My First Hanukkah — Eight Days of Hell (Short Story)

2 months ago

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I remember vividly the first time I was introduced to the #holidays. I was four years old. One day, after preschool, I come home and I see these presents on a chair wrapped in blue and gold wrapping paper. There was a menorah with one candle lit. Little did I know at the time, but those are apparently the signs of being a Jew.

She says to me, “This is the first night of Hanukkah. And all good boys get one present each night of the eight days of #Hanukkah. First we light a candle, and then you can have a present.”

I said excitingly, “Oh wow!” …How could a week of getting presents be a bad thing, right? …. LITTLE DID I KNOW!!….

As we were lighting the first night’s Hanukkah candle I saw these bright colorful lights turn on and flicker in the neighbor’s window across the way.

Again, I said excitingly, “OH WOW! Can we get those too?” I asked.

“No we don’t do that.” My mom answered. “We’re different.”

But I jumped right back at her, “Okay, but can we do it the way with the blinking color lights too?”

“What did I say about good little boys getting presents?”

That brief moment of anti-discussion and conditional push/pull control, which she always did, was what ended the discussion of what my religion was, is, and should be…. and apparently my religion didn’t come with fun party holiday lights.

“Okay, I want the presents.” I reluctantly decided.

So she goes over to the “Hanukkah chair” and picks up the smallest of the eight presents.

“I want that one!” as I point to the biggest present on the chair.

“No, this is the present for tonight.” She hands me the small box, “because you’ve had your dinner already and you’ll like this one.”

I open the wrapped present…. inside is a small plastic bag, and inside the bag…. 6 or 7 carob covered raisins.

I tried one, “These are weeeeird.” I spit it out.

She gave me 6 fucking carob covered raisins! Not even chocolate raisins. These were that shit fake chocolate; carob. Carob, you’re not fooling anyone! (Later in life I realized she bought a full big bag of these carob raisins and ate em all the time! She broke me off a piece of her big-ass bag of carob raisins for herself, picked out 7, stuck em in another bag, and called that a present. It would be like her saying “I got you some horrible tasting rotten milk!… Well, not the whole carton, just take two sips of that spoiled milk, it’s in the fridge.”)

“I don’t like those. Can I open a new present?”

“No. Good boys appreciate when their mommy gives them presents. They say ‘thank you.’ You’ll get your next present tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

Night 2, come home, light the candle, she picks up a present from the “Hanukkah chair.”

It’s a pair of socks.

“Thank you.”

Night 3, come home, light candle, she hands me a present. Underwear.

I’ll admit, “Voltron” underwear was supposed to be cool in 1983, but I didn’t like Voltron at all back then and I was afraid that if I wore em the robot might fly up my ass. She knew I didn’t like “Voltron.” Every time it was on, I wanted to switch the TV channel to “The Electric Company” or “3–2–1 Contact”

“Thank you.”

Night 4, come home, light candle…. meanwhile, each night, there’s more and more Christmas lights showing up in people’s windows across the way. I noticed this every time we lit the candle. She hands me a present. Footsie pajamas. Somewhere around night four or five, I was starting to realize, ‘is this a way for her to just go clothes shopping for me, and she wanted to expand the length of time into eight days and do this all under the umbrella of a Jewish holiday? I will admit, as a adult, who is almost 40, I wouldn’t mind having a pair of footsie pajamas, but I digress.

“Thank you.”

Night 5, light candle, she hands me a present. That big present, still sitting in the chair, same position in the chair, leaning up against the back, looking at me like ‘you know you ain’t getting me til night eight.’ So she hands me the night five present. It’s some kid’s pants.

“Thank you.”

Night 6, come home, light candle, by this time the whole neighborhood is blinking and flashing with all these Christmas celebration lights. People have these elaborate decorations up now and on full blast. The whole courtyard is so lit it’s shining into our apartment windows. She closes our blinds; She closes our Jew blinds. She hands me a present. It’s the shirt to match the pants I got the night before. I still remember it. I remember it said “MVP” on the shirt.

She said “You know what ‘MVP’ means? My Favorite Person.”

What the fuck?! That doesn’t even make any sense?! She’s trying to use the ‘V’ in the middle of ‘favorite’ to edit “Most Valuable Player?!”

“Thank you.”

On the 7th night, get home, candle, hands me a present. It’s four D batteries. Keep in mind, I’m four years old, have never gotten presents or much of anything. I didn’t understand the concept of unwrapping batteries. It means if you unwrap batteries, the next present is going to be whatever those batteries go into, like a remote control car, “Speak and Spell”, whatever that took batteries back in 1983, I dunno, “Simon,” something like that. She didn’t inform me of this.

She told me, “These go in something to make it have power, like the plugs in the wall you’re never to go near or touch.”

I stopped and thought for a second, “Oh, you mean like the flashlight?!” ( I had a flashlight in my room that didn’t work, obviously, because there were no batteries in it.) The issue with the seventh night’s present was that the four D batteries were the whole present for the night. And that was it. ….. So, I figured, I guess these go in my flashlight. I did get a bit excited though, because I had an idea.

“Thank you.”

I went into my room with my present, and I started playing with my batteries. I put them in the flashlight and started shining it out my bedroom window, perhaps in a way to have fun lights shining and blinking from my room too, like everyone else in the neighborhood.

She comes into my room, “No, don’t use those batteries for the flashlight. Those batteries are for tomorrow night.” and she made me not only turn off the flashlight, but she took the batteries out, and took the flashlight.

(I just want to emphasize this here that you do not try to create anticipation and surprise with a four year old over the course of eight days. You don’t tell a four year old “This whole Hanukkah thing is going to be amazing, we’re gonna be lighting candles and opening presents for eight days and you’ll love this.” and then give seven days of bullshit. You also don’t give a kid some damn D batteries as a gift and then tell him he can’t use em.)

On the 8th and final night. Come home. Light the candle, by now the neighborhood is just absolutely blazing with lights. Blinking, flashing, there’s these air-filled lit up lawn Santas, and flying angels shooting out beams of lasers, it was so strong it seeped through our closed Jewish apartment’s blinds.

8th and final night…. The big present!…. leaning up in the chair looking at me like “Sup?” She hands me the present. I open it... It’s “Hungry Hungry Hippos”; popular game of the 80s. It’s a popular…four person children's board game.

I should mention; I am an only child, and she’s a divorced single mother. We have two people that can play, maximum. I don’t have any friends to play with, I’m only four. Plus, “Hungry Hungry Hippos” does not require batteries, so to this day, I don’t know what the four D batteries were even given to me for. I obviously couldn’t use them in my flashlight.

I didn’t know what “Hungry Hungry Hippos” was, but the picture on the box looked like fun. Four children, happy, excited, smashing their hands on these hippo butts, marbles flying all over the place with those drawn on speed lines. It seemed like a good time.

“Is this a toy.” I asked?

“It’s a game.” she said. “Let’s take it out of the box and play….. but first, what do good boys say?”

“Thank you.”

We proceeded to set it up and put the while marbles in the middle of the gameboard.

We played… ONE ROUND! We played it one fucking time! …And, I wouldn’t even call her rules a “game.”

“Yaaay!” she shouted, “We won! All the hippos ate the balls!”

She thinks the point of “Hungry Hippos” is to work as a team to eat the marbles… together!

I say, “Okay now what?” (while thinking, ‘are we going to play another round… or… are you going to suddenly give me three brothers; some sort of Hanukkah miracle?’)

“Now try it for yourself, you’re a big boy, you can make the hippos eat the balls. Go play with your new game in your room. Mommy has some work to do.” (She had to work on her next day’s lesson plan, because she’s a teacher, ironically. She also gives me back the four D batteries, which to this day, I don’t understand, but then again, there’s a lot of things she did and to this day I don’t understand.)

(Still, I feel the need to reiterate. Four years old. First seven days I get lame-ass, pathetic carob raisins and clothes I didn’t like. Night 7 she gives me the gift of some D batteries, then takes em away, and I can’t even play with em. I’m an ONLY child and I get “Hungry Hungry Hippos”, a four-person multiplayer competitive game where a winner is declared! She plays one round of ‘non-competitive marble corralling.’ She plays ‘watch us both collect the marbles!’ and then drums up the closing ceremonies of false excitement, with “Yaaaay!” And then she’s done, it’s over. She is like “Here’s 20 marbles and no rules, go in your room and….. choke on these”… No, kidding….However, that is borderline child neglect giving a four year old 20 marbles and then saying “Go away and supervise yourself.” I was intelligent enough not to eat the marbles , but it did occur to me to try to fit all 20 in my mouth, which I’m sure would have led to my death. She did indeed hand a four year old a loaded gun with 20 bullets.)

I proceeded to take the game into my room. I placed it in the center of my floor and set up the marbles on the board.

At first I did that one thing all kids with no siblings and no friends do with “Hungry Hippos”…. Ya know? You make your two feet and your other hand the three other hippos…. And you think, now we got a real game here! Four players. Good action on the table, we got my right foot at the green hippo, left foot is operating yellow. Left hand is on pink. And the favorite hippo of this round is orange… because, I was right handed, and for some reason, in my head, I thought my right hand was ‘me’ playing, and those other three; those were ‘other players.’ I tried that “‘Hungry Hippos’ solitaire” a few times. Right hand won, every time, obviously, he was the heavy favorite; He was me. After a few rounds of that, as a four year old, I realized the right hand was winning all the time…. and then, eventually, my feet stopped even trying… and then, I just started using my feet to just push the balls directly into the right hand hippo’s wide open mouth…. Soon after… I’m just sitting on a board watching marbles roll around.

In anger and boredom, I set up the game once again, and put all 20 marbles on the board. I set the board in the middle of my room. I climb up, with those four D batteries to the top bunk of my bunk bed (Again, here is one of those things I still don’t understand to this day. I’m an only child… with a bunk bed.). From the top bunk, I proceed to fastball pitch a D battery directly at the “Hungry Hippos” board game. WHAM! Direct hit! One of the hippos whole face and body snap off, another Hippo gets cracked, the board goes flying to the corner of the room, and 20 marbles go in every direction possible, like a cluster bomb just went off in my room.

“Brad?” I hear from the other room.

“Yes?”

“You okay in there?”

Usually the sound of an explosion from their son’s room would make a mother get up and see what happened? But no. So….

I then proceed to take another D battery, aim for the corner of the room where the board is, fastball pitch directly at the board, battery bounces off, knocks into a lamp, and the lamp comes falling down, hitting a bookshelf with some knick-nacks. Loud crashing noises.

“Brad?!? What was that?!” as she comes running in to my room. She opens my door and is in shock.

“I’m playing.”

Mom replies, “Look at this. Look at this mess!” She is frozen in such horror like I had just murdered someone. “The board is already cracked, the marbles are all over the floor, there are scratches on the board, one hippo is off and broken. This was brand new a minute ago!”

“I’m playing.”

She takes the board away from me in disappointment, “Why did you break the toy I gave you. I wanted you to have this nice game and you broke it. You don’t get nice things if you break them. This is not nice good boy behavior. I am taking this game and your batteries and when you are good you can play with them. You are not a good boy. Clean your room. You are in a lot of trouble. We are going to talk about this tomorrow.”

I guess I’m not a good boy. Little did she realize I was already tired from the strategic thinking-man’s game of getting balls to roll into holes.

That 8th Hanukkah night of my first Hanukkah I remember being frustrated, confused, angry, and mostly this feeling of being wronged, taken advantage of, controlled, and I couldn’t express myself about the situation at four years old. I cried and cried, then I closed my door and hunted around my room for the marbles. The treasure hunt of finding the marbles was fun, because I knew I was looking for 20. Then I proceeded to make a rudimentary marble run Rube Goldberg machine with whatever I had in my room for the rest of the night. I ended up liking my present of 20 marbles and punishment alone time.

I remember thinking often back then; “Things are always good until mommy is around.” and “Why does she always have to be where ever I go?” and “Would she be alright with it if I told her I was moving out?” I was happy in a closed room alone with some marbles….Without her!

“Thank you!” I exhaled.

To this day, I hate receiving presents and gifts from anyone. I’m never appreciative of any gift given to me. I mean, I sort of learned after 30 years that I have to say thank you for thinking of me or else I have to deal with a pissed person that just gave me a present, but generally, I hate getting presents. I also pretty much already knew I had a bad taste for Judaism, because it was presented (no pun intended) to me in this way. It wasn’t Hanukkah… It was Fugazikah! This linkage was burned into my brain that night and it was the eight days of hell that shaped me. I hate “Hungry Hungry Hippos”, I’m repulsed by Hanukkah, Judaism is boring and non-festive, and, I pretty much despise my mother. I like marbles…

Happy Hanukkah
#ShortStory By Brad Reason
#writing #journal



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