The other morning, much like just about every other morning, I went into my daughter's bedroom at about 5:15 after I heard her on the Eavesdropper/ BabyMonitor, chit-chatting away with her Ikea stuffed rat and her dog-chewed Little People. She barks high-pitched commands at them and rubs their noggins together so that they exchange thoughts, I guess; she holds them high above her head and allows them to converse with one another from their perches in her mitts, and then she swoops them down to collide with each other in the middle of her breath.
I opened the door, hit the light, and said my Good Morning. Violet was sitting up in her bed, her back to the board, holding a small broken pine branch in her one hand, the two or three silver tinsels strands spaghetti-ing off it flapping wildly as she talked at the thing. She paid me no mind. I kinda froze in my tracks trying to figure out what was stranger: the fact that she had somehow smuggled a piece of our Christmas tree into her chambers/ or the fact that she was fully engaged in conference with it, first thing before dawn. Whatever, I thought. I need coffee in the next three minutes or goblins are gonna fly out of my face. Stepping through/over/on her small regiment of plastic dinosaurs on the carpet, I made my way over to her and bent down to scoop her up as she held her holiday branch to her ear like it was a cell phone, talking her toddler jive scat at some half-dead congregation of Montana needles.
That's when I noticed our digital camera sitting there, half under her pajama'd thigh.
Hmph. That's what I thought. Maybe I even said it out loud, Hmph.
Her getting hold of the camera somehow didn't really surprise me all that much. It's the sort of well-used borderline piece of junk that pretty much lives where ever it gets plopped down; the kitchen counter, the coffee table. I've found it on the back of the toilet before; don't ask me/ I don't know/ I don't wanna know. So, Violet, on her tippy-toes, somehow reaching her arm up and just barely curving her little wrist over the smooth bend of the counter top, pawing her tiny hand around up there for a tangible tragedy: a world-class meat fork or a ninja's sock knife or a fucking rattlesnake; her fishing around in those dangerous invisible heavens and then just coming up with something easy like the box store Kodak didn't really bother me at all. There were no photos in it for her to erase; I'd loaded them into the computer just yesterday afternoon. And it was too big to swallow; although I would give good money for some footage of her trying to jam it past her jaws; I guarantee you she tried. No, the only thing that sorta irked me about her having the camera in her bedroom with her was more connected to her also having the Christmas branch.
I thought, maybe this is how it starts. Hoarding. Hoarders.
She held on to her branch, jabbering into it as she held it to her ear, and so I let her keep it as I bit my bottom lip a little and carried her out into the kitchen and slid her into the high chair. Dear Lord, I thought. I knew it was all too good to be true. Two years of just flat-out little kid bliss getting me stoned every couple minutes with her dance moves in front of the cartoons and the mashed avocado smeared across her smile; two years of singing songs in the Honda to my whole galaxy looking at me in the rear-view, all of her sweet attention zoning in my song, my eyes in the glass. A hundred years of happiness and joy jammed into 23 months. And now what...now this? My kid might be a pack rat?
To be fair, as I doled out the porridge (toast shreds) to Oliver Twist (Violet), I wasn't really thinking about my little girl, down the road, weighing in at a solid three-fifty/trapped in her own house behind Castle Walls of petrified cat shit and Salvation Army knick-knacks and three thousand Rice Krispie boxes she's saving for if she needs them, you know: later on. To be fair, I was thinking solely about if she decided that, as she gets older, as she grows up and matures into a more adventurous horader: would she ever start hoarding my fishing shit? Because, the thought of my rod and my net and stuff, all jammed up under her bed, packed in tight behind other teenage hoarding loot like her mom's summer mumu's or, God forbid, the dog's food; the thought of my trout gear disappearing on me like that made me a little nervous.
But still, like I said before, I still hadn't had my coffee yet, or my anti-anxiety meds, so just as soon as the whole Hoarders notion popped onto my radar, it simply blipped a couple blips and petered out on the dark screen of my morning seas. I made us all our food and wheeled Violet into the living room in her chair so she could rub strawberry jam in her hair while she sucked down some milk and watched the morning news with Daddy. I forgot all about the branch and the camera. That's how I roll before the coffee. I forget the minute that just happened.
Anyways, I sipped at my joe and poked at my grapefruit slices and we watched the news for a little while, my kid alternating between mouthfuls of jellied toast and talking into the Christmas branch phone.
"Who you talking to, sweetheart?!" I asked her at one point. She just ignored me.
"You talking to Santa Claus there?" I said, with, you know, cute Daddy condescension. Her eyes darted at mine for a second. I swear she stared a bullet hole through my cheek. I turned back to the TV. We sat there like that for awhile, doing our thing when a commercial came on with a Santa Claus standing in a used car lot.
Boom. Violet screeched like I never heard her before. I jumped up, sure she was choking or on fire or something. She was waving the branch around like a tiny spazz and hollering at the television with all her little lungs could muster. I looked at the commercial again. One of those local jobs where the volume is six times louder than anything else you've been watching. The Santa was HoHoHo'ing and swinging his sack of wrapped empty boxes around. He didn't look all that believable or anything, but whatever.
I was kind of thrilled. Up until now Violet hadn't shown much interest or even any kind of recognition of Santa Claus. I'd tried to push him on her with a stuffed Kringle I got at Walmart and a couple old decorations, but she'd seemed more afraid of him than interested, so I figured it was too early yet. Maybe next year.
But now, she was just freaking out. Her eyeballs were about to pop out of her skull as she slammed the branch on her crumby tray and jolted her arms up and down and screeched from her mountaintop. She was smiling and giddy; not at all fearful like she'd seemed to me before.
"You like Santa Claus?" I asked her, uncertain as to what the hell was happening. Kids don't just decide to like Santa one morning over breakfast, do they?
She just waved her needles and kicked her legs and made this face of absolute surprise/delight/recognition as if she'd eaten a whole frosted doughnut by herself and just couldn't control her little body anymore. It was a convulsion, in a way. A Christmas Conniption.
"Daddy's happy!," I told her, gleefully as I could manage. "Daddy's little girl digs Santa Claus! Hooraaay!"
She didn't look at me at all and within a few seconds the commercial ended and Violet immediately turned all her focus back to her branch, rushing it back up to her ear again and letting loose with a nonsensical barrage of ishkibibble. It was as if she was some kind of crazy lady calling her sisters of gossip, letting them know she'd just seen you-know-who doing you-know-what. I was, to be honest, a little dazed by this point. What kind of trigger was that? A Salt Lake actor playing Santa in a used car lot on the tube and my kid goes bananas?
I sipped my coffee and dipped into my Facebook.
"SHEEHSEHHSHHEEEEEMAMMMMMMANAMMMATTTTTTTTTABABABAMMMA!", Violet exploded.
What the fuck! I shot up again and this time she was cramming the branch into her head, pushing the soft needles through her hair as she flapped her hands and wiggled her fingers and held her mouth wide open as it just let go a siren of sound. I looked at her, my heart racing, and she was staring at the TV again. This time: a Santa Claus in a department store with little runts sitting on his lap saying something or other; I couldn't hear anything through Violet's noise.
I was in shock. I walked over to her chair and reached down to take the branch out of her hand. Without moving her eyes from the Santa on the screen she sunk her teeth hard into the ham of my hand.
"FUUUUUCK!" I screamed. "What the hell, Violet!" She was a Pitbull, locked in forever. I dropped her Christmas branch and she dug her teeth out of my skin.
I was pissed. Her teethmarks were perfectly tattooed in the meat. It hurt like hell. Kids are vipers. I wheeled her fast back into the kitchen, scrambling to come up with some kind of discipline before I'd even had a whole cup of coffee; torn between painful rage and fascinated interest in this Santa Claus button that made her insanely alive unlike any fucking Dora or Snoopy had ever managed yet. And they'd been pretty impressive so far: I'd seen her cut quite a few six-whiskey jigs across the living room floor when the Mexican girl wandered in. But this, all this was entirely something different. This was borderline madness with talking at tree parts and biting.
I unstrapped Violet and just set her down on the floor to run back towards the TV, the branch to her ear, the conversation still burning up the line. What was I going to do. It was me who had wanted her to love Christmas and get kind of bonkers over Santa Claus. I didn't know what to do, or how to do it. I went in to wake up Monica so I could get in the shower.
"Whhhhhhhhhmmmm." Her face was under a pillow where it stayed.
"You up? Violet's in the living room watching TV."
"What the hell are you saying? Are you up? Guess what? Violet is tripping on acid whenever Santa Claus appears on commercials and shit on TV. And she had a piece of the Christmas tree in her bed with her, I guess all night, and she's talking into it like it's her cell phone."
"She bit me."
"Because I tried to take her Christmas tree branch away from her during a Santa commercial and she was using it to hit herself in the head in a fit of elation, I think."
"Ok, I gotta get in the shower."
I left the light on and went into Violet's room to see if she'd made her way back there yet, but she hadn't. I was about to roll out when I noticed the camera still sitting on her bed. I picked it up and turned it on.
Sometimes something shoots down under the surface of your papery skin, like hard dope; some kind of lightning that's traveled ten thousand light years over purple star ranges, down through the cold dark canyons of burnt-out suns; never stopping/ always chooglin'; something wild and magical darting across vast galaxies, descending down out of the tumbling Marshmallow Hills of Heaven; splashing across martian lava rivers, on the backs of epic horses with crisp blue steam shooting out of their faces; forever moving; unkillable; an empire's army of vapors coming all that way just to slam into your chicken chest and zombie-walk you down the early morning hall: your heart pounding like the dinosaurs collapsing ; the cheap Kodak like some old Bible torch in your hand. Something moving you out into the living room: to stare in awe at the Highchair Kid with a cheek full of toast.
To watch her talking at a Christmas tree branch.
To stand in the twinkle in her eye.
To hear the HoHoHo's fading down your street on a northbound Doppler gust of sleigh bell.