Tiny luminescent multicolored lights hung from every available place on the houses down Barton Street. Light up reindeers, blown up frosties, and manger scenes were laid out on their snow covered lawns. But when one would venture to the end of the street, on the corner of Laura and Barton they would see a large blue house, devoid of any Christmas decorations. In fact, the Benson family did muster up enough Christmas spirit to drag their disheveled wooden reindeer up from the basement and position it in the corner of their yard. Straight out of the Island of misfit toys, the reindeer sat with chipped legs and a broken antler glued back together with Gorilla glue. A red Christmas bow was tied around its neck. Christmas was two days away and the boxes of Christmas decorations still sat covered in dust in the basement. The usual hustle and bustle found in the home around holidays was gone. Motivation to do anything beyond putting up a tree that tilted slightly to the left had rushed out like someone let go of a helium balloon. “Mom, did you finish wrapping the presents to send to Aunt Candy’s?” I asked. My mom sat on the off-white leather couch in the living room. She had been trying to connect to Skype for over an hour. “No, could you finish wrapping Cassidy’s gifts for me?” she asked as the aquaticlike ring from the computer tried to call my father, who had been in Iraq since July. “What time is it over there?” I asked sitting on the arm of the couch. Usually, my mom would yell at me to get off, that I was going to break the furniture, but she didn’t. She just continued to wait for the ring to stop and tell her that it the call had failed.
“9:00 pm.” She exited out of Skype and maximized the window in the corner of the screen. It was an email, undoubtedly to my father. Since he left, my mother had taken it harder than anyone in the family. “Isn’t he still working?” I scanned the room for any rolls of wrapping paper. “He should have break,” she replied, as her fingers tapped wildly across the key board of the laptop. “Oh.” I got up and grabbed a Christmas cookie off the platter that sat on the table. They were stale, but I ate it anyway. Lately, around holidays, people would send us food. I didn’t quite get it. It wasn’t like anybody had died, not like my mother was paralyzed by missing my father so that she couldn’t cook for us. But still, when an elderly lady from church would run over to us hands full of zucchini bread wrapped in American flag napkins, rejecting her kindness wasn’t something I was about to do. I grabbed the wrapping paper. It was the only one we had, white with green pine trees and snowmen on it. Nearly every present underneath our tree was covered in it, if it weren’t for the names and occasional tags slapped on the top no one would be able to tell whose was whose. I sighed. Just last year underneath our tree had looked like a mixing pot of colors greens, reds, blues, polka dots and stripes. Covered with all sorts of bows ribbons and decorative tags. Now it was just a forest of pine trees and snowmen. I hated it. “Where’s the tape?” I asked, grabbing another cookie. It wasn’t because I liked them with their stale graham cracker taste. It was just every time I thought about throwing the whole plate of cookies in the garbage the little old lady’s face from across
the street would pop into my head. She would smile at me her skin wrinkled eyes tiny and whisper “Enjoy the cookies dear.” It was torturous, and I felt that throwing the cookies out would be rude. “I think it’s in the bottom drawer over there.” Everything was switched in our house, when my dad had been here everything had a place, but it seemed that we had gotten lazy. We weren’t slobs. Just, instead of sorting the mail and throwing it out we let it stack up on the counter, or instead of doing laundry when the basket was full, we would wait. It seemed like we were doing laundry all the time. Having my dad gone wasn’t the end of the world, and when people would ask me “how are you doing?” In a low voice, I would look at them questionably and reply “Fine, what about you?” I didn’t see why people treated it like a big deal. I opened the draw and dug out the tape then proceeded to wrap the Polly Pocket fountain falls place set. When I was finished I placed it underneath the tree with all the other pine trees and snowmen. Christmas Eve was the most different. Mom woke up and I made her coffee, Dylan dragged himself out of his room only to land half asleep on the couch. “Is everybody coming over?” I asked, stirring in French vanilla creamer into my coffee. “I don’t know.” “Well we should probably find out soon.” I replied. Christmas had always been a big holiday in our house, heck every holiday was a big holiday in our house. We were the epicenter of family activity. Even when it wasn’t a holiday our family would visit. We had been before my dad left, like one big Italian family (except we are Irish so we didn’t
have pasta). We’d share meals, everyone pulling a seat to the large oak table in our kitchen, then after dinner they’d stay for hours talking in the living room. Honestly, they never really left our house. But they weren’t here now; they didn’t come that often anymore. Did they sense that the air in our house had grown sour? Or that half the members in my house would walk through the months all comatose? “Why don’t we just not have a get together this year?” my mom asked, as she and my grandmother who had just came from upstairs complained over prices and the mess they always had to clean up. But I knew it wasn’t just that. “Why should we do anything differently? Things should be as they were before dad left? I don’t want to change things.” I said. Now I’ve done it mentioned it out loud. My words hung in the air for a while before my mother finally sighed. “Alright, fine but were not going to do anything big, Dan.” I sighed. At least nothing would change. The thing that annoyed me most was that every holiday, every planned event, they wanted to change. No turkey on thanksgiving, no birthday parties, no Halloween. Christmas Eve was somewhat normal, I helped set up for the people coming over tonight, when I was finished I answered the door. A large cardboard package sat on our steps and an UPS man stood behind it. “Are you Donya Benson?” he asked holding out the electronic clipboard. “Yeah.” I said reaching out and signing my mother’s name, she was busy and she wouldn’t mind me signing for her. I took the package indoors. Numerous stickers covered the front. It was taped on the corners with silver duck tape.
“Mom, we have a package!” I yelled. “Open it, it’s from your father!” she replied. I grabbed a knife from the drawer and cut it open. Inside was filled with tiny Styrofoam packing peanuts. There were a couple of letters, a box of bootleg DVDs titled “The Best of Johnny Deep”, the complete season of “Freinds”, some Iraqi coins, and some military issued P.X. change. At the bottom of the box was a photo of my father holding a Camel Spider, I put that to the side to show my arachnophobic mother. My mom came out of her bedroom, and looked through the box. “Johnny Deep?” she asked, I laughed. “Maybe it got lost in translation.” I only knew two words in Arabic from watching my dad’s basics of the Arabic language DVD: truck and stop. It was a hard language to learn, there were so many different dialects. I left my mom with the box and went to my room, cleaning and doing some homework teachers had assigned. “Ewww!” I heard my mom yell. She found the picture. The hours went faster than I thought. We didn’t go to church, which I didn’t mind. I didn’t like it whenever the pastor would ask the congregation to bow their heads in prayer and list of a bunch of names, one being that of my father. People would stare at me with a silent nod or rests their hands on my shoulder. Frankly, it creepied me out. My dad’s name should be in that list, he wasn’t sick, or dying he was sitting in an air hanger in Iraq fixing helicopters. Family started to drizzle in around 7:00. It was just like it used to be. My aunt complained that she needed to lose weight as she ate a plate of pigs in a blanket. My cousins ran around throwing tinsel from the upstairs tree at people, and my mom was laughing
getting drinks and joking. IT was festive and traditional just like Christmas at the Benson house had always been. But when 10:00 rolled around and people left wishing their merry Christmases and see you soon, the air went stagnant. Everything went back to how it had been before my family arrived. I pulled out the lap top and signed on to Skype, hoping my father was on and waiting to talk with us, a catalyst to jump start everybody’s mood. The aquatic ring bubbled through the speakers and I found myself wishing it would connect, and laughing when it did. My father’s pixilated face popped up on the screen. He sat on a green blanketed bed, white wall and small window behind him. He was still in uniform, one ear bud in his ear, telling us that his roommate was sleeping. “Hi dad.” I said looking at the tiny camera in the laptop. “Hay sweetie how are you?” he asked. “Good.” I could never talk to my dad for long; I didn’t know what to say. Even though he was my father and I had known him all my life I found that after the greetings I would fish for things to talk about. My mom peaked over my shoulder and said hi. They talked while I sat there staring at the camera. For a moment I wanted to get up and leave, I felt as if I was intruding on some ones conversation. But I didn’t. Instead, I grabbed a book on our shelf. “The Night Before Christmas”, one of the only Christmas decorations we had up. “Can we read this?” I asked, I felt like a child, reading a children’s story with my family all huddled around the computer screen.
“Sure.” My mom said, as she began to read. I knew the book by heart the rhythms and the flow of the words. “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicolas will soon be there.” My mom read the words her voice light and airy. And when she was finished, I yawned, I was 5 again, my dad laughed at me and told me to go to bed. I said my goodnights and goodbye to my father as I walked to my room. I laid down to sleep, dreaming not of sugar plums, but of my father and mother sitting on the couch in the living room, no computer, no Iraq ,no army just them and the Christmas tree that tilted slightly to the left.
Notes: The Memoir was the most difficult piece to write for me. I couldn’t think of anything to say I felt originally that nothing influential has happened in my life. I haven’t had any one close to me die or and tragic incidents, and compared to other’s lives mine has been easy going with little stress. What I did notice while writing this memoir is that I did have an influential moment, when my father was away. For the longest time I felt as if I had no right to complain about anything, my father was safe, he was intact ,and not in the full brunt of the conflict. But as I saw the toll it took on my family not having my father around, I began to realize that I did miss him. I was worried about him although I didn’t tell people. Christmas had been strange that year it was really a moment where I can honestly say that I missed my father completely, not just because of the holiday but because having him gone changed everything entirely. Reading the story with my father, did make me feel like a child, and it is a little embarrassing to tell people but I wouldn’t change it, it was something that really tied together my night made my worry disappear for that moment and returned everything to normal.
Published on Jun 9, 2010