The truck won’t start, and you’re pushing it down El Camino. Running beside it like a winded dog, while the people on the sidewalk stare. But you’ll get there. And you’ll be covered in sweat, but the old ladies don’t mind. The white uniforms don’t mind. And you might have to decline a sample because it would stick in your parched throat like sandpaper, but you’ll get the nut n chews and she’ll be happy. The truck will get fixed. Don’t worry about continuity, because I got continuity for days. In fact, that trip to See’s turned into two children who may take the world by storm. They just might.
The point is that sometimes things matter just because they matter. I don’t need to understand it. You don’t need to understand it. It’s just this thing you need to come to terms with. And accept. And if you do, the keys to the kingdom of Heaven are yours. She might watch you fish for hours and just smile. She might forgive you one more time than she should have had to. She might be waiting to grow old with you, just because you made that trek, covered in sweat, and you brought home the bacon. Which in this case was chocolate.
He wakes up early and drinks bad coffee in the dark kitchen. The sound of the refrigerator is like silverware in a garbage disposal, it would grate on him if he wasn’t so tired. The house is empty, but there is a child in a hospital room across town who calls him Papa, so he wakes up and goes to the first of two jobs, both in kitchens, one Denny’s, one Chipotle.
Two eight hour shifts get strung together by a thirty-minute bus ride most days. He sleeps on break. He sleeps on Saturday, and he is adamant about his Saturdays, and his managers don’t schedule him on Saturday ever, because they know that is the only time he sleeps. And without sleep, you can’t work. Maybe, you die.
He is soft spoken, but he is also young, and he has a simmering anger behind his smile. Nothing to do with it. He knows that the future is full of ground out days and hospital stays. He thinks about his choices and he wonders if he should have come North at all. The hospital is better here. It was the only way, but it is killing him.
He falls asleep standing up. He falls asleep on the shitter. He falls asleep eating lunch, and everyone pretends they don’t notice. They cover for him when he falls asleep sitting on a pile of milk cartons in the walk-in-fridge. They see him struggle, they see the inevitable crash coming, and they cross their fingers that today is not the day.
See Luis. Tired. Works two jobs, but it’s a small sacrifice. His daughter is alive.
It always happens in December, the month of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar cookies and gingerbread. For other people, anyway.ReplyDelete
It is Christmas Eve, and true to form, my luck has run out. I am hitchhiking. That’s not the bad luck. My last ride had a beater of a car, and a tire blew out. Which was probably good luck, given that the heater and defroster didn’t work, and I was pretty sure we would die in an icy accident.
No, the bad luck is that I am stranded in a tiny town, more of a village, with twenty bucks in my pocket, and there seems to be no traffic on the two-lane highway that runs straight through it.
Twenty bucks. Not enough for a room, but maybe enough for breakfast in the morning.
I walk along the highway, no sidewalks in this town. Or maybe they rolled ‘em up at night. The wind blows snow in my eyes. On my left, a little motel offering “Holiday Special, $75.” Pretty blue lights in the evergreen trees in the parking lot.
I keep walking. The lights are out at the liquor store. I wonder why even the little towns that don’t have grocery stores always have liquor stores.
I remember growing up in my home town, hundreds of moles away. If I could have found a way to buy booze back then, I would have been a drunk. Trouble was, everyone knew the preacher’s son.
I shake, not from cold, but to shed the memories.
Keep walking, I tell myself. Keep walking.
The wind quiets enough that I hear voices singing. The words are unfamiliar, but the tune I know well. “Noche de paz...” Silent night. Probably Spanish.
Not knowing why, I turn off the highway and follow the song. I walk in the street, a block till I see the lights shining through stained glass windows. Flickering. Candles, probably. The building appears to be made of adobe.
My dad called them C & E Christians. Folks who only showed up at church on Christmas and Easter. Always had to make sure the church was big enough to handle them even though only ten or so would show up on other Sundays. Dad said the extra collections on Christmas and Easter barely paid for the heat the rest of the year.
My dad. I can almost envision him putting his Sunday best on for tonight. Can almost hear his voice, practicing his sermon.
How many years has it been now? Ten? Twelve? It doesn’t matter. I am no longer welcome, in either my father’s house or his church.
I was sixteen when the town cop shined his flashlight into the car and caught us making out. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, probably would have been a badge of honor even, except that I was making out with another boy, a boy named Matt. Trouble was, everyone knew the preacher’s son.
The cop was silent as he waited for me to put my pants back on. Silent still as he drove me to my house. Broke his silence when he parked and I got out. “Good luck, son,” he said.
Luck was not on my side that night, but they say luck is a lady, right? After a little hellfire and brimstone, my dad tossed me out on the street that night.
But it all worked out. I made my way. A lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes, but I survived. Mostly.
And yet, here I am, standing in the cold, outside a church in a one-horse town, getting all misty eyed over Christmas. I wipe my eyes before the tears start to freeze.
The red doors of the church open, and the parishioners stream out. An old guy pushing someone in a wheelchair. Children, laughing, in a hurry to get home to see if Santa’s come. Couples, holding hands through mittens. It looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
I try to look away, but find I can’t. They gather together in a circle outside, and I see them passing out something, one to each person, old and young alike. Candles, I guess.
A tall figure is the last out of the door, and he has a lit candle. He touches its flame to one person’s candle, who touches the flame to the next person’s, until the whole circle is holding the fragile flames, shielding them as best they can from the wind. When a candle goes out, a neighbor relights it.
And they sing one more hymn, without accompaniment. It came upon a midnight clear.
I am no longer crying silently, I am sobbing. The last note of the song carries on the wind, and they disperse, walking home.
One man, the one who was last out of the church, stops and looks my direction. Candle still lit, he begins walking toward me.
I know I should move. Nothing good can come of this. I don’t need to find Jesus, I don’t need to be saved, and I don’t need some preacher’s pity.
But I don’t move. I just stand here.
Somehow, the candle remains lit. As he gets closer, my heart skips a beat.
Closer still. My heart is beating fast. I’m hyperventilating. The steam from my breath makes everything look unearthly.
“Friend, are you…” he starts.
“It’s me, Matt. It’s me.”
And Matt reaches his arms around me and whispers in my ear, “An answer to a prayer.”
And sometimes Christmas miracles still happen, and love lost is found again, and two strangers find that they are not strangers at all, and December can be filled with the scents of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar cookies. Even for me, a preacher’s son.
We go smallReplyDelete
We go small, internalise,
breathe in, invest it all,
creep into our own ribcage
protected from the outside,
each rough storm encroaching
upon our sturdy fortress.
We breathe and watch it all,
rise and fall, and rerise.
We go small in servitude
to our own thoughts and fears,
sunk into our own breasts,
babes suckling, eyes closed.
We wait for the storm to pass,
tempest turned, bitter sift,
wander out weathered,
unbroken, but not the same.
We go small, internalise until
we can breathe out once more.
This is just beautiful, Vickie! and filled with hope.Delete