Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 3

Everybody's in despair,

Every girl and boy,

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here,

Everybody's gonna jump for joy.”

-Bob Dylan

It was the night before Christmas and I was sleeping on the couch again. I slept on the couch a lot, but on Christmas Eve the act of being exiled to the couch brought about a bit more shame than usual. My wife and daughter had gone to bed and my job was to put all the presents under the tree and eat the chocolate chip cookies left for Santa. It hadn’t been a particularly good year. In order to have money for presents I had to put my winter tour of coffee houses and State Colleges on hold and pick up a seasonal job working the graveyard shift in a mail processing plant. The heavy influx of parcels and Christmas cards forced the Post Office to hire some temporary help each year. It was easy work and it paid well for a temp job so I guess that wasn’t so bad.

It was through that third shift my wife and I had gotten used to not sleeping in the same bed, at least at the same times. My daughter who was four at the time took this opportunity to crawl into bed with my wife each night, and my wife always enjoyed the closeness of the mother-daughter relationship. When the job finally ended the day before Christmas I was sort of the odd man out in the bed department and took refuge on the couch. These sorts of things were never really discussed or argued about. It was just that everybody knew their place.

I was faced with my usual sleeplessness compounded by my body’s biorhythms being all sorts of out of whack from the overnighters. These were the times when I wondered the most. I wondered about time travel and lost chances. I wondered about what my life would be like if my wife hadn’t gotten pregnant on our fifth date, and I wondered how long it would take before I screwed that poor little girl up. When the world quieted down the most, and there was nothing left to drown out the old tapes playing in my head is when the regrets disguised as nostalgia came tumbling out of me.

The presents were under the tree and I had finally fallen asleep. It must have been about three in the morning when Addie came slumbering out into the living room. Her eyes were still a sleep filled mess and she came right to the couch and lay down beside me. I was panicked that she was going to notice the presents and want to start the Christmas festivities in the cold darkness, but she just wanted her daddy. I was always amazed at Addie’s love for me. How she simply refused to not love me no matter how much I hated myself.

It was exactly 6:30am when I got up to pee. Addie and I were awake most of the night. It’s hard to sleep 2 on a sofa, even when one of them is just a peanut of a girl. I was still surprised that she hadn’t noticed the presents sitting under the tree no more than six feet from where we lay. I had a wonderful idea as I got up to go to the bathroom. I pretended to trip over one of the presents. This simple act had the most profound effect on my daughter. I acted shocked to see the gifts, hopping around on one foot as if I had seriously injured my big toe on one of the wrapped presents. Addie was stumped. She was positive there were no gifts when she stumbled into the living room a few hours ago, and she lay restless on the couch ever since.

In the many years since she never hesitated to tell her friends about how she could prove Santa Clause really existed. How he magically snuck in the house and put presents under the tree as she lay, mostly awake, no more than six feet away. That kind of magical belief has been with her ever since, in all different areas of her life. Now at eleven years old she is the last kid in her class who still believes in things like Santa Clause and Faeries. I clung to this innocence of hers for so many years now. I was never able to tell her the truth about that night. Every Christmas since I thought about telling her, but I felt if I could just keep up that illusion a little longer I would be able to maintain my hold on her childhood. It was like her belief in Santa was some tangible evidence that she was, indeed, still just a child. She was still my little girl.

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