The Last Christmas
December 2, 2019
The ginger doll rests on my lap. Her eyes are an ice blue, like mine, and her pink booties are tied tightly ‘round her ankles. And as the fire spews an ember towards the hardwood floor and leaves it with a black hole, the candles burn bright, overflowing with wax. I turn to the little boy staring at me, eyes wide, opening my hand. In there he places a toy car, smiling softly. “Merry Christmas,” Dad exclaims, half-hugging me and serving me a plate of ham and eggs. Mom sips her coffee, her pink satin robe shimmers as she sits at the dining room table, a blonde-haired baby in her arms.
“Santa Claus is not real,” the children tell me on the playground. I am chastised for believing. On Friday night, seven o’clock at the Kenilworth Mall, I sit on Santa’s lap; doubt coursing through me. The blonde-haired little girl smiles sweetly, her charming eyes resting on Santa Claus’ white beard. I pick her up, sitting her on Santa’s lap. She becomes ecstatic, her arms moving up and down, and she laughs. She wants a toy kitten, a barbie, and maybe a play pretend kitchen, if Santa Claus can fit it in his sleigh. Then, it is the boy’s turn, and he asks for a basketball hoop. He knows Santa can’t fit it in his sleigh, so he expects the elves to mail it in three to five business days. “Some things just don’t arrive on time for Christmas,” he tells me. He’s not disappointed, though.
My tired head hits the chilled pillow. I briefly look around to see the carousel on my nightstand turning in circles, playing soft, child-like Christmas instrumentals. The tiny tree in the corner is lit up with multicolored LED lights. The presents are in the closet, waiting to be placed neatly under the tree tomorrow morning. The small dog in my lap will surely get to them well before the recipients have a chance to find their gift under the tree. My church clothes lay flat on the floor, the black tights rolled into a ball, thrown into the corner of the room. My red shirt has a stain on it; it must be ketchup, or cranberry juice, or something that resembles a deep red. I did my best to take my makeup off, but some mascara and lipstick still remain despite my best efforts. My hair is thrown up into a bun, and it rests neatly on the cold pillow. I effortlessly fall asleep.
I receive a hair straightener, some lipstick, a new phone case, and some candy. The little one gets baby dolls and stuffed animals. My brother gets his very first Mario Brothers video game. Then, after breakfast, I jump in the shower, eager to dry and straighten my hair, apply my makeup, and look perfectly polished for Christmas dinner. The pretty doll, with her ice-blue eyes and pink booties sits comfortably on a shelf in my room. Her smooth face is different than my red, bumpy, teenage skin, and her slim body doesn’t match the hips I’ve started filling out. And lastly, is her stomach. It is much smoother and flatter. Maybe, for Christmas this year, I did not want a doll, I wanted to be one instead. Our eyes meet; a glimpse of my sweet, innocent younger self is gone in a flash. It was like the doll’s eyes had captured my old self in her hollow, lonely plastic body. At dinner that night, I sit. Perfectly polished and unmoving, I sit.
I rest on the couch, a cup of blistering hot cocoa in my hand. They all sit next to me, blankets falling over us, threatening to spill the burning liquid at every twist and turn of the body. Once everyone is adjusted, “A Christmas Carol” plays. I can relate to Isabelle, trying to make everyone happy. I can relate to Karen’s sadness when she loses Frosty, and in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I feel as though I am George sometimes, wondering what life would be like without me.
The bitter cold stings my eyes, as I walk outside in a snowy mix of sleet, snow, rain, and slush. My black boots glide upon the cracked, icy sidewalks, as Dad walks up to me and asks, “don’t you want some ham and eggs?” I nod my head, no, and continue walking. “It’s nine in the morning, why don’t you go back to sleep,” he suggested. “No, I can’t sleep Dad, I don’t sleep.”
“What a beautiful snow,” a stranger looked at me and said. The nice lady leans forward to pat my back and then disappears, leaving me alone again. The blue rails on the bunk beds are cold and destitute. The window is smeared with handprints and dirt. The murky lake is covered with a sheet of snow and ice. The foot of the mountains bore the brunt of what was the loneliest, most beautiful snow storm I have ever witnessed. And although I am not alone for long, they began to rally around me, as we navigated the bitter winter. My flimsy black boots slide up the mountain, and, then they fall back down. And then they carry me up until I am with the group. I trust them to catch me when I slip and fall—to comfort me when the cold is to much to bear all alone. Every chill in the nighttime is met with their warmth and comfort. My body has succumb to sickness, and then recovery, and then painful sickness all over again. A bitter virus that clogs my nose and my weathering soul. But, they are the antidote—and I’m building an antidote. I am the antidote.
“Pay it forward!” the lady chimes. “Wrap your toys in paper, give them to those less fortunate.” The sweet smell of cookies and the essence of gratitude fills the room. I wonder what the blonde little girl at home is doing with her play kitchen, and if the boy’s basketball playing has improved since last season. I hope Mom and Dad are in good health. Soon, I will come home. They said I could return. I think I’ll return as Frosty, since I have come back to life. Or Isabelle, as I have walked away from what has not served me. Or George, I know I am needed.
I look out the window, down at the potholes and cracks in the road, and towards the streetlights. Oh, the many times I have stared at the street lights to see the snow! Must be a hundred times each winter. Although, I must say, this time is different. As my hand presses against the cold window pane, my thoughts turn to the doll, and then to Dad’s ham and eggs, and to all the Christmas movies we watch—and to leaving home and coming home. Flashbacks enter my mind, adrenaline coursing through my veins. So much goodness, and so much courage. Leaving home had meant leaving behind the empty shell, the lipsticks, and the unattainable perfections. But it meant missing the little blonde girl and the little boy who loved to play with cars. It meant missing the silence that church provided every Christmas Eve mass, and my Grandparent’s in line in the church pew. It means holding onto all of that. But most importantly, it means holding onto the girl who cherished it all.