It is 12 a.m. when you come home drunk. You stumble in the door, heeltoe off yellow flats and drop bags, heading without real hope to the kitchen table. If there were mail, it would be here.
There are two things you are expecting: the first comes in a plain, white envelope, bearing ill tidings from the land of standardized tests. The second you do not truly believe will materialize from the West Coast, but if it did, it would hold a number of things left behind when you flew away five months before. Tonight there are no standard white envelopes on the table, but there is a package. High and brown, it stands shady in the dark. You flick on the Christmas tree–overhead lights are not right for this, nor for tired, dilated eyes–already half knowing its origins, half repining its sender.
The letters on the “sent from” side of the packing label, lashed on with messy, crisscrossing skeins of tape, are light and scarcely legible. There is an unfamiliar area code, handwriting you do not recognize. You are perplexed; perhaps it is not for you at all, but a mistaken delivery to an affable neighbor. But then you make out a “G” printed beneath “sender.” With some amusement, you realize it is in fact only his letters, not his numbers–surprisingly neat–that you recognize. There was never any reason for you to get his numbers; he called you first.
You gaze down at the package, sober. There is finality here, some sort of end you’ve been telling yourself you need for weeks now, but which in the end you are not certain you want. Part of you has been hoping for a Christmas miracle. Part of you has always been an expectant child. But here they are–your gifts, from and for you–arrived 13 days early. Everyone knows that Christmas miracles do not happen early, and they do not happen to you.
There will be no one at your door step, no personal delivery, and no happy serendipity, this package seems to say. You do not live in a novel or a movie or a tidy, happy dream. This you should know by now. This you should accept. Wake up, tiny Who-girl, and grow a nose–or at the very least a viable dream.
By the light of the twinkling tree lights you gut the parcel, slicing through the last thing he touched, brushing against invisible fingerprints. It is the closest thing you will get to holding hands. Inside the package there are three shining Christmas tree bulbs from Goodland, Kansas, a bathing suit, a strange, new copy of a movie you like–a copy that never belonged to you. Perhaps all the gifts are not your own, and you do not know why. And then there is a small note with only 7 words, a single frownie face
PS: Still looking for your earrings. 😦
There is a deep yawn in you, a creaky, aching opening that threatens, for a second, to overtake. You begin to cry, but stop. You will not let his letters do a number on you.
By the dim warm light of the Christmas tree you hang the bulbs upon overburdened boughs. Green, blue, gold, they are all in various stages of cracked hilarity. Peeling and unseemly, luxurious and fine, they are a symbol of something that you do not know–perhaps of all the foolish notions you had about what a future might have been like in which you spent all your Christmases holding his hand.
“Sorry,” it says. But sorry for what?
You stand back to regard your work. The three new ornaments are out of place, strangely wrong on the tree that has been decorated now for a week. In an act of humbleness, perhaps of apology, you remove the bulbs and nest them like three delicate baby birds back in the box, flicking off the lights as you go. You bear the box upstairs, sit down with it in your lap, do not cry. Stare. Finally, you shove the box between the desk and the bureau, draping a tee shirt, a bag, a large file folder over it.
Some cracked and golden things must remain in the dark.