At a time in my life when I saw no way up out of a dark place, this little piece came out. It’s about loss and eventual recovery. Even at our worst moments, there is always hope right around the corner. Sometimes it’s just found where you least expect it.
Life has gotten much, much better for me since I wrote this story (in fact, I don’t think it could get any better), but it’s still healthy to share your emotions, to set them free to the world. It only becomes unhealthy if you well on them and let them trap you.
by Curtis A. Deeter
It was Christmas Eve again.
I wasn’t thrilled, but doing much better than the year before.
My neighbor, Mrs. Sikes, talked about the snow on the ground as if it were some sort of wonderland, as if this didn’t happen every year. I wanted to tell her how cliche she sounded, how cliche she was: a housewife, mother of two, married to a rich Wall Street type. I wanted to tell her how the reflection of the sun off the snow hurt my eyes and how it made the neighborhood look more like a barren wasteland of white than any wonderland I had ever seen.
Instead, I said nothing and left her alone to be with her husband and kids. I was getting cold, anyhow, standing in the driveway and watching down the street for them to show up. I knew they never would so I went back inside.
I still wasn’t ready to put up the Christmas tree. Something about a plastic pine tree, half-covered in ornaments, reminded me of them in all the wrong ways. All of the half-truths she told me. All of the times I was half there and half in my work. I still found strands of silver tinsel strung under the couch or wound into the carpet, and that was festive enough. No matter how many times I vacuumed, or how many times I caught the cats chewing on them, there those stupid strands were. She knew how much I hated tinsel too, but that never stopped her from putting it on the tree. Why should it have?
I walked into the kitchen for a drink. It was still too early for the hard stuff, but I needed something to slake my thirst. Before I opened the fridge, I took a moment to appreciate where the pictures used to be. Rectangles of white remained, stark against the darkened porcelain face. Each one told a story, held a memory. Funny, they all seemed so hazy at the time.
Only one magnet remained. It was a plush yellow star with a black grin stitched between its cheeks. When you poked its belly, the star jiggled while singing How I wonder what you are. And I realized that I always would wonder. The battery began to die, but there was still some twinkle left in that little star. It danced back and forth, singing out the single, muted word how. How, how, how. I hadn’t been able to throw it away, but I finally made the choice and dropped it in the bucket without looking back.
The fridge was almost empty besides a carton of eggs, old leftovers, and what remained of a bottle of orange juice. I poured myself a glass and the craziest thing happened. For the first time in two years I didn’t see my glass as half-empty. I just saw it as something to drink.
Even though it was still early in the night I felt tired, something I’d become accustomed to. Walking down the hallway, another place where the pictures once hung, I stepped on something small and sharp. There, in the middle of the floor, sat a white Lego brick. Where had it come from? A month or so ago, I had boxed up all of the Lego in the toy room, along with the dinosaurs and bouncy balls and firetrucks, but yet a piece remained.
I held it in my hand for longer than I should have. The thing about Lego is they come in an infinite variety. They can be built into anything imaginable, but they can be destroyed just as easily. After hours, days, even months of work, a little hand or a pair of light-up, Velcro shoes could smash them to bits. But at least Lego can always be rebuilt.
My mind wondered to the bottle of Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo under the bathroom sink. Don’t ask me why. Every once in a while, I would pop open the cap just to smell it again. I would never tell anyone because of what they might think of me. I did so today and I wondered how long I’d be able to still smell it, how long I’d be able to still smell him. I knew I should throw it away, but could only discard one thing at a time.
I finally did something I never thought I’d be able to do. I went to the door of the room that had been closed for two years and opened it. Construction paper cut outs of geometric shapes and cotton ball animals lined the inside of the door. For some reason, I thought they would no longer be there. Other than them, I only noticed the emptiness of the room, paled by the emptiness of it all. Back against the wall, I slid to the floor and held my knees to my chest.
Mrs. Sikes and her family. The tinsel that refused to go away. The star on the fridge and the Lego on the floor. The scents and the sounds once filling my house that was no longer a home. Each broken piece inundated me. Those puzzle pieces of them, pieces of myself, all formed a single image in my head. The image of a little boy making a snow angel with his mother, and the shadow of the man taking their picture stretched out beside them. And then it faded and there was only the empty room and myself.
I left the door open and I thought to myself, Maybe it’s time to start filling up this room.
It was Christmas Eve again. I wasn’t thrilled, but the possibilities were starting to shine through like a diamond in the sky. I just had to keep wondering what they were.