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A triplet of words combined to make one of the most fearsome phrases in the English language: "Ask your father." And tremble in trepidation I very well should. What I'm asking goes against their conservative sensibilities, I know, and with my mother it's a struggle between wanting to give me what I ask and the propriety that's been ingrained into her, still excluding the worry of her first-born venturing off several hundred miles away with strangers. I want them to understand that by entrusting me to someone who promised to take care of me, they couldn't ask for anything better.
Homesickness hit me fast and hard and I caught my breath with the enormity of it. I miss them so much. Tonight my family will be decorating the Christmas tree together, and for the first time in eighteen years, I won't be there, stretching to dangle a shiny bauble on a high branch (though I'll very grudgingly admit my sisters are more capable than I am for that now) or prancing around with ornaments that I'd kept back to my brothers' consternation. Good-natured squabbling will be going full force and for a night, at least, Mom won't look as tired.
When I was little, it completely made my day going to the mailbox and having a letter addressed to me. Unfortunately for me, most of my world was condensed; communication via envelope was unnecessary. Time passed, and the boundaries of my world expanded. Yesterday, I got a letter from my best friend and I smile, reading the bubbly shapes of her letters that have only subtly changed over our decade-long friendship. They call it an old-fashioned act, but I hope it'll never stop because I still get ridiculously pleased with my stamped envelopes. And I consider myself a letter-writing girl.
Sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough, SNEEZE. I look up—ten people in the testing room look up as well, to glare ferociously at the perpetrator of the sounds breaking our concentration. I wonder, does he feel the smoldering heat of our glares? On the other side of the room, a cough (which resembles a dog barking) comes. Half an hour later, one could actually start picking out the rhythm this Broadway musical was taking. Sniffle, cough, sniffle, sniffle, BARK. Good lord, someone pass around a box of Kleenex. Such is the scene of test-taking in the middle of the cold season.
The best dream can leave a half-smile on your face for hours after waking, while a bad dream…your unconscious, without any regard for your feelings, will blatantly make you watch what your unconscious mind shuts out. It's unavoidable. How often will I wake in a cold sweat as my heart races until I convince myself that I'm really awake? It bothers me that I can become bothered. In the dark, the steady breathing of my roommate is all I hear, and I pull a pillow close to me—I am wide awake. No more heavy snacks before bedtime for me…
I think I kept surprising him by some of the things I've said. How do you know these things, he asked admiringly. Easy, I said, I'm a girl. But most girls don't know these things, he said. He waited while I was quiet for a little bit while I thought. I know these things because I have made my mistakes. I've been weak. I had to become a whole person again and to fill the gaping spots myself, because no one else should fill them for me. And I learned so much from a person so willing to teach me.
Part of the attraction was the appeal to my feminine ego. Even with a red nose worthy of Rudolph's jealousy and a laugh periodically punctuated with fits of awful coughing—even at my less attractive moments, I am still a prime victim in this confusing and complicated game of human flirtation. And I will not deny that I was flattered, nay, even a little bit pleased. In the end, though, when all is said and done, playing with fire usually burns naïve little moths who venture too close to the flames, and this little moth happens to like her wings.
Red and yellow leaves spiraled to the ground. I watched. I lounged on the grass with books forgotten on my lap. Others sprawled around me, absorbed with or disregarding their own voluminous texts. Earnest voices behind me heatedly debated the wisdom in Plato's _Republic_. The carillon of the bell tower tolled the hour, one, two, three peals, and the last resounded and faded into the clear winter air. And as always there sat some lone guitarist on the green, plucking out chords for the starry-eyed groupies. The scene perfectly captured early reveries of an afternoon of studying at the university.
Leighan is waltzing down the corridor, trying to sing carols at the top of her lungs. The movement makes the paper ornaments she hung from the ceiling flap thisaway and thataway before resuming their normal positions of cheer. The block of stress that's been building up these past few days dissipates as Lauren pops in our room, dragging us out and daring us to prove her Better-Than-Sex cakes lives up to its name (it's pretty close!). Amanda gives me a death-glare for escaping the hour of happiness making cards for the juvenile cancer patients. Never a dull moment at Broward.
Let this be a word of warning to you, boys: girlfriends rival elephants when it comes to memories. I keep every hastily (but affectionately) scribbled note, every profession of love, every adorable voice mail. In a box, I keep photographs because I'm driven to cling to these moments before it changes. Underneath my mattress are pages upon pages of details, trivial to everyone but me. Songs on the radio will cause me to painfully wince or to wistfully sigh. I do this because I don't want to ever forget…and lose some of the best gifts I've ever received, these memories.
Just as I was about to turn out the light, The Roommate stumbles though the door, hands flailing to find a hold to support her. "DamnIWassHopin'YouWereSsleepin'," she slurred to me. She was so obviously drunk, and I had never really seen a drunken person before that I couldn't contain my laughter. As if her feet were controlled by something else, she was about to tip over at any moment. The room challenged her to cross it, and she lost, slamming into the corner of my desk and almost falling several times before she collapsed in her bed. "WhatchaLaughin'SsoHardFor?" she asked.
Is the coffee pot on? No, I turned it off after the third batch brewed tonight. Maybe I should make another—no! Must sit down and apply myself to derivatives and integrals. I don't really have an exam in ten hours, do I? Look, on the corner of my desk, my started Christmas present list. What am I getting Anthony? Eek, this can wait for later, AFTER my calculus final. I wonder how low of a grade I can get to get a B…ok, I'm doing math, yes, but not studying for this exam. God, I've been studying for HOURS…
The clouds hung so low this morning that it seemed possible to reach up and touch the dark gloominess. The weather is terribly depressing, but I was as happy as if it were beach weather; it was as if I were gliding, now free from this immense weight. With the calculus final behind me and the upcoming chemistry final promising to be just as trouble-free, the relentless flip-flopping of my stomach ceased. I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets and felt the cold air burning my lungs as I strode across campus to the warm comforts of my bed.
Dear World, I love you. Thank you for letting me be alive, in this place, in this exact time. If everything happens for a reason, thank you for being good-naturedly accommodating and pardon me while I search for those reasons. Thanks for an entertaining roommate who'll listen to me when I'm particularly high-strung and nicely forget some things. The last four months have passed faster than I imagined, and I'm left feeling very good about this college deal. I overcame some things I thought I couldn't like calculus, long distance, and talking to strangers. "It's getting better all the time…"
On Main Street, I heard Christmas music before I saw it, a little fairyland of white lights around the outdoor skating rink. I am not noted for my grace. Visions of sitting more than skating on the ice danced in my head, but determined I was to do this. We laced up the skates and tiptoed on blades to the ice. The wall and I were good friends in the beginning, but confidence swelled in me: I was on my own. And then I was everywhere, reddened cheeks and a voice hoarse from shrieking and laughing, and still floating along.
It's a sign of the times these days when one doesn't find too many little girls recreating make-believe weddings. I never was that little girl who fantasized about that day, but when I was shopping online, I inadvertently opened a wedding site and was thus sucked into the world of white tulle, pink roses, flower girls dresses, and rings that last forever. I felt the implications were glaringly bright: unbelievably enough, my friends will probably be getting married in a few years and when that crazily breathtaking time comes, I will gladly go waltzing down the aisles as their bridesmaid!
Women of the world, unite: it doesn't take a scientist to figure out that women with healthy, active, close female friendships are healthier than unfortunate women who don't have them, but this has been scientifically proven. Female bonding results in releases of oxytocin, which helps to lessen stress; men, because of their extremely low levels of it, are more inclined to the "fight or flight" phenomenon. I dare any woman to find better therapy for insanity than sincere and sympathetic "girltalks" and estrogen-powered Ben&Jerry's binges. And who better to call at one in the morning than your best girl friend?
I dragged the willing boyfriend to my elementary school Christmas pageant to watch my brothers in roles that I had filled ten years ago or so. The recognizable dialogue of Christ's birth read in childish somber tones, the familiar carols, the costumes a little worn by time—all of these remained exactly the same. I saw my old class filling the parts: Adam and Faith as Joseph and Mary; Maria, a smug Gabriel; Katy and I as angels; Taylor, a serious Wiseman, etc. The simple story will be retold once more, and new faces will fill the roles next year.
For me, it was a larger setback than most: my online filing cabinet had been completely and irretrievably lost. In one long moment, I stared at the computer screen understanding that all those words were lost, but not really comprehending that all those words were GONE. Conversations of a blossoming romance, scathing e-mails, late-night rants, sweet notes left for me like someone dropping pink roses without thorns in my lap…only words, often misspelled and haphazard in being grammatically correct, but they were the words of my last life. Excuse me to deal with burying the loose remnants of my past.
My sisters and I get along splendidly. We banded together early on, never acknowledging the unspoken support we sought and received to defend each other from our parents and from the world. Viciously, we'll tear each other to shreds, but will indignantly flame up at the first "outsider" to harass one of the trio. Just like small countries in similar conditions, it's inevitable that two of the sisters will occasionally ally themselves against the lone third, intentional or not. This alliance is always fluctuating; right now (and I suspect it's because of my absence), I am the odd one out.
Carol of the Bells. Jesu Bambino. Ding Dong Merrily on High. Winter Wonderland. War is Over: Happy Christmas. Deck the Halls. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. O Holy Night. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. Jingle Bell Rock. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. We Three Kings. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Frosty the Snowman. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I'll Be Home for Christmas. White Christmas. There's no Place Like Home for the Holidays. The Nutcracker Suite. All I Want for Christmas is You.
I HATE Christmas shopping with the fire of a thousand suns. I despise holiday parking-or the lack thereof- where it's a showdown between me and the driver facing me for the spot, way out in the boondocks. I abhor the masses of Christmas shoppers and the claustrophobia that I acquire from crowds in __ (fill in blank: Wal-Mart, B&N, the mall). And I really don't like the feeling of dissatisfaction when I've walked the store for the billionth time and can't figure for the life of me how to find moonlight and put it in a box to give away.
Someone once called them little bundles of potential, those squirming, drooling, hair-pulling creatures. Babies are irresistible, and it isn't long before burying my face into their necks and inhaling their perfume of powder and shampoo. For as long as I can remember, we always had a little one running around the house. The most hard-hearted of Scrooges would melt at the reward of a toothless smile. And when that tiny body, momentarily devoid of the wiggles, is sleeping completely against your chest, so full of contentment and trust, you feel like you're holding the world in your arms…and you are.
At last, the bustling of city sidewalks stop. Listen—-the breeze in dead tree branches, and somewhere, the faint chiming of bells. Shoppers with emptied pockets but jam-packed arms and the weary masses of the workforce have heard the call and are hurrying home to eager and open arms. Bright-eyed children hungrily eye the presents, and silly couples search for mistletoe. Come inside; sit by the fire while I take your coat. I promise, your mug will never be empty of hot cocoa, and your heart will overflow with joie de vivre. No one should be alone on Christmas Eve.
Someone I knew too well (and in the end, not at all) told me that his children wouldn't be spared the harsh reality of Santa Claus, to save them the disappointment and lies. (One day, those kids will be the playground brats shattering illusions.) This morning, I woke to the shrieks of little boys wildly ecstatic over their visit from Santa. Later, probably wanting hope from whispered rumors, the older one quietly confronted me. No matter what he's decided for himself now, I'm glad that he had his chance at childish innocence and ideals. That should never be taken away.
It was last evening, briefly glimpsing into a world of the *the extended family* that I knew I really don't have a chance at a real relationship with my own grandparents and extended family. There are the obvious hurdles to clear of language, culture, and distance. The affection is there, as much as there can be given to wisps of soft laps and gnarled hands from my past, but conversation in our annual five minutes of phone time is limited to sheepish hellos to my Lolas Tereza and Elizabeth and promised assurances of good grades in the year to come.
A little ways away was the pickup truck, parked to the side of the dusty dirt road, beneath a cluster of bare trees. The sloping ground ended at the bank of a small creek. On the bridge, two little boys bounced with excitement with their first fishing trip and they hadn't been able to stop chattering about it. An equally happy dog frantically rushed everywhere, afraid he would miss a scent. As my blond-haired boy patiently and unhurriedly hooked works for them, I stood there admiring the pretty picture they made and thought that I loved them so very much.
Love can't be forced; it can only be given and received freely. The earliest years are most crucial to establish that kind of bond. With my father, it wasn't really established, but it wasn't entirely his fault. It's the most puzzling thing that a man can have five children and not find anything in common with them. He reverted into what he knew best: being the doctor. As The Doctor, we were always under the impression he wanted us to be adults. I hope that when we all become adults, he won't be ridiculous and wish we were all children.
Firefighter Joe was in the checkout line across the way, but he didn't see me; he looked tired. I do think about him whenever random acts of kindness are mentioned. Two summers ago, Car Accident #2 ensued to my dismay. The nearly-blind witch who hit me was unreasonable, wandering out in traffic. Enter Joe, a witness, who not only organized us out of there, but stayed to talk to the cop and until Mom and I were able to drive away. Cheerfully funny, he did much more than he had to, and I hope he knows how grateful I am.
Since the days of my first big move, I've carried that mortal discomfort of saying good-byes. When the old neighborhood came to visit long ago, I used to hide inside, refusing to go out to give the dutiful kiss because I'd easily begin sobbing. Locked in my room, I would sit at my window to watch that car disappear around the bend. I couldn't let go and have them come back changed. It took me awhile to realize that I changed, too, and much longer still to accept that not all change was bad. I still have trouble letting go…
The great thing about people is our everlasting belief in a second chance…or a third…or a fourth. How else could we live with ourselves otherwise? Isn't it good to wake up every morning and be slightly comforted with the thought that you can't repeat old mistakes? Still, given probabilities and possibilities, my future seems daunting with a multitude of new ones. These new beginnings, these fresh starts, the imaginary cleaning of my slate—I need as many chances as I can get. So here's to another beginning, that I can meet it a little wiser, a little braver, and smiling.
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