Thursday, January 13, 2011

Christmas 1978

I’m exhausted. Mother and father have been fighting non-stop since he got back home. The coffee table is broken and mom had to glue the angle back together that had been on the top of the tree. Mom can’t stop crying. At least, that is what she does when he leaves for the bar or for Kaneohe, the base that the Marines operate out of and the only two places he says he ever goes. When he is home, she is quiet and serene. They spend a lot of time in their room, with the door locked. I chase after Jenny.

She’s learning how to run. I thought it would be fun during the summer. We could play tag and hide-and-seek and all kinds of games. Now, I just wish she would slow down. It’s hard to keep up with her. She’s always into something. Mom says it’s because she is going to be two in the Spring. I don’t really care why. I just want to be able to play without worrying about what she might break or take from me.
Last night they were really loud. I thought Santa might be too scared to come to our house, but mom said he would stop by. He just might be a little late. The sun is coming in the windows now and the house is quiet. Jenny is still sleeping next to me. I don’t dare get up. If I do, I might wake her up. I lay quietly.
I hear my mom get up. I can hear her shuffle down the hall and the usual clanging sounds of coffee being made. My dad’s heavy footsteps follow hers a few minutes later. If they are talking, I can’t hear what they are saying. I am enjoying the peace so much that I don’t realize I have drifted off to sleep until something brushes my arm. My mom is sitting on the bed next to me. Jenny is in her arms. I blink a few times, the light too strong for my eyes.

“Hey,” she says and strokes my cheek. “We have a very special surprise for you.”
“Did Santa come? Did he bring me a bike?” I ask suddenly feeling giddy.
She smiles. Instead of feeling pleasure from it, I feel saddened. “He did come sweetie. He left us a note that said all of our presents are at our new house and we have to go there to get them so you need to get up and put on your warmest clothes so we can go.” She smiled again and then stood up and took Jenny to get dressed.

When I walked into the living room, still in my pajamas, it was full of boxes. Not the wrapped kind. Just brown boxes with black writing sitting on the frayed orange couch that we had always had. The Christmas tree was missing. The only thing still out that could have been packed was the coffee pot, two coffee cups, and a box of Cheerios. I couldn’t comprehend why Santa took all of our stuff. I began to cry.
“Dry your tears. You sound just like your mother.” My father was standing in the doorway. He wore a do-rag and a tattered military jacket. A cigarette shook between his lips. I watched as he grabbed three boxes and disappeared back through the doorway. He came back in a few minutes later. I had dried my tears, but was still pouting. “You know, a bird could shit on that lip of yours. Tell your mother that I’m going to finish loading these boxes and run them to the base. When I get back, you’d all better be ready to go.” For emphasis, he’d taken the cigarette out of his mouth and pointed two fingers directly at my chest indicating who had better be ready to go. Grabbing more boxes he disappeared again.

The next two hours were a whirlwind of activity. I rebelled, fighting against the sudden changes. My mother rallied against me in my father’s absence and only shrugged her shoulders at me in his presence. Jenny just ran around singing Christmas songs.

We boarded a plane late in the afternoon. Mom sat between us two girls. Dad took a different plane to wherever we were going. Overwhelmed, I went to sleep. I awoke when the plane touched down. We repeated the process again. From one plane to the next until we finally reached our destination. The warmth of Hawaii was far, far behind me and the crisp winter weather of Michigan stood at the door of the plane.


  1. The last line is brilliant! It's so final and tragic. Everything is going to be different now.

  2. In my mind, that line is not final. Like you said, the story continues but things will be different now.