I've always enjoyed keeping my room dark, but on occasion, a beam of sunlight would penetrate my blinds. It's not that I have anything against daylight, but the burst of sunshine brought the spots on the carpet and dust in the air to life. Julianna would have never stood for it. She always made sure I cleaned and picked up after myself.
I heard a booming knock on my door. It didn't surprise me. My determined neighbor used the Holidays as an excuse to drive me crazy. "Old guy... hey old guy! It's me again. I'm having some friends over tomorrow to celebrate the new year, and you're invited, but I know you won't show up. I'd be surprised if you even answered the door. I know I've said this the past three years, but this is the absolute last time I will bother you on New Year's Eve. I just figured you might, ah you know what, never mind!" she said. She acted like a child forced by her mother to be nice to the uncle no one cared to be around. "Later, Scrooge," She mumbled from the other side of the door. "I heard that," I replied. It's not the first time I overheard people walking up and down the hallways at night comparing me to pre-ghost Ebeneezer.
I invited my neighbor in and offered her a seat. She reluctantly sat down and was obviously in some form of shock. "Look, man, if you plan on murdering me or something, my boyfriend knows I'm here," She told me. I had seen her boyfriend in passing. He was always on his phone and never really paid her any attention. If I did happen to murder her, I honestly don't believe he'd even notice, at least for a week. "Your days are mixed up," I said as I was trying to keep a cough under control while my eyes began to water a bit. "You don't sound too good," My neighbor mentioned. She seemed confused by my statement.
I explained how tomorrow is not New Year's Day; it's December 32nd, the last day of Christmas. Her eyes opened wide as she rose from the old west cowhide club chair to make a speedy exit. Before walking out the door, she stopped to look back at me. My hand was covering my face as I was clutching my side, coughing uncontrollably with my mouth shut. "You! Sit down, and I'll get you a glass of water while you explain to me how tomorrow isn't January first," she said in a demanding voice while storming toward my outdated mini kitchen. I thanked her for the glass of water and began to tell my story.
The year was 1971, and I had just returned from Vietnam in the middle of December. I was more vigorous, healthy, and arguably better looking in my twenties. I was happy to be home for many reasons, but none compared to the elation of seeing Julianna. I was going to ask her to marry me. We met a week before I had shipped out, and I bet we wrote each other a thousand letters while I was gone and she was finishing college. We got to know each other through the mail. Each note uncovered something new, while every sentence and letter was the beginning of our love story.
We were married in December. Neither of our families had much money, so it was a small ceremony in a tiny church outside Clarksville. Her dad was the preacher, so we got a pretty great deal. I forgot to mention both of our birthdays were in December, and I proposed to her the day before Christmas the previous year. Seeing that this was an exceptional month, we decided one day of Christmas just wasn't enough. Our first December as a married couple was the beginning of an extraordinary tradition.
Each year the tree was up before midnight on November thirtieth. December first, we celebrated Christmas, December second, we celebrated Christmas, December third, we celebrated Christmas, and this went on through the thirty-first. We exchanged gifts each day, nothing too extravagant, mainly handmade cards and sometimes a new pair of shoes or something. One year, I managed to save up for a new ring on our tenth anniversary on Christmas the thirteenth. She went all out and made me my favorite rum cake for Christmas the fourteenth. Our life together was remarkable. Our life together was perfect.
Around the time the '70s were coming to an end, we found out children weren't going to be possible. It was pretty devastating news for both of us, but we managed. The '80s were a struggle because I messed my back up pretty badly at work and had to change career directions. We had talked about adoption before our income shrunk. The '90s happened, and we finally decided children just weren't meant to be. It probably took us a solid twenty years to let that dream go, but we were at peace with it. Through all of the struggles, the tragedies, the blindsides life tends to throw; we always managed to keep our Christmas tradition strong. We celebrated Christmas for thirty-one days straight each year for over thirty years.
In 2005 we found out Julianna was sick, really sick. We spent most of that year in and out of hospitals, mostly in. In November, the doctor told me my wife would not make it through December, so we had to adjust. We lost the house over the course of her illness, but it didn't matter. I managed to get a Christmas tree up in her new room by midnight, November 30th. It was pretty small but a beautiful tree. Her smile lit up the room when she woke and saw it. On Christmas the first, we exchanged gifts; on Christmas the second, we exchanged gifts, and on Christmas the third, we exchanged gifts.
Early in December, she managed to glue, cut, and paint some of the most delightful presents I have ever seen. The cards I gave her weren't as detailed or colorful, but I made them with just as much love. By the middle of the month, her Christmas gifts were hugs, at first, then soft kisses before she nodded off each evening. Eventually, her gifts became a tired little smile she forced before all of the medication sent her to sleep.
A staff member came into the room to reassure me that Julianna was not in any pain. I ignored him because we were in the middle of celebrating Christmas 31st. The ring I had given her for our anniversary years ago had fallen off her finger; she had lost so much weight. I wrapped some yarn around it and slid it back on. That was my simple gift to her that Christmas, and she held my hand in return. Knowing she would not make it through the night, I gave her a final kiss and said goodbye before falling asleep with her hand in mine.
I woke up early the following day, refusing to open my eyes because I was content in the dark, imagining my wife next to me forcing a tired smile in my direction. I had finally worked up enough nerve to peek at her; she was still breathing. My stubborn wife had managed to live longer than anyone had expected. Right then and there, I decided this must be December 32nd. My wife decided to give me the most awesome gift anyone could ever receive. She gave me the gift of time.
I laid beside her and talked about our life together. The memories rushed in, and each moment, each Christmas, was alive. I wanted her to know I never took a single Christmas or a single day with her for granted, ever. I looked at her and saw the beautiful woman I had met years ago. I could see her hazel eyes full of joy, her perfect little imperfect smile that was sometimes a mask whenever I did something stupid. I could smell her favorite perfume while I ran my finger over the bridge of her nose. We talked into the night, and she passed late that evening.
That's why December 32nd is the most important day of the year. My young neighbor's eyes were full of tears. She hugged my neck and left the room. I sat in my old chair that night, holding my wife's ring. I needed to feel close to her. Echoes of our life flooded in, and I could sleep on this special Christmas Eve.
First thing in the morning on December 32nd, a thunderous knock shook my apartment. My neighbor began speaking through the door, "I broke up with my boyfriend last night. I told him your story. All he had to say is that it was silly to waste all of that time and effort every year. I kicked him out because I wanted what you had! I want that kind of love. I have a gift for you. It's Christmas the 32nd, and I want to clean your apartment for you. Hey old guy, old guy!"
She continued to talk, but I never responded. I passed some time in my sleep that night. I spent over one thousand Christmases with Julianna, which still wasn't enough. I was ready to hold her hand again.