The First Christmas
There’s very little I remember about last Christmas.
I feel like I can remember every moment of Thanksgiving, every moment right up until that text, right up until I heard the news.
After that, my memory comes in fragments. Impressions. I know we went to Jessica and Nathan’s wedding, and we danced desperately, danced like we could out-dance our grief, danced like if we just kept moving, the pain couldn’t touch us. I remember Simona and Darren’s visit, remember talking until the early morning hours, crying on the couch. Our hand-me-down couch that my parents bought when I was in sixth grade, before I thought much about the word cancer.
I remember the people who brought us food. I remember Jessica coming over the day it happened, bringing us Chinese food. I can’t remember tasting a single thing.
And Christmas. I remember little about Christmas.
Christmas Eve, I remember driving around Titusville, the little coastal town Jesse and I both grew up in, I remember driving around that town looking at lights with everyone who was left: Jesse, me, my parents, his mother, his sister, my grandmother. Jesse and I spend Christmas Eve with my family, Christmas Day with his (and have been since we were dating as teenagers.) We listened to Christmas music on the radio. I coughed in the backseat, getting sick again. But the whole city was lit up, and we listened to the songs we’ve heard every December of our lives and looked at the same Christmas decorations we’ve been looking at since we were kids. The luminaries–tiny lights in paper bags. One here or there on fire, a little torch.
How many luminaries have I put out with my dad over the years? When was the last year I did that? Did I have any idea that was the last year?
That night, last Christmas Eve, we drove by my old house. I didn’t want to look at it. The yard Dad kept so nice was overgrown, the neighborhood weary looking.
Across Carpenter Road from where I lived was Lantern Park, where the kids whose dads were dentists or office workers lived. They always had the best lights.
And for a few moments, I could pretend I was sixteen and none of this had happened. And Vicki and Becki were joining us and Tom had stayed home. For a few moments, he could still be alive, just across town, and we could look at the lights that have always been there, will always be there.
The only thing I remember about Christmas Day is Vicki crying when she opened a locket Becki bought her with Tom’s initials on the outside.
The rest of December, it seems, I was sick. Then, everyone else got sick too. We limped into the New Year.