be attacked by a mob and killed when the public found out we were the ones responsible for Santa’s demise.
Even though it was etched in my psyche by then, Tabby was still skeptical that it had really been Santa. That was, until we walked out of the house to catch the bus to school and saw the hacked, splintered remains of wood and bent skids of a winter sleigh. I didn’t get too close to it, but I knew what a harness was, and there was definitely one half-out of the trash can.
The blood spatters cemented it for us from that day forward. We weren’t angels from then on, but all of that entitled, tantrum-throwing bullshit stopped for good. We didn’t talk back to our parents or argue over chores, internet, or bedtime.
They didn’t abuse their power over us at all. In fact, they always seemed scared that we would turn them in, so while we had to do normal chores and keep our grades up and not spend all night on the internet, we weren’t turned into slave laborers or drug mules or anything like that. I’ll admit the reason I did as I was told and never went to the police was because I feared the police wouldn’t believe me that my parents killed Santa—and then my parents would find out when the cops brought me home.
Then Mom and Dad would kill me, maybe Tabitha just to be sure she didn’t retaliate, and bury our bodies next to Santa’s. The logic of a kid isn’t the best, but fear can stretch and bend one’s ability to critically think, especially at those ages.
Tabby and I graduated with honors and we both went off to college. We had normal childhoods, minus that messed up period after the murder. I had girlfriends and she had boyfriends and we eventually got married and began having kids.
Mom and Dad turned their careers around soon after the murder as well, and by the time Tabby graduated high school, we were back in a nice half million dollar house with a Mercedes, a Lexus, and Tabby even got a graduation present: a brand new Honda Accord. I received a Toyota Camry the next year when I graduated. They paid for college, and overall, our lives improved, albeit with a much better handling of money once it started flowing in again.
My wife Janice and Tabitha’s husband Aaron began to complain about our hatred of Christmas after five years and four children between us. They were upset that as the oldest kids were hearing about Santa, Tabby and I wanted nothing to do with any of it. In fact, Tabitha forbade Santa and Christmas from being mentioned at all. I was slightly more open in that I simply ignored all things Santa, but it drove Janice crazy. At family get-togethers, they’d start in on us about how we were “Santa Nazis” and all of the cousins and such would give us hell as well.
Finally, when the oldest kids were seven and a Thanksgiving dinner almost became a nuclear war over the Santa thing, Mom and Dad had all the kids go off to play. They sat the rest of us down to explain about the horrible reason we didn’t do Santa. Tabby and I were mortified, thinking they were going to reveal a dark family secret and our spouses would call the police and our names would be all over the internet and the news and such. Or, and probably worse, nuclear war actually would erupt with Aaron and Janice grabbing all the kids and high-tailing it out of there then serving divorce papers and a nasty post on social media about what absolutely horrible human beings we all were.
Instead, to our surprise, Mom and Dad began to laugh as they relayed the tale of how we were horrible, evil little shits once we we started becoming poor. They explained how after five years of us being the most selfish, entitled, bratty little jerks in the entire world, they were going to teach us a lesson. Keep in mind, Dad said, the family was in serious financial straits at the time and they weren’t really in their proper right parenting minds either.
They told our spouses how they’d hatched a plan to kill off Santa in a terrible way that would not only frighten us into (I guess?) obedience and make us never ask for Christmas presents again, but it would also be something we could never talk to anyone else about—so no kids or parents or school officials would ever overhear it and bring the whole ruse down. The fact that everyone knew Santa wasn’t real and Christmas had become nothing more than a corporate windfall never fully penetrated my self-imposed bubble. I could tell by the look on Tabby’s face that she’d wrestled with the knowledge that Santa wasn’t real but couldn’t get over what our parents had done.
Because the truth was, if it wasn’t Santa they’d buried in our back yard, then it was at least someone. I didn’t question whether or not Santa was real because there was a body a few feet under our lawn. I knew Santa wasn’t real years before they murdered him, no small thanks to Tabitha learning it first and practically brainwashing me to stop believing it as well. But as kids, especially after something so terrifyingly shocking happening in our own back yard, such absolute truths wavered and crumbled if we spent too much time thinking about them. Well, that and the memory of a fat bearded man splayed open on the snow like the frog I dissected in seventh grade—except with about a million gallons more blood.
Tabby and I couldn’t believe that it had all been some kind of sick joke – life lesson. When we badgered them with questions, Mom asked if we remembered the night. I said I still remembered it vividly.
So, she asked, if they really killed Santa, or a guy in a Santa suit, how come neither she nor Dad were covered in blood? There was so much blood everywhere, along with organs and muscle and skin, yet they didn’t have a speck of blood on them. Dad added in a question about how if he and mom had really stabbed a man to death with a knife, how come they weren’t covered in blood?
They hadn’t even shot him, just popped a thick freezer bag with a heavy pan. I asked about the leg sticking out of the hole the next day. He said because the ground was too frozen, that’s all he could get the mannequin in and decided to let me see it. Instead of digging a six foot hole, he dug down about a foot and pulled the leg off the mannequin, arranged it, then told Mom to not let us out so we couldn’t discover it was just a fake leg after all.
They laughed and laughed about the sleigh parts. It was the icing on the cake for us to believe, though both truly thought I would be the one who needed his skepticism destroyed. Not that Tabby was gullible. She was always more perceptive, more curious, more skeptical than me. But they were sure Tabitha would be far more upset at the sight of the blood and a dead body since she didn’t play “Army” or the same kind of somewhat violent video games that Dad and I enjoyed. She was a girl, after all, and though I know Tabby is probably “tougher” than I am, it did affect her on a level that was far deeper than even she could have guessed.
Our spouses didn’t seem to be horrified at all, which freaked Tabby and I out all the more. She got mad and stomped off because her husband laughed (though Aaron’s face and my wife’s face had been full of horror at most of the tale—probably wondering mostly about how messed up our parents truly were). I exploded and yelled at Janice, then Aaron. How could they just laugh and not think it was the most horrible thing ever?
Jan only laughed harder, and Tabby’s husband told me it was because we were all just so goddamn normal. They never would have suspected such a period in our lives. We were fun, successful, bright, and we enjoyed life. We treated our spouses and kids and our parents with the utmost respect. We didn’t get mad too much. And we were great with money. They understood now why we were like that with money, but just couldn’t ever picture such a thing happening to us.
They were definitely a bit freaked out about just how far our parents went, but both kept coming back to the fact that Tabby and I were so “normal” as to almost be suspicious. Jan and Aaron genuinely liked Jason and Rochelle Gould and had known them for years. Both commented about how it was easy to see where Tabby and I got our easy-going, friendly, vibrant natures, including our somewhat dark sense of humor and our concern about money.
My parents apologized profusely—to the point of making everyone uncomfortable by breaking down into tears for doing it to us, which absolved a lot of it in our spouses’ eyes. I’ll admit, it broke the final barrier in me to forgive them even though I knew it would take a few more years to stop being pissed at them for traumatizing us in such a way. Tabby of course would take longer, but after Mom and Dad went to bed and our spouses turned in, we sat near the fire and talked until morning to work through it. We agreed to forgive them, but it didn’t mean we’d ever allow Santa to be part of our lives no matter how many grandchildren we had. We eventually laughed and agreed that it did at least teach us a lesson about being bad kids.
I wrote this down a few years ago. I’m not sure why, to be honest. Time has passed and truly healed all wounds. It’s funny to Tabby and I now, and while mom and dad still feel guilty, they are of course able to find humor in it as well. I guess I wrote it all down as something to pass along to my kids and their kids and so on about how weird their family really is. I mean, we all have an oddly morbid sense of humor which our kids, and it seems their grandkids, have inherited. Can you blame us after what happened?
Tabitha did take longer to forgive Mom and Dad, but like me, she came around. Christmas became less of a big deal to us as the years wore on, especially after our grandchildren started arriving in bunches. My daughter Dillon brought two girls into the world. Hailee, my younger daughter, just had her first baby, a pudgy little brown baby that so cute I have to wonder if he’s real or a really fancy piece of artwork. Timothy, our son and the youngest… well, he won’t be having any kids in the foreseeable future, but Jan and I are pretty sure he’ll eventually settle down with the right man and they’ll want a family.
Ryan Haskins, Tabby and Aaron’s oldest, graced Mom and Dad (and me as well, I’m still the best uncle in the universe!) with two boys and twin girls. Roxanne, who was always rebellious and a bit mouthy and a little too sure about where she was going in life, still refuses to bring children into this world. Janice asked her one day if she was a lesbian, which only made Roxanne laugh until she had got hiccups.
Janice came away from that conversation a bit scorched by Roxy’s fiery feminism, but both of us admitted that we were fiercely proud of her for sticking to her guns—especially since her own mother begged Jan and I to not encourage her. I guess it’s because I’m slightly more objective that I see exactly where Roxanne gets her confidence, her independence, and especially her temper. Every time I tell Tabby that Roxanne is a mirror image of her other than having quite a few of Aaron’s facial features, she throws something at me.
Olivia, Tabby and Aaron’s youngest, is probably the most special of all the family. Olivia is brilliant, incredibly sensitive, and according to everyone who has ever met her, likely to be President of the United States one day. She’s outspoken, but nowhere near as provocative as Roxanne. She’s driven, but at the same time, she knows when to let up and let her hair down. Of course, I’m biased because she and I were almost closer than I am to my own children.
There’s just something… I don’t know, special about her. She seems to glow brighter than the world around her. Mom and Dad saw it too, and like me, they can’t put words to it either. Out of all the kids and grandkids who have heard the story of Gramma and Grampa’s evil Christmas deed, Olivia is the only one who both laughed and cried. It touched something deep within her—or maybe she saw how deeply it affected her mother and me and that in itself changed something within her.
Whatever the case, we love her and we love all of our extended family, even Hailee’s annoying husband who talks too loud and refuses to shave the dirty dishtowel from his chin. For all of you future Gould/Haskins/Jenkins/Kotetsu/whomever children, know that we love you too and yes, your family is as weird as you think they are. May this story be a lesson to you about being bad children :).
A week before Mom died, sick in her bed at home, she cried and begged me to forgive her for playing such a mean trick on us. She was truly afraid of dying without being assured one last time that we’d forgiven her. She begged us to keep the old house in the family.
Once Dad passed it, would go to Tabby. They wanted Tabitha to give the house to one of the kids or grandkids to help them get started in life. We of course agreed.
Tabitha and I were fairly well off, both of us pitching in to fix up the old house over the years between tenants (usually one of our children). I’d always wondered why they hadn’t sold it when we moved back into the “mansion.” Mom said it was easy to pay off once they were making money again, then reminded me I’d been given the house to live in after college until I got married and had second kid and needed more room.
She was right, the house was perfect as a starter, and it had been fixed up over the years. Living in the house was never a problem for me, though once in a while I would wake up in a sweat and walk out into the back yard. Janice still laughs about one of the rare times I got drunk and tried to dig up a dead Santa that didn’t exist. Tabby always curled her lip but only asked me once how I could stand to live there. I told her that before I met Jan, I stayed either too stoned or too busy with school, or both. I decided a long time ago to never mention the night sweats and the sometimes creepy feeling I got late at night before my wife cured me of loneliness.
Dad left us six months later. Tabby and I truly believe it was a given that he’d go quick after Mom died. Those two were in love in ways almost no one ever is, and while my own marriage was rock solid and I truly loved Jan, I had to wonder if even our marriage could match what Mom and Dad had. Just before he died he signed all of the paperwork including the will, splitting everything between me and Tabitha. He gave her the house, which I didn’t argue at all. We didn’t need any of the stuff, but we knew it would make him have one less thing to worry about by going along with whatever he wanted. He begged us to always keep the house in the family so it would always be there for one of our future heirs to inhabit and eventually pass on.
I thought this story was over until this morning. Jan and I had only been asleep a few hours, having turned into night owls after we’d retired. The doorbell woke us and I answered it in a haze of old man brain fog. Two police officers stood on my doorstep asking if they could come in and talk to me. My first thought was that more cars had been broken into since that was getting to be a regular problem in our neighborhood lately even though it was a nice, quiet, gated subdivision.
When my brain fog cleared enough to realize they weren’t regular police but two detectives, my heart thudded in my chest. Jan was awake so she was okay, but I worried that Tabby or one of the kids or grandkids had died. I tried to tamp that down by guessing that it was about the break-ins until they mentioned being Homicide detectives. I then tried to slow my adrenaline by assuring myself it was because a neighbor had died and they simply wanted to make sure there was no foul play by asking everyone in the neighborhood about suspicious activity or domestic disturbances.
I let them in and Jan got some coffee going. The detectives were grim-faced and I felt my old man bladder trying to leak into my underwear thanks to the mental images of one of my family members being in trouble—or worse, dead. What they said shocked me to my core.
Detective Sergeant Carl Lawson introduced himself then began asking questions that seemed normal. Was I Avery Gould? Yes, of course. Were Jason and Rochelle Gould my mother and father? Yes. Did we used to live at the old house address? Sure, when we were growing up, a long time ago.
That’s when Detective Brian Torres started asking if I knew anything about the murder that took place around that time. Fear gripped me, and I saw it in Jan as well. No, I didn’t know anything about any murder, were they sure it happened at the time we lived there? The detectives were very sure that it was the right time based on the evidence they found.
Who was it? I asked. They were still waiting on lab samples to be run for the third time, but so far, they didn’t know the victim’s true identity. However, he had been a fat guy and was wearing a Santa suit at the time of the murder. The only ID they found on him was what seemed to be a joke ID that said the guy was Sant A. Claus, and his address was 1 North Pole. I wanted to laugh, but neither detective looked like he had a sense of humor. Janice was whiter than white, and I hoped the two cops only took it as the typical reaction of an elderly woman hearing disturbing news about a murder.
I felt sick to my stomach. I played it off as being a cranky old man who hadn’t gotten enough sleep then was told a murder happened at our house while we’d lived there when I was 9. The detectives believed me, and they explained they weren’t after the perps since whoever had done it had to be dead of old age by now. But it was such a strange case that they felt compelled to try and solve it. One of the detectives even mentioned maybe getting on a TV show about old cold cases or such.
They thanked me for my time and Jan for the coffee then left. I asked them as they were walking away if they had talked to my sister yet. They’d contacted the police in her city and asked them to send a couple of detectives over to talk to her, but like me, they were doing it more to see if she maybe remembered something I didn’t so they could close the file. Since that she was only 10 at the time, they weren’t positive she’d remember anything more than me, and both detectives seemed sure if such a horrible crime had happened that we knew about, we’d remember it.
After they left, I broke down. I didn’t know what to think. Jan tried to reassure me that it had to somehow be a coincidence. She even joked that somehow my parents had pranked us one last time from beyond the grave, just to keep us guessing.
But I knew better. Mom and Dad killed Santa Claus. I suddenly had a flash of memory about that night, something I hadn’t thought of in decades.
I remembered Mom and Dad at Thanksgiving reminding us that there’d been no blood on them. But that wasn’t true.
Mom’s robe had been wet with snow, but I now remembered that it wasn’t wet with water. It had been too dark. So had her sleeves and cuffs.
And the freckles on her face that had reflected in the lamp light in Tabby’s room… but those had been blood splatters.
I threw up on the floor as I was reaching for my phone. I had to talk to Tabitha.