The following text comes from my manuscript.)
We reached second in line when Santa left for his dinner break, a thirty minute window according to his helper. A mix of abandoned strollers and shopping bags filled the winding line between the velvet ropes and underneath the elevator to the top floor. Personal belongings that held everyone’s place while parents bolted to the restroom and otherwise scattered with their restless kids. Peter was perhaps the most ornery child of all.
My children played like uncaged animals in the adjacent kid zone, running freely and sweating along their hairlines from dressy attire of heavy woven sweaters, non-breathable velvet, and thick winter tights, gaping at the crotch and twisted along the waistline. Their clothes were meant for posing and picture-taking, or sitting in church for some, not for climbing and sliding on germ-infested, plastic sculptures. For Peter, getting out of the enclosure was the only game he wanted to play. I guarded his escape over the waist-high walls and played goalie, blocking his exit through the wide opening to the straits of the mall. I was now perspiring and pulling up the rear of my low rise jeans. Focusing solely on Peter was a preoccupation I’d fought since his birth.
Time passed quickly and I noticed the line to see Santa was moving again. Santa had returned earlier than expected. I scooped up Peter and hurried the other children back to our space in line. Our generic Burberry print stroller had been pushed to the side. A young woman working as Santa’s elf ordered us to the back of the line. A line that had grown since the flood of children was dismissed from school. I explained that we’d been in line before the dinner break. She didn’t budge. I stood there dumbfounded. Whatever policy she was enforcing went against every fair principle known. The universal rule of waiting in a line.
I was fuming and suddenly overflowing with emotion. I was used to gritting my teeth and warding off impending tears with Peter. On this day, I couldn’t. I had no fight left in me. I had to get out of there. I wasn’t about to abide by an unreasonable policy for a picture I didn’t really care about anyway. A picture we could duplicate with another Santa on another day. Santa’s elf had killed what little Christmas spirit I’d managed to fake.
The children’s enthusiastic faces were now marred with disappointment and confusion. We hurried out of the mall, loaded up and headed home. I couldn’t speak, trying to process the cumulative grief and pressure from a life that was closing in on me. “What’s wrong?” the children asked after noticing that I was upset. I couldn’t answer, trying to shield them from my imminent breakdown. Tears welled up in my eyes and my whole body caved to the pressures of a life I couldn’t control. I could barely see to drive or even make it the five minutes until home. I pulled into a gas station, idling in a front parking space, my whole body numb from the pain. The children sat, buckled and abidingly silent, even Peter, which was a rarity. Time seemed frozen and I was debilitated by racing thoughts of every recent misfortune.
I grabbed a few crinkled dollars stuffed in my purse, wiped the tears from my eyes, and exited the car. I returned after a minute with some instant lottery tickets. A quick fix, I hoped. Maybe I’d win my way out of this mess. I sat perforating the tickets and scratching the silver ink with my key, each ticket cementing my fate, as tears streamed down my face. Twenty minutes passed before I could muster the strength to drive home safely, still fighting through a murky haze of sorrow, chronically embedded for years now. And, since that day, each time we’d pass that same gas station near our home, the children would point and say, “There’s where you went to cry, mommy” I was crying all of the time now and the children were accustomed to it.