A Christmas Story

by jesse in

Preamble - Memories are strange.

Memories are strange things. You don't quite know where they come from - or why a particular one is more powerful than another. They pop up unbidden - some subconscious trigger, a smell, a sound, an event causes them to come to the forefront of your mind and take over your brain and emotions.

Memories, once ingrained, are impossible to rid yourself of, good or bad. You don't get to choose which ones fault in, and you don't get to choose which ones are the most powerful one attached to a trigger.

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, no matter how many new memories you try to make to replace, or subsume a given one - one memory will always stick. It can be good - or it can be bad. You don't get to choose. When that memory is a bad one, it doesn't matter how much you stack on top of it, no matter how much you try to forget - when it comes to the forefront, that is what you see, what you feel.

We don't get to control it. All we can do is try to forge new ones and hope that they are more powerful, more pertinent and more filled with love and hope than everything that came before it, so that even if the memory that comes up is a bad one - a horrible one - there's something warm, loving and caring to fall back on and hold on to when we lay awake at night staring at the ceiling trapped in throes of the past.

A story about a boy.

This is a story about a boy. It doesn't matter who the boy is - and it doesn't matter who he is now. It is about a boy and a memory, and this story is meant to get you to think about the people around you in your life, your community and your family, neighbors and friends.

This boy was young - perhaps five, perhaps six - who knows, the exact age is lost in the morass of time - it doesn't matter. This boy lived with some people who were bad, very, very bad. They were the most vile of people. This boy lived with them as, at this age, you don't get to pick who you live with. This boy, and these evil people lived together in a home filled with stink, filth and pain.

The boy was alone; the boy wasn't afraid in the common sense of the word - after all to understand fear you have to experience something other than that to appreciate the emotion itself. Loneliness however, is something all humans innately understand without context or teaching. We are social creatures, we crave attention - good or bad - we crave to walk in the lights of others eyes and be noticed.

The boy was not noticed.

The time was before Christmas time. More than anything in the world, the boy loved an old TV show - Fraggle Rock. This was something that brought him happiness no matter how brief. He loved that show more than anything else in the world.

One day, the boy was someplace else, with a different evil person. He was sitting on a bare floor in a bare apartment that stank of cigarette smoke and old people. He was watching the television - a cold, but constant friend - watching his favorite show.

An advertisement came on. This advertisement offered something magical, something special. It was something so exciting that he had to call now to take advantage of the special offer. It was a thing tied to his friend, his joy - Fraggle Rock.

The boy had no money or wealth, and inside he knew that the evil people around him were loath to give up that which they had. The boy knew that he must have the thing he saw, and while he had nothing he knew how to acquire it.

He calmly got up off the floor, knowing that no one was around to notice what he was about to do. He opened the purse of one of the people who ignored him - he may have been alone, and might have only known fear, but he was smart. He knew that the thing on TV asked for a credit card, and he knew where to get one. He stole it from the purse, and picked up the telephone.

Some how, perversely, that boy knew where he lived. Maybe it was because he had had to walk himself to school so often, or had to be driven home by the police or a teacher from the school he sometimes attended.

He called the number he had memorized in a span of seconds. The person at the other end of the telephone, again, in a strange alignment of perversion and oddity, did not question the fact that a child was on the other end of the phone.

The boy managed to order the magical thing on TV. Using a stolen credit card in an apartment that stank of cigarettes and old people.
Before you think the boy had gotten away with it - he hadn't. As he hung up the phone, one of the bad people came into the room and saw him with the phone and credit card in his hand.

Evil people do bad things to boy; the screen goes dark and the curtains go down. The boy knew that his brief glimpse of hope and joy in acquiring that thing from the TV was gone.

The boy went back to darkness.

Christmas Day

The boy did not know, or remember the thing from the TV he had gotten so severely punished for. He knew that it was Christmas time only because other children talked so eagerly about it. The house he lived in was barren, and filthy and undecorated except for a small pine tree in a corner that stood, undecorated.

There was no party, no family get together on Christmas eve. Yet still the boy lay in his bed charged with hope that somehow, somewhere, a gift might appear for him under that barren and sad tree the next day. He might not know - he was locked in his room again, but that hope stood out.

Not because he knew what it was, but because he knew what others had told him, he knew the emotions that others had about this "special" time.

The boy didn't sleep well - not just because it was Christmas. He never slept well.

Christmas morning, let's say at five o'clock in the morning, the boy was awake as he always was. He got up with trepidation and fear for waking the evil people with whom he lived. He tested the door knob - it was unlocked.

He opened the door and looked around - none of the evil people were around, there were someplace else. He was alone - and given that this was a state much preferable to the alternative, he was temporarily happy.

He walked to the barren tree, past the trash and cat waste scattered through the house and stood in front of it. At first, his eyes didn't perceive the box underneath it. He didn't see a stack of jauntily wrapped gifts, or stockings hung with care. The boy was filled with sadness.

There was, however, a bag - the type you might get nowadays from a supermarket for reuse. The boy's eyes caught the logo on that bad.

Fraggle. Rock.

Stunned beyond comprehension, the boy walked over slowly, he recognized the logo, and in fact, he recognized the bag from the commercial long forgotten. It was the magical thing he had been so severely punished for. He looked around, ensuring he was alone, and he pulled the thing out of the bag.

It was a Fraggle Rock record player. That was all - and a single, small record that contained but one song. Shaking, he opened the record player, and plugged it into the wall. Gingerly, he placed the record on the player and through trial and error, figured out how to make it turn on and play.

The boy cried as the first notes of the one song began to play. So joyful was he in this singular moment, listening to the theme song for a TV show that all the loneliness and pain he knew was forgotten, replaced with a joy so tangible he could hold it close.

In that moment, the boy knew sadness as well, as that joy was so powerful he knew the stark contrasts in the emotions he had known. He forgot loneliness, caught up in a moment so emotional that nothing else mattered.

In that moment, the boy was happy. The house was filled with that song for hours until the people he lived with came home, and took it away. In those hours, that boy knew nothing but joy, happiness and the dark contrast of sadness.

Back to the beginning.

The boy is now a man, which man is irrelevant. What is relevant is that when the first chords of the first Christmas song begin to play after Thanksgiving - when the first Christmas ornament go up that boy is thrown back to that memory of that single Christmas day.

No memories since that day matter; none of them come up and filter into his consciousness other than that one. It takes over his psyche at random, as said before - you don't get to choose how this works.

So, why?

Why am I sharing this story about a boy, or rambling about memories? Because, despite knowing that once ingrained a memory can not be forgotten, I feel that it is true that you can override memories with stronger ones with a more powerful emotion.

I feel that joy, hope and love are more powerful emotions than fear, loneliness and pain.

I share this boy's story so that I can get you to think for a moment about the people around you. Friends, colleagues, family - the person on the street, on the bus, the people in your community and the person you only know through email, IRC or on Twitter.

I share this to get you to think about those who you don't think about all that closely. The children who live as that boy did, or those children and families that have little or nothing during this supposed time of joy.

I'm not asking you to give up wealth, or toys, or food - those are all fine things, but they are simply tangental aspects of how a memory might be created. I'm asking you to think about all of these people, even those whom you disagree with or hate, or those you never think about at all, and I ask you to take a moment to reach out to them in some way.

Perhaps a toy, a book, a warm coat or meal for those that you do not know well - something that can give them the same joy that that boy felt when that song played. Maybe an email to someone you haven't heard from in a while, or warm words to someone who you normally spar with.

Thousands of people trudge through the holidays, no matter their faith, race or creed - their choice of forums, programming language, career or school depressed and alone during this time. They're trapped by memories that should have been replaced long, long ago. Maybe they never will be replaced, but maybe they can be supplemented and temporarily displaced.

I am asking you to reach out in any way that you can to help them make new memories, ones of joy, love and caring - even if it is over the internet, or as fleeting as being polite to them and thinking of them when you bump into them on the street or in the mall.

Reach out in all the ways you can, despite times of strife and division and economic depression. Help everyone you can be filled with a memory of joy, love and caring, give them that moment the boy had even if bittersweet. Show them your grace, humility, kindness and caring.

I still cry when I hear Fraggle Rock.