Bonus Story: Happy Holidays, Welcome to Hell

If examined from the proper angle, “Happy Holidays” and “Welcome to Hell,” might be the most synonymous terms in language. Take the two for what they are; the loathsomely required parroting of meaningless verbs as nouns– Hell and Holidays being the most glaring of these modern, bastardizations.

Hell: noun, a theoretical place of evil and damnation. Verb; a state of being in which one considers suicide the preferable alternative. Holiday; verb, a segment of time synonymous with vacation used mostly in colloquial, European English. Noun; a period of time in which one considers murder of one’s relatives and/or self the preferable alternative to suffering yet another, drawn-out, unbearably awkward brush with so much feigned, festive joy one’s eyes begin to bleed.

Take the case of Katherine Marigold (aka Kate) as food for thought. Former high-school sweet-heart turned divorcee and single-mother when The Asshole went nuts and finally fell of the rails. Apart from the two kids she loved but was stuck with anyway, she’d also inherited The Asshole’s family– or rather, the Asshole family, if seeking formality. Though Kate’s children were blood to the Assholes, she was not. It required a constant, delicate, political finesse to maintain one’s bird from rising pointedly every other weekend as she dropped the children with Grandmother and Grandfather Asshole.

But the Holiday Hellride Extravaganza? That was a different story altogether. It always began with kindly, sage old Grandmother Asshole calling on Thanksgiving. After five minutes of unwarranted gossip that usually allowed Kate time to cook, eat, and discard a single TV dinner, Grandmother Asshole would politely inform her that the children would be home within the hour. After ten years, Kate knew the drill. She didn’t even bother to unlock the front door for another two hours.

Admittedly, those first few years were hectic, chaotic, miserable even. She hadn’t quite worked out the Assholes’ patterns yet. As a result, three years of Thanksgiving nights passed with her at edge of the couch, eyes locked on the door. With her heart in her throat, and a habitual check of her cell-phone every thirty seconds, she wallowed in terror in case, this time, there was an accident, or rollover, or fatal spin-out.

Those first years that she spent on edge, poised to launch herself out the front door should the worst have happened, were always met with the same ending: As soon as her coat was zipped, her keys in-hand and at the ready to go searching, “her babies” arrived safe and sound. Their cute button noses were always tainted just the cutest shade of red, while they emitted the smells of turkey, gravy, and an Asshole’s fourth whiskey sour plastered on their cheeks from a kiss.

During those first years, Kate praised various deities for the safe return of her “munchkins” while she watched Uncle Asshole’s tail-lights drunkenly fish-tail away through the snow. But such was the nature of every Thanksgiving, there was no helping it.

But Christmas? She wasn’t sure she knew that word anymore, not really. She knew the slow beep of the cash register as she slipped longer and larger amounts of groceries over it, shuffled the line forward with the gathering waterfall of receipts. Or, if nothing else, she knew it from the slow beep that ticked away her own funds as she piled-on more books, clothing, and toys atop another wage-slave’s conveyor belt.

Christmases were “Big Days” as her manager called them; it was always the “Big Day” now. The world had gotten too politically correct, and she couldn’t risk ruffling feathers. Never mind that in parlance, the “Big Day,” was actually Christmas Eve somehow it now applied elsewhere. Christmas became the “Big Day”, and Easter was “the Start of Spring,” but Halloween curiously stayed the same. As did Thanksgiving. They were more, bastardized visions of former English. Thanksgiving might as well have been “slave over an oven day,” that she brazenly learned to avoid. Meanwhile everything between it and the Big Day was “Thanks for your money. Next!” month.

All in between the snow would always grow more frequent, hardier. The old Chevy that sputtered to a start on the best of days would groan and wheeze from the cold. Sometimes even, she’d be forced to toss boiling hot water on the beast’s engine. Why it worked, she wasn’t sure, but it did. Some days she even preempted it with whispers of sweet nothings; “c’mon baby,” “atta’ girl,” and “Just start you piece of shit!”

And as if in time with the gathering torrents of snow, so too came the brilliance and palettes of a million twinkle lights that never quite twinkled. With them of course, came the momentary joy that erupts in the human brain from such colorful arrangements. That momentary joy would burst forth through Kate’s chest with a half-smile, before it was once more suppressed by years of cynicism and the dilution of music that rotted the brains of the living. The newly-zombified would then shuffle about the stores chanting “Spend! Speeend!” from their wallets. Although their word-holes were silent, the empty looks in their eyes predicted their wallets’ future. Inevitably these “consumers,” would either end up in Kate’s way at a check-out, or even more horrific, on the far-side of her own cash register.

But Kate never complained. She couldn’t. Didn’t have time to anyhow. Between working eighty hours on her feet, being a full-time mother, and somewhere hoping to retain her sanity, she was forced to accept things as they were to trudge onward.

When the morning of the Big Day eventually came, it went more quickly than any other moment in time– and in a haze of hued paper shredded by tiny, fleshy claws as if in a tornado of knives. The neutral melange of clothing sprinkled with neon toys was all that ever remained to tell the tale. But Kate knew the tale already, was too consumed with the breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and pancakes, for the “babies” before they were sent off to see the Asshole clan for the noon-time rendezvous.

Each year there was roughly enough time between their departure and return for a shower, a cup of coffee and an hour of “alone time.” Anyone in Kate’s shoes would admit that even Santa needed some time to herself. But alas, it was short-lived and the fun never ended there. Oh Satan’s great tits did it never end there!

For you see, that’s the second, biggest comparison between the two– Holidays and Hell that is; they are seemingly eternal, even if they’re only a few hours out of thousands. After the “Munchkins’” return from the Assholes, it was the Marigold’s time. Being as they were blood, Kate was given no choice but to slough off her few moments of personal peace, layer up her sunday-best, equip her thousands of pounds of arctic gear, then tramp through the snow-laden hellscape of others’ “Big Day.”

But such was the way of life, at least in her part of the world. And even if for only a moment, there was always a time where her smile wasn’t forced, her candor wasn’t canned, and that viral-contagion of Joy infected her, melted her brain, and made her forget all of the mindless abrasion of ancient music, oil-slicked, driven snow, and slaving over registers. Somehow, in some minute, moment, or any of the other colloquial chronologies, something made it all feel worth it. Usually, it was the smiles on “her babies’” faces or the helpless, hopeless laughter of a moment where life piled on just enough to knock her on her ass, tell her not to take things so seriously. And for that minute, moment, breath, she didn’t, and it was all worth it.

In a way, Kate knew she wasn’t alone. Like her, Humans in her part of the world had adapted to the flash and pizzazz, the fire and brimstone, the terror and torture. They’d learned to slave and suffer through the month of “Thank you for your money, Next!” and had even begun to use their drooling calls of “Spend. Speeend!” as a rallying cry.

But why? That’s the thing about Hell and the Holidays: they’ve both got their Twilight Zone-esque properties, their moments of surreality, their eventual points where a person’s eyes finally glosses over for a moment, and their brain melts for an instant, and gives way to the pure, joyous-insanity that causes laughter, familiarity. And each year it seems, another set of lights twinkles appears over another door. With a hypnotic pulse of morse-code at mushy brains, and a known, automatic cipher, the message is clear, “Happy Holidays, Welcome to Hell.”

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