When I wrote this previous post, in the back of my mind I knew there would be other firsts. Not in those terms, exactly, but I knew it was just the beginning of my separation. I had already made it through Andi’s birthday and I had a plan for mine, but I hadn’t even considered the holidays.
Andi has missed Thanksgiving a couple times before, and she rarely took off as much time from work as I did. It’s not like her absence up north was unprecedented, it was just a new kind of absence.
When I asked why no one had mentioned Andi this year, my mother explained, “We wouldn’t say anything because if you got back together it would be awkward.”
“Even then, we wouldn’t say anything,” Mom said.
“We’d just look at her,” Aunt Jeri agreed, demonstrating her flinty-eyed stare.
I told them about Becky.
Friday the 25th, I woke up alone on Christmas Day for the first time in my life. I didn’t play music. I made myself a mushroom and cheese omelet. I opened the Christmas gifts from my Aunt Jeri (and the Starbuck’s gift card from Uncle Nicky), who’d drawn my name this year. I brewed coffee and read for several hours. I showered and walked to Books &Books, not to work but to use it as my personal Kinkos.
It was a blindingly gorgeous day, Christmas served up Miami style. Not cold yet, but cool. Periwinkle skies, fluffy clouds. Jeans and t-shirt weather. I passed three fathers helping their sons ride the bicycles they’d just received, one boy far too old to be wobbling on his first bike. I couldn’t help but think of the bike Santa had brought Becky’s boy on Christmas. I also thought of learning to bike myself.
I remember my father jogging behind me. I’m not sure how long I’d been biking, weeks or months, but the training wheels on my hand-me-down bike were raised maybe an inch off the pavement. Dad urged me to go faster, jogging behind me while he held the bike seat steady. Everything clicked. I found my balance. I left dad behind like I’d been shot from a cannon. I remember him trying to keep up for a couple of steps, then giving up and just watching as I biked to the end of the block and back.
I’d like to put a smile on his face, add some triumphant shouting, but all I remember is his hand, letting go, and those two jogging steps he took before standing still. He was wearing jeans.
Walking alone under Miami’s sun, I realized how lucky I am. I’ve gone directly from a family-filled home to a girlfriend’s house to another girlfriend (and eventual wife)’s house. Every year of my life, I’ve woke on Christmas in a home filled with love. This year, I woke alone. But that was important to do, so I could realize the first part.
At Books & Books, I printed some things out and wrapped some gifts. Becky called. Her son’s second Christmas at her ex’s had begun; was I ready for our private Christmas?
“Nah, I’m enjoying my solitude,” I said.
Right. Solitude is great when it’s a state you know will end soon, but you can’t end solitude alone. I told her I’d race her to the Treehouse. I hopped on my bike (which I’d left at work before), the day so perfect I wanted to take a few extra laps around the gorgeous houses on my block. Instead I got home, showered, cleaned up, and ate a bowl of vanilla ice cream drizzled with one of the syrups my aunt had given me.
The syrup gift set wasn’t on my Christmas list, but it’s the things you don’t expect which make the best surprises.
Becky and I exchanged gifts. I thought she was a mind reader, but apparently she had asked what I wanted for Christmas while we were drifting off one night and I sleepily gave her the rundown. Along with all the fun stuff, we exchanged some personal gifts upon which we could hang the memories of our first shared Christmas.
Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about the stories I printed out at Books &Books, which she’d been after me to give her for some time. She says lingerie is a gift more for the giver than the receiver, but really, giving her those stories is a selfish gift. She might enjoy my words, but I enjoy her reading them more.
This was a Christmas I'll never forget.