Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Good with the Bad: Haunted by Christmas

I got a new winter coat, Hell Bunny's Coleen coat in burgundy, and I love it. I love its 1940s, 1950s look, its fullness, its colour, and how well it works on my mobility scooter. I wanted this coat last year but Beau and I were still paying off the wedding so I held back on buying it at full price, and, when it went on sale, it sold out immediately. I thought I was out of luck, but then Mod Cloth carried it this year and I finally got my dream coat.

This post was meant to be about the coat and that was all. But, when I saw the photos, they were so clearly Christmasy, and I reminded myself so much of Mrs. Claus, that I knew I was going to write about Christmas. I was very wary of doing so. One of my most read posts is the one about how badly I was sexually abused by family on Christmases, and how terribly I am now triggered by Christmas. Why would I want to write about it in any positive way?

But I got to thinking: Can I reclaim any aspects of Christmas that I liked as a child, or that I like now? Can I create new traditions? Have I created new ones already? The answer was the same one I always get: the good and the bad exist simultaneously. Both are real. Neither negates or cancels out the other. And, if I can somehow accept that, then, yes, I can enjoy certain aspects of Christmas, even as other aspects of it fill me with painful and terrifying memories of the past.

So that's what this post is about: the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the joy and the rage -- of Christmas.

Dress and Coat: Hell Bunny; Gloves: a gift from a friend; Shoes: Munro; Brooches, earrings, tam, and scarf: vintage; Boots: Ecco

We actually ended up photographing this outfit two days in a row. The first day did not go well at all. Sun is rare here in winter, so, when it came out, Beau and I wanted to capture it. But we failed. By the time we were able to get out at the same time, the sun had sunk down and our early northern evening was on its way.

The thing that upset me most about the day was my stupid wardrobe malfunction. I can see the humour in it now, but I couldn't then. Because anything tight around my waist and lower back rapidly increases my already terrible pain, I often wear stockings instead. Sometimes they stay up. Sometimes they don't. These ones don't. At all. I probably miscalculated my own size, yet again, and ordered a pair that were too big. At any rate, this was the result. I was cold, I was wearing a ton of layers, and my stockings kept falling down.

Of course it wasn't, but it felt like absolutely everything was going wrong. Really, this little malfunction was simply a painful reminder, a trigger, if you will, of the abuse I suffered as a child. If I had not been raped so horribly and so often, I would not be disabled. If I were not disabled, I would not need to wear stockings instead of tights. If I did not need to wear stockings, I would not be struggling with this stupid, undignified situation.

God I wish I hadn't been abused. And, I wish it hadn't left me in constant pain, the pain a constant trigger, making it impossible to forget what happened to me, even for a second.

I tried to pull myself together for the photos but I just couldn't. But Beau kept taking photos anyway. I'm kind of glad he did, though I find it hard to look at them. He felt it was important to capture this mood. He knows my blog is all about honesty, brutal honesty, and a mood like this is part of what people need to know about both PTSD and disability.

I try to divorce the pain from the its cause, but I really can't. 

And I try to divorce Christmas but my bad memories of it, but I really can't.

As a little girl, I liked Christmas. I did. But I was no innocent. I didn't have that luxury.

Here's an example of what I mean. When I was about five and first watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, everyone said that I reminded them of little Cindy Loo Who. I understood that. I knew I was a teensy child, like her, and cute, like her.

What I couldn't understand was why the Grinch didn't sexually abuse her. She was little and cute and alone, and he was big and bad. So he should molest her, right? That was normal. Why did he just tuck her back into bed? That was weird. That was unrealistic.

In my world, in my family, the Grinches sexually abused me. So did the Santas. God help me when I got tucked in at night. I think, at five, I kind of resented little Cindy Loo Who. What made her so special that she didn't have to endure sexual abuse? Why was she lucky and I wasn't? It wasn't fair.

My own reality coloured how I understood everything around me. This included feeling a rare kinship and empathy for others. I felt so bad for the Grinch's dog that I couldn't bear it.

He was a good and loving little dog who wanted to please. He was asked to do, forced to do, the impossible and it nearly killed him.

Same here. The things I was forced to do nearly killed me too, not figuratively, but literally. My life was in mortal danger more times than I can count, and I was forced to watch while another sex trafficked child, a friend, was murdered. Death, and the possibility of death, was real to me. 

I survived, but not without a painful physical disability that haunts me constantly.

And not without PTSD. To me, this photo shows the real me. People praise me for being "positive" and dealing with my past so well, and I don't know what they're talking about. On the inside, at least part of me feels like I look in this photo, all the time, even in my dreams, my ever present nightmares.

PTSD is a bitch.

Other Christmas stories puzzled me too. Why, I wondered, would Rudolph want to be accepted by the very people who had cruelly rejected him? I was a bullied, outcast child and I had no interest in becoming friends with those who bullied me. Sure, I wanted them to be nicer to me and to stop beating me up, because they were making my life hell, but I didn't want them as friends. I've never liked cruel people. Why on earth would I? Better to move to the Island of Misfit Toys where being different was accepted from the start.

As a child, I always related to the outcasts and the misfits, in real life and in fiction. 

I did like Christmas, or parts of it, but it was fraught, even then. As a future student and teacher of literature, I became intimately connected to the narratives of Christmas, but read them through the eyes of a wounded child. I saw and even felt their pathos and horror. I could relate to the little match girl, who could only warm herself with imagined comforts, and who died of hypothermia because no-one cared enough to bring her in from the cold.

The Annunciation, by Henry Tanner

I could relate to the virgin Mary, whom some say was only thirteen when she became pregnant with God's child. Against her will? With her consent? Can a thirteen year old consent to such a thing? I surely couldn't. I never could hear that tale as anything but a rape story. I still can't.

Le Massacre des Innocents, by Leon Cogniet

And then, after Mary gave birth, there was Herod's massacre of all those innocent baby boys. My God!

How could people do these things? Why didn't anyone help?

It still happens. Children are still sold. Children are still being killed, in Aleppo, for instance. How can people do these things? Why doesn't anyone help?

This is how I see the world. Don't ask me to change. It's reality, not just the reality of PTSD, but the reality of the world and human cruelty.

And it makes me angry, so very very angry. This face? This is the way I look at Beau when I'm taking it out on him, when I'm turning my helpless rage on the person I love most in the world, the person who deserves my wrath the least of anyone.

I hate myself when I get like that. I'm working so hard to change.

But what do I do with all this entirely justified anger? This year, particularly, I've felt so incredibly impotent against human cruelty. The rejection of Syrian refugees, the brutal treatment of black men, the inhumane treatment of Native water protectors, Trump's win and the consequent terrifying rise in hate crimes... There's a lot to be angry about, but I don't know how channel that anger. It just eats me up instead of eating up the bad guys.

For many years, I reread Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol each December. I had dropped that tradition in the last few years but this year, my God did I need to read it again! In a year so deeply affected by two narcissistic men -- my father (and his death), and Trump -- I needed to read the work of a man enraged by selfishness, especially the selfishness of wealth.

As a small aside, know that, if you've seen the movie, A Christmas Carol, you have no real idea of the book itself. (This is always the case with movie renditions of books.) For instance, do you see all the lovely dishes, and furniture in the movie rendition of Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner? This is an intense and angering watering down Dickens' depiction of Cratchit's poverty. Cratchit has no such china display. Instead, the "family display of glass" consists of "two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle" which the family pass around so they can all enjoy their meagre, festive drink.

Dickens was not the homey, charming writer people now think him to have been. He was a man full of anger at the treatment of the poor, especially the abuses meted out on poor children. His tenderness for the downtrodden is beautifully human. Dickens would not be happy with the way things are today. Indeed, he could be speaking to Trump when the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Scrooge:

"... most of all beware this boy [ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!... Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your facetious [i.e. divisive] purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!"

In A Christmas Carol, the posthumous punishment for the wicked is to become ghosts, fettered by the detritus of their wicked lives -- and to finally see the error of their ways while powerless to do the things they should have done in life. In other words, they see human joy and can't participate in it, human misery and can't alleviate it.

Scrooge's glimpses their suffering, as the ghosts "cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom he saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever."

I used to think that such a fate would be a just, divine punishment for all my abusers: if God made them see and feel, really see and really feel, the horror and guilt of what they had done to me, that would be enough for me.

Upon my father's recent death, I kept thinking of those ghosts and hoping he had joined their ranks. There are so many who should join their ranks.

But it hardly feels like enough. And it does nothing to alleviate the suffering they, and those who do nothing to stop them, wreck upon the world.

I'm not the kind of person who can "smile though my heart is aching." I'm not someone who can fake it. I don't know how. On the day we took these photos, I had very few smiles to share.

But then, the next day, it snowed. I don't even like snow, but it was so unusual, and so pretty, that I did smile -- a lot, and genuinely.

White Christmas, 1954
It did put me in a Christmas mood. Not the Christmas mood of flashbacks and grief, but the Christmas mood of tinkling bells, and sparkling things, and pretty lights on trees. I felt a little like Bing, Danny, Rosemary, and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas, when it finally snowed and everything fell into place.

I often watch that movie at this time of year. I realize that I have created some of my own holiday traditions, adult traditions, traditions founded in freedom, not the slavery of my childhood.

I mean, who wouldn't want to watch queer Danny Kaye, camping it up and flirting with Bing Crosby as they sing, Sisters? I love this scene, despite the copious amounts of light blue, my most triggering colour in the whole world.

See? The good and the bad exist together, always.

Snow is such such a rarity here as to be almost exotic, and I did enjoy that.

Yes, I'm suddenly house bound, unable to walk freely with my cane for fear of ice, and unable to use my mobility scooter because so many people break the law by not shovelling their sidewalks. We disabled folks would be far less disabled if the world noticed us and made a little room for us. Imagine how different things would be if they did!

A friend of mine works as a helper to the disabled. His client almost fell, when he tried to step over this heap of ice that someone had thoughtlessly, selfishly, and illegally shovelled right into the sidewalk. I would have wiped out on my scooter if I had tried it. But, when my friend called the city to alert them to the problem, they informed him that there was nothing they could do. They meant there was nothing they would do. Big difference.

How can people be like that?

Despite all this, I did enjoy the rare snow, at least for a while.

It's been so long since we had a real dump of snow that I had genuinely forgotten that it's wet! Seriously! I was surprised that I had to towel off my hair when I came inside.

Do you doubt how rare even a few weeks of real winter are here? Check out these buds on our lilac bush -- in December!

And check out the copious winter growth on the trees and bushes on our side walkway -- in December! God I love it here.

Another novelty was an unexpected feeding frenzy among the many birds who come to our feeders. They were swarming the feeders, almost frantically eating as much as they could. I'd never seen anything like it. I assume something about the snowfall, more than the cold itself, awakened some dormant instinct in them to fatten up now! The hummingbirds have been at their feeders pretty much constantly for a week, the dear little things.

Even as I recognize winter impediments to my freedom, and the human indifference that increases those impediments, I enjoy the beauty. Look at the old schoolhouse in the snow. Look at the snow on these branches. In the spring, this tree blossoms forth in delicately sweet smelling flowers that fill the street with loveliness. I'll enjoy that too.

The cold and snow bring out a playfulness in everyone. Look! Now you can see my breath!

Now you can't.

Life is funny that way: fun and fear, anger and playfulness, all wrapped up in one thing called the human soul, or this human soul anyway. Embracing the fundamental contradictions of life seems to be the only way. On good days, I call them paradoxes.

Now let's shake off our jumble of emotions and talk about... the coat! What a coat.

I got it on Mod Cloth, which recommended that customers order a size down because it runs large. It doesn't, not in the bust anyway. I had to send it back three times! In the end, to accommodate both my bust and any layers I'd want to wear under it, I had to get it a bit baggy. This is most notable in the waist, which really is too low...

... as you can see. If I were a great seamstress, I could probably fix that, but I like it just as it is too.

In fact, I think it's adorable. It's lovely on curves.

It is obviously modelled on 1940s overcoats...

... which became full and voluminous after Christian Dior came out with his New Look in 1947.

If I were to wear this with a waist cinching corset, and a hip-plumping crinoline ...

... I'd look even more the part of the 1940s gal, but even without that, it's got great shape and movement. 

It really is a great look.

After the poverty of the Depression, and the war and its cloth rationing, such opulence of fabric would have felt wonderful.

And it just happens to also work wonderfully on my scooter, properly covering my legs and keeping me as warm as anyone can be on a scooter in winter ...

.... which isn't very warm at all. In fact, it is f*cking freezing on that thing! I do not know how people on wheels deal with real winters.

But I do what I can, turning the necessities of disability into fashion opportunities when I can. As you know, I wear capes on my scooter, but they do restrict my upper body movement. This coat solves that problem.

I often get compliments from strangers on my outfits. The compliments come most when my pain comes up in conversation. They say something like, "Well at least you look great." They mean that dressing well must give me some comfort. They're right. It does. (This is decidedly different from the "compliment" I get as someone with an invisible disability: "But you look so good," which usually really means, "You don't look like my stereotype of a disabled person. Therefore, I don't believe that you're really disabled.")

I have fun with my outfits, putting together with care and attention to detail. This coat obviously looks best when paired with clothes from or designed as if they were from a similar time period. Enter this lovely Hell Bunny dress which so perfectly compliments the coat in both colour and style.

I've never worn this dress without getting compliments on it. I'm not one to be a brand devotee, not usually, but Hell Bunny really understands curves.

Their clothes come in plus sizes (though not as large as some need) and, far from trying to hide curves, like they're something to be ashamed of, they beautifully highlight them.

This dress doesn't care if I've gained weight, and it doesn't care if I'm in a bad mood. It looks good on me anyway.

Can you see the little yellow birds on it? (Oh, and do you like my new haircut? I think it makes me look sophisticated. Yay!)

The little birds remind me of "my" little goldfinches who have been devouring their favourite food, thistle seed, in this cold. Is there anything cuter than birds' butts? I think not! I'm still trying to get a good photo of a hummingbird's butt. I'll be sure to share it when I do.

In the spring, the male goldfinches will become as bright yellow as their feeder. They will be a glory to behold.

And remember: Here, in December, spring is not far off.

To play up on the yellow in my dress, and to balance out all the red, I wore my yellow, David Andersen butterfly which I inherited from my grandmother. I'm slowly adding to this little collection, so look for these butterflies in new colours in future posts.

Speaking of brooches, aren't these lapels wonderful?

So much brooch room! I'm working on collecting little matching sets of brooches so I can scatter them across these huge lapels.

You know I have a huge, vintage brooch collection so I have lots of choices already. On this day, I went with this 1940s, red and green, enamel brooch. I'm really into 40s jewellery right now though it was, for me, an acquired taste. You can't even really see them, but, when this brooch was first made, its little rhinestone stamen would have trembled with any movement, and tossed out flashes of light as they did so. Such brooches are generally called tremblers.

While Beau and I were taking photographs in front of a festively decorated red house, two middle aged men, a couple I assume, came out of it. They were very merry when we told them what we were doing, and suggested I pose in front of these winter blooming, yellow flowers. I suspect they spotted my yellow brooch but I'm not sure.

They wanted to make sure we got a photo of their yellow "cheer" display and, indeed, they were so jolly and kind that they did bring me some much needed cheer. It was after we met them that I began to be able to smile a bit. I'll have to remember to put my card under their door when this post is done. They said they wanted to see it.

So both their metaphorical sparkle, and the literal sparkle of their decorations did help to improve my mood. I've always liked sparkle and Christmas, done right, is all about the sparkle -- on tinsel ...

... on advent calendars ...

... on brooches, on gloves ...

... and on, say, precious gems like diamonds and rubies!

And on winter snow, caught in hair and on eyelashes.

Yet still, the pain never goes away. I can feel joy and some happiness in pain, but I don't know how to be completely happy or at peace in physical pain, not even for a moment.

Notice my arched back here? It can make my curves look good and make my bum look cute ...

... and it works well with my new coat ...

... but it's an actual spinal condition, an over curvature of my lower back called Lordosis, and it's part of why my back was susceptible to the extremely painful injuries my many rapists inflicted on me when I was a girl.

There is good and there is bad. There is bad and there is good.

The confining snowfall led to pretty scenes like this ...

... and these sweet little bird footprints in the snow on our balcony. But I know some of those little birds haven't survived the cold snap. I haven't seen our magnificent, mature male hummingbird in a week. I don't think he made it.

Good and bad. Bad and good.

On a much smaller scale, my annoying and even triggering wardrobe malfunction led to this unexpectedly sexy photo.

But all the pretty layering also led me to feel incredibly restricted, something no disabled person wants to feel, since we're restricted enough as it is!

But that, in turn, reminded me of the hilariously over-dressed little brother in the very funny movie, A Christmas Story, made in 1983, but set in the early 1940s.

It has become another one of my grown up Christmas traditions. If you haven't seen it, do! Look at the little brother's nose.

Humour is so important. I like that my falling down stocking shows a little here. It's funny.

So is my reaction to the cold ...

... which wasn't blocked at all by my lovely, vintage slip. Nor was it helped by the fact that I insisted on wearing shoes, not boots for these photos.

Women in the 40s just didn't seem to wear real boots with dresses and skirts ...

... so, natch, neither did I.

If you doubt me, check out all the bare legs in this photo of New York in a 1940s December. If you look closely at the women on the right, you can see that they're wearing little, over boots, booties really ...

... like these ones. They were worn over shoes and are really just modified galoshes. I would love to find some of these in my size but women's feet were smaller then. If you find a pair in a 9 or 10, please do let me know!

Despite my desire to be period specific, I just had to wear boots the next day when it snowed.

Beau wore boots too. That's why I'm laughing.

He wore them tucked into my fuzzy pinky, purply socks.

He likes to make me laugh.

I think my black boots look good with this coat, and they do make it a bit easier to walk in the snow, though it's still hard, especially since my cane is liable to slip out from underneath me so I don't dare put as much weight on it as I usually do. 

So instead I stump along like Winnie the Pooh.

Being disabled in the snow does suck.

When I think about it, think about why I'm disabled, think about how many people don't bother to shovel their sidewalks ... When I think on all this, the anger and hurt return, or, to be more accurate flare up. They never go away.

But check out my white tam.

Rita Hayworth
White seemed to make sense with the red, and added to the Christmasy feel of the coat. But screw being a sexy Christmas girl!

I think I looked more like Mrs. Claus. It was the resemblance that first made me think this just had to be some kind of Christmas post.

For that matter, I really looked like Santa himself, at least Victorian versions thereof. 

See what I mean?

Aside from the cold on that flying sleigh, which is probably similar to the cold on my scooter in the winter, Santa's job sounds awfully nice. Childhood can be such hell. I'd like to bring joy into it.

Shhh. Don't wake the children.

Why are women's Christmas outfits usually sexy and youth oriented?

Why aren't they powerful, weather appropriate, and suitable for older people?

Like Santa's outfit!

So. Conclusions? 

My Christmas Present is haunted by my Christmases Past and my fears about our Christmases Future.

And I'm having some fun with the season.



  1. It is indeed always thus, and you are a miracle to be able to accept the good as well as the horror. My heart is full of rage for those who abuse others - people, animals, any living thing. I love the way you enjoy the tiny birds, and show us their beauty. xox


  2. Thanks for linking up to Top of the World Style. This coat is really nice. The dress is so cute!

  3. I am sorry for the bad times you endured. I hope you have fond memories of Christmas to come. I love looking at Modcloth, this coat is very flattering on you, the berry color, the cut! Love the bird dress too, pretty print. I usually cut most of the band around my waist for tights as they bother me, due to sensitivy, so I know about tights ending up lower than you anticipated!
    Thanks for linking with Turning heads tuesday
    jess xx

  4. Lovely coat! I actually had to put off reading this because I was a tad jealous-- your coat was so cute and mine is disintegrating. But I got a lovely coat from our local thrift store today and so I wanted to see your coat. It is gorgeous and looks very good on you!
    And I like your perspective on Christmas. It's never going to be all rosy for me, so this good-with-the-bad is as optimistic as I could get about the holidays. I'm working on being open to it.

  5. Beautiful in burgundy, Charlotte! I am glad that the coat returned to the store just on time for you to buy it! Both the new coat with its gorgeous collar and shape, and the dress are amazing on you! Burgundy really is your color. Love how you top off your outfit with jewelry and this lovely knitted beret!

    Snow is rare here, so it feels unusual. I always smile when it snows here!

    Thank you for linking up with us! Happy holidays, my dear! Lots of love to you!

  6. Thank you for sharing your blog post with me on Twitter. Ambivalence of feelings can be so confusing. The anger that gets directed at your husband is because it is safe to get angry at him. He isn't going to hurt you for being angry at him. I figured that out with my husband.

  7. Adore the style and color of your burgundy coat! And your white tam looks so lovely and cozy paired with it. Thanks for participating in Hat Attack!