I don’t talk about my own family exactly. I mean, I do, but when I do, it’s Myrna and Donnelly. In theory, my father Ian Clachan wanted children. But after my mother died when I was young, he took less interest in me. He did his best for me, but I was quickly given a stepmother who treated me like a stepchild and a stepbrother that I hated.
My grandfather was Patterson Clachan, my father was Donnelly Clachan’s brother. My father was a psychopath, just as Donnelly was. But there was a difference. My father was not a high-functioning psychopath. He had trouble keeping a job, especially a “good job.” He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any way, but he definitely wasn’t easy to get along with.
He was prone to commit petty crimes, as were most of my uncles. Now, I understand why. I don’t exactly know why Donnelly Clachan was a high functioning psychopath, his brothers weren’t. None took after their father exactly, but they were just as likely to burglar a house as go to work. And my father was always looking for ways to get rich quick.
Knowing what I know now, my grandmother was obviously a psychopath as well. Probably high functioning. I never met her; Patterson killed her long before I was born. Most of the kids were raised by their aunt who we now know manipulated Patterson into the murder for her own amusement.
I suspect the reason Donnelly turned out to be a high functioning psychopath is because he wasn’t raised by that aunt. He and his sisters were taken in by my grandmother’s family. Donnelly was incapable of farm work, even though he was seven when his mother died. He’d been born with his hips out of socket along with both knees. He wore leg braces as a result until he was ten and he was considered too fragile. So, he and his sisters who also weren’t useful around a farm, were raised by my grandmother’s family.
My great aunt hated Patterson’s kids. They were all smart and they were prone to speak their minds. Her own son was a bit mentally challenged. He was conceived late in life and born a little slow. As I understand it, my great aunt was quick with the belt, believing the only way to make kids behave was to beat good behavior into them.
My father was prone to petty crime. If he couldn’t make rent, he’d steal it from somewhere. If he wanted something he couldn’t afford, well there was always extra cash lying around at someone’s house. Is it any wonder then that I spent so much time with Donnelly and Myrna?
I don’t remember my mom. I mean, I have a few memories, but not tons. I was young when she died, and my father didn’t even wait an entire year before remarrying. My stepmother wasn’t cruel like Cinderella’s, but she would say things like “Your child” instead of using my name. And she’d tell people she hated my name; it was a stupid name that was completely made-up. She had a son the same age as me and she definitely favored him. Our first Christmas, I got two gifts and while I know it isn’t the amount of gifts that matter one was a package of socks and the other was a set of boys pajamas that weren’t my size, but her son’s and he got a heap of gifts, more than twenty. I was six. It hurt to know that she had bought her son all these great presents and I’d gotten only socks, especially since there was a single toy, I’d really wanted that year an Easy Bake Oven. I would get one that year, but not at Christmas. I got it after I told Myrna there was no Santa Claus or if there was, he was a jerk, because he brought David, my stepbrother lots of great toys and all he brought me was socks and he’d even accidentally wrapped one of David’s gifts and put my name on it.
Donnelly and Myrna always had a big post-Christmas party for the family. All the aunts and uncles, all the cousins. I didn’t see the fight, but I saw the aftermath. Izzy and I were upstairs playing with some of her new toys. She also hadn’t gotten an Easy Bake Oven, but she had gotten a Beauty Parlor Hairstyling and Make-up Set. Looking back, it was a creepy toy, but 6-year-old me, thought it was awesome. It was a mannequin’s head that had hair that could be styled and put up and make-up that could be put on and taken off. Izzy had told all of us for weeks before Christmas how much she wanted one, because she wanted to learn to make women beautiful. At the time, she wanted to be a beautician.
We heard some shouting among the adults who were outside. It had snowed, so we didn’t know why the grown-ups were outside. We thought maybe they were having a snowball fight and we wanted to join in. We rushed downstairs in time to see Donnelly and my father walk back in. Donnelly was bleeding from his lip. My father was bleeding from his nose and would end up with two black eyes the next day. I was ten before I learned the fight was about me and that Myrna had said a few not so nice things to my stepmother while Donnelly had reminded his brother what it meant to be a father.
Two days after New Year’s or maybe the day before? I don’t remember exactly; I woke up to a knock on the front door very early in the morning. I mean really early, no one was awake in the house at the time. The knocking got louder, and I finally went downstairs and got up my father. He went to the door ready to yell at whoever was disturbing his slumber and there was Santa Claus.
He was incredibly short. I was shocked by how short Santa was. I remember that for some reason. He was really short and he had a cane. But he also had a huge sack slung over his shoulder. He said, “ho ho ho” and pushed his way into our house. And there were a pack of dogs outside the house hooked to a sleigh. He came in, called my father by name, and plopped down in my father’s favorite recliner. I remember my father stared at him open mouthed for several minutes without saying anything. Then Santa said, “I got a call and my elves checked and we forgot to stop by your house on Christmas.”
“No, you didn’t,” my stepmother responded.
“Then why didn’t little Nyleena get any toys?” Santa asked her and my father fell onto the couch with a loud plop and stammered something stupid. My stepmother went to the kitchen. “She was on the Nice List. Close to the top of it even. So, I must have missed this house. When I realized the mistake, I loaded up her toys and grabbed the sled dogs, because the reindeer can only fly once a year or it exhausts them and brought her toys which were still in the workshop.”
With that, Santa began to pull things out of the big bag he carried. Wrapped presents all addressed to me. When he got close to the bottom he said “Oh and here’s one for David, who needs to work a little harder to be on the Nice List this next year or he’ll be getting nothing but coal for Christmas. Especially, if he cuts off Nyleena’s hair again.”
With that, my father called my stepmother back in and said, “I thought you said she wanted a haircut?”
“She did,” my stepmother answered. I hadn’t. I’d cried for hours after David cut out a big chunk of my hair that required me to go get a boyish cut that would later be called a Pixie cut.
“Seems like David isn’t the only one not on the Nice List,” Santa told her and my father, stood up and looked at my stepmother. “If you don’t get control over your kid, I’ll do it.” It was the only time I ever remember my father standing up to her and only now, as an adult do, I understand why.
I got an Easy Bake Oven, a Talky Chrissy Doll, and a Lite Bright, as well as several sets of new clothes, including pajamas, and David got one gift, a package of girl’s underwear.
I’d never met Patterson. Only years and years later did I realize the Santa that came to my house was my grandfather Patterson who was on the lam. After I opened all my presents, Santa took my father and stepmother into the kitchen and they had a quiet conversation, but I do remember hearing Santa tell them if they couldn’t take care of me, he knew people who were willing.
Later that day, the police did come to our house to talk about Santa. I have no idea how Patterson got sled dogs and a sled. Donnelly was one of the responding officers. He took David and I into another room to “entertain us” while the police talked to my father and stepmother about the mystery Santa.
It worked. It restored my belief in Santa and my parents did better at keeping things equal between David and me. I don’t know if Donnelly and Myrna bought the gifts or if Patterson did. And it doesn’t really matter. They made that first Christmas without my mom very special, even though it didn’t happen on Christmas. Somehow, they had gotten me all the “big gifts” off my letter to Santa.
And after that, most Christmases were spent with Donnelly and Myrna. My father would pack me up Christmas eve and we’d go stay at my aunt and uncle’s house and Santa would bring me gifts there, just like Izzy and Eric. They managed to keep my belief in Santa going for another three years because of that stunt. And Myrna took over hosting my birthday parties.
I asked her when we were in Australia why she did all that and why Patterson did it. She told me, she was hoping after my mother died, that my father would insist Donnelly and she raise me because he didn’t want to be a single father. Unfortunately, he got remarried instead. It had been Patterson’s idea to play Santa. It was meant to be a reminder to my father, that he was always watching and if my father screwed up, Patterson would take me by force if need be and give me back to Myrna and Donnelly.
This is the problem with psychopaths. Some of them are monsters, Patterson is definitely a monster, but he can also be a guardian angel when he needs to be. I was a teenager before I learned my grandfather had murdered my grandmother than that he was prolific serial killer believed to be in a foreign country.
I have no idea how he stayed off police radar for so many years. He would occasionally leave the country, passing into Mexico at a border crossing and then he’d come back when he wanted to.