The Ghost of Christmas Past

It is not difficult filling beds around the holiday season. It is a tough time out there for women who have experienced a lifetime of marginalization. Children have been lost, families have disowned, and boyfriends still beat up at will. Christmas is the time to get as high as you can and flat line any feeling and memory about the horrors of Christmas past. Christmas is a day that sticks out, like a snapshot. A picture you can’t get out of your head unless you’ve nodded off, passed out or tweaked out of your mind. At least the heart doesn’t hurt as much.

 It is difficult to even think about being clean at a time like this. But here and there, at a detox, perhaps couch surfing, or a moment of lucidity a phone is picked up and the number is dialed. Good morning, Charlford House, are the first words a woman hears from the place that very well could save her life, if not her butt. There’s an old saying, “You can’t save your butt and your face at the same time”. It’s metaphor for humility, you know, the humility that lets her ask for help, and finally lets her know clearly about the mess she’s in.

As tough as it is, the devil chasing her up the 12 stairs of Charlford House is just a little bit stronger that day than the devil that made her do the drug. As scared as she is, its scarier out there. She’s just so sick and tired of being sick and tired.

So Boot Camp takes on a Christmassy flavor. she might hear, “uh-uh that’ll be the day I go Christmas caroling around the hood!”.  Or perhaps a conversation might be heard with someone saying something like, “I didn’t sign up for flipping pancakes at the school for kids and their parents!”. But soon the decorations are dragged out and an unfamiliar feeling comes over you when you and 14 other giggling (girls) women begin to deck the halls in unity. And the tree goes up, and “Da” House becomes a magical place that some have never experienced before.

Every day the presents pile higher under the tree. The caroling up and down the block created a memory that will never fade. As the women journal about the feelings of community and being a part of something good,  the tree sparkles and warm light splashes on the ceiling and walls.

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a woman was stirring not even a mouse (licensing would not be happy). The children were tucked in bed with their Moms, their little heads dreaming of sweet sugar plums.

 A nightshift alumna relaxes on the couch in the quiet, staring at the lights, remembering her first Christmas here… seems so long ago. The fear and despair melting away in the 12 Steps. A small smile plays upon her lips as she thinks of the love of her new life, her family, and her new friends that really do have her back in all the right ways. She thinks about her new reality as she sinks into her pillow and drifts away with Christmas tree lights dancing behind her eyes.

BAM!!!!! It’s Christmas morning, the children are already tussling around the living room, the coffee’s on and women are wandering in with coffee cup in hand, terry robes and fluffy big slippers. Joy to the world!!!  The decibels are getting higher in the excitement. Christmas music is on the radio and there is already talk about who’s making the gravy for dinner! The camera comes out and it’s bedlam!!! Paper everywhere, 2 feet deep! Kids playing with their new toys and women ahhing and oooing over each other’s new treasures. The laughter can be heard out on the street. How sweet it is to staffs ears, and how her heart swells at the love and warmth in these old walls! It’s all been worth it again, eh Thelma? Another year of miracles, another year of being blessed to be part of this little house that could. Just a quick closing of the eyes to say a prayer for those who didn’t make it.

After a bit of an anti climax, things begin to pick up again as preparation for the dinner begins. The women work in harmony stuffing the turkey and preparing the meal. Cudos to  supporters in the community for donating the funds for this bounty today! The smells begin to waft through the house as chores are completed and the house is readied for guests. There are 27 including the kids, and the tables are lined up through the dining and living room. The gravy is passed and the cranberries look so festive!  Family and friends look at their brand new loved one with amazement. How could she be so beautiful so soon? Her hair is so shiny, her eyes sparkle! Not the same person they helped up the stairs. She looks like an angel and warrior all wrapped into one! The greatest gift a devastated family could ever receive.

The dishes are piled high and it’s time to see the family off. A tear or two and lots of hugs and once again the house settles into the dull roar of 15 tired women.

A new experience, a new reality created, one of gratitude, love and community. No longer marginalized, but empowered, feeling like they could save the rest of the world in their new found compassion and empathy. Seeing life through a new pair of glasses, the ghost of Christmas past floats into the ether like smoke and is gone…forever.

And To All A Good Night