When I was small, Santa left all of my gifts unwrapped on Christmas morning. It was nothing short of extraordinary to walk into the living room to see my Lone Ranger or the Star Wars toys I scored one lucky year. A record player even sat under the tree once surrounded by Kenny Rogers and Beach Boys 45's. I'd never owned my own vinyl before that. All of the splendor leading up to that remarkable moment was impossible to contain the night before and made it difficult to sleep. Getting a solid eight doesn't seem that significant when you're a kid anyway.
Now I'm at the point in life that increasingly gets harder and harder. I've outgrown Santa presents, and I'm nowhere near old enough to be called an adult. The Sears Catalogue is still interesting to look at, but it's no longer the toy section that gets me revved up. When Mom isn't around, I immediately go to the lingerie, but I'm careful enough to keep one finger under another spot in case she pops in the room. I'm shocked she hasn't torn those pages out yet because they're obviously more worn than the rest of the book.
Don't even get me started on Vanna White. Watching her turn the letters is a dream for any boy my age. The best has to be The Price Is Right, but it's also the most uncomfortable to watch with my mother in the room. It gets extra awkward whenever the prize is a boat, and three or four women walk out in bikinis. My pocket knife comes in handy because I can always pretend to examine the blade instead of checking out the half-naked models. Mom insists they should put more clothes on, and all I can do is half-heartedly agree with her while trying to catch a peek before the commercial.
Being my age is nothing but complete agony, and being in middle school doesn't help. I don't see things getting better anytime soon. Most days, I can't even concentrate because my restless mind doesn't focus on anything but girls. Clouds used to form elephants and giraffes, and now it's primarily boobs and legs. All I ever hear adults talk about is how much they wish they were my age again. Grown-ups must be insane, but then again, I'd like to go back a few years myself so that I could concentrate on comics and green army men. All of these hormones are taking over, and it keeps my head buzzing so much it'll probably pop up off my shoulders.
The house is full on Christmas Eve night like it is every year. Since I'm caught somewhere in that in-between area of life, I'm stuck opening presents with the adults. There won't be a cool Darth Vader or Tonto waiting for me under the tree tomorrow, so I'll sleep in more than likely. I know I should be grateful for so many things. I have a home and a family that loves me even when I'm an idiot. It's not even about the toys, but more about the charm and how it wilted somewhere. The sensation is gone, but the precise moment it abandoned me is unclear. Losing Christmas isn't easy.
Our twenty-year-old couch, covered with a scratchy multi-colored checkered afghan, is crowded with whoever claimed a spot earlier. Mom is dressed in her fancy Holiday attire while I wear the new shirt she purchased a few days ago for the occasion. My brother Larry brought his girlfriend Shirley, and they squeezed in beside Mom and me. We all have to go to the bathroom, but no one wants to lose their seat, so everyone stays put. The sounds of paper ripping and soft music in the background fill the room. We're all sick from overeating at dinner, but that doesn't stop anyone from stealing from the generous pile of sweets.
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Every so often, I'll throw in a comment or two during the grown-up conversations, but most will nod for the sake of nodding and have no idea what I said. My adolescent jokes rarely see a courtesy laugh, and when I do get a grin, it's for all of the wrong reasons. I can go over what I'm about to say in my mind a hundred times, and it still doesn't come out the way I want it to no matter how I try. Living in my body is like conducting an orchestra of blind musicians. Some sort of sound comes out, but it's never the melody I intended. My palms sweat furiously when I even think about chatting to females because I know the outcome will be identical.
No one talks much about it, but we all miss my father and sister. Mom's heart is especially heavy, and it's easy to see when I catch her sitting silently during the festivities. She often stares at nothing, but I never say anything because I know. They should both be here, and I'm sure I'll look back at the photos from today when I'm older and miss them all over again. If all of this death has taught me anything, it's to not take life for granted. None of it helps much, though, to regain my lost Christmas magic. Often I'll have to peek at a photo of Dad, so I can remember what he looks like, and my sister, Susan, is slowly withering away too. It hasn't even been that long since the wreck on Salem Road, but she slips from my memory regardless.
It feels like the closer I get to adulthood, the more terrifying it becomes. The uncertainty that goes along with the future, and seeing this big empty house overwhelm my mom, is a lot to handle. My biggest fear is that I'll let her down, and that is the last thing I'd ever want to do. How does a kid give enough to the one person that has given everything humanly conceivable? Shame takes over when I think about all of the silly arguments and all of the times I've ignored her advice. She never fails to repay my ignorance with love and understanding when I ask for her forgiveness. Some people don't believe in Jesus, but I see him when I look at Mom.
I guess I'm pleased with my new belt, the alarm clock, and Velcro wallet. These are the things I'll receive from now on, so I may as well suck it up. I'll always have the memories, and by the way, my uncle talks; it's what matters anyway. He and Mom can converse forever about how I've got it better than they ever did and how full of joy they were. They mean it too. I can tell when I see their faces light up. According to them, life happens fast, and it's riddled with tragedy, but the good times tend to surface to the top. I'm betting they know what they're talking about, so it does help. It's time for me to slip out of here and track down my old Six Million Dollar Man. I'm pretty sure I know where I tucked him away.