The Christmas Shark

They say that writing a book can be as painful as giving birth. I’m thinking quadruplets–no epidural. Nevertheless, we’re on the home stretch of this delivery.
With the holidays fast approaching, I’m sharing seasonal excerpts from one of our chapters. Years later, I can look back with a sense of humor–sort of.

I checked my calendar daily, feeling a wee bit superior to the throngs of materialistic, spiritually-depleted people who commercialize this religious observance a little more every year. I was rejoicing in authentic, traditional ways, and my schedule was chock-a-block with cheer. Normally I knew when to retreat from the social whirl, take a deep breath and a short winter’s nap. But for the first time in months, we weren’t in the throes of a drug-related crisis. It felt liberating and I let myself get swept up in a celebration that had, so often for me, been soured by addiction.

I’d earned this one.

Yes, this Christmas would be about fellowship, the inimitable Lessons and Carols Service at church, cooking and decking our halls with boughs of holly. I was jubilant, or at least I thought so. But in truth, I was the swimmer in the movie, Jaws, paddling an inflatable raft out into the ocean, blissfully unaware of the great white shark lurking below.


In every Southern city, the name of the psychiatric hospital finds its way into the local vernacular.

“Lord, have mercy!” my Columbia, South Carolina grandmother declared, wiping her hands on her apron and pointing her perfectly manicured finger at my grandfather. “If you tell that worn-out old story one more time, I’m gonna wind up on Bull Street.”

My cousin, Ella, lives upcountry in Greenville, so in her version, it’s Marshall Pickens. In New Orleans, though, you’ll check in to River Oaks.

These comments poured from the women in my family like sweet tea at Sunday supper. My aunts would nod knowingly, fanning themselves with church bulletins, their ankles neatly crossed and tucked under painted metal lawn chairs.

Nowadays, in Columbia, you’d book your breakdown at Werber Bryan.
And in Richmond? It was, and still is, Tucker’s.

I checked in shortly after lunch on Christmas Eve.