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It's Nelly's World

Holidaze

alec vanderboom

I can't seem to remember where we went last Christmas. Was that the year we drove to Ohio, and I cried ceaselessly for six days? Or was that the year we almost missed the plane to Utah because of a traffic stoppage on the Thruway, and I wrote monologues in my head to recite to the trooper who would ride up behind us as we made our way gingerly up the breakdown lane: "Officer, I'm sorry, but this is an emergency. If we don't make our plane, this boy's Christmas will be ruined, and there is no power on earth that I am going to let do that. None. P.S. I'm contrite. Now out of my way."

When we arrived, moments to spare, I wrestled a large suitcase, a carry-on, and two sets of skis from the outlying five-dollar-a-day parking lot into the terminal, by which time I was clammy with sweat under my ski jacket. And learned our flight had been cancelled. More monologues ensued, this time actually delivered. We were rerouted to Texas. Then another cancellation. Yet more forceful but polite words were exchanged. (A helpful hint: do not remonstrate with the beleaguered airline staff behind the counter; they are being yelled at from every corner. Instead, look them in the eye, smile with compassion, and say, "It must be terrible to have to deal with all this." Only then describe your predicament and ask for a hotel room; in the afterglow of human understanding, they will give.)

Why do I not remember all of this? Because some things are meant to be forgotten.

I wrote last year at this time about a bridge. Dreams, being a bridge between night and day. And now, I think, I was really saying that I felt myself to be on a bridge, from darkness to light. I know, from the feeling under my foot, that I have stepped off the swaying bridge and now stand on the other side of what has past.

"I am in a different place than last year," I find myself saying to people. What I mean is that I could countenance my son's request: Please, Mom, can we stay home for Christmas? We've only done that twice.

It did not take long to realize that in the magical-thinking way of the child (or, hell, of most of us) he hoped that in waking up at home as he last did several years ago he would also wake to the restoration of his family. I had to disabuse him quickly of this, though: it was as pleasant as telling him that people and animals suffer horrifically all the time, all over the place, and therefore we must be mindful of it. Something you don't want to think about, but must.

And so he and I will wake together, in a new house: home for the holidays. I am grateful not to be hurrying through the crowds to get to someplace else. I am also a little frightened of how I will feel. Alone? Sad, as a conditioned response triggered by the memory of this date, repeated previously in woes of various sorts? A vagabond of the heart? I am in the position of asking people to take us in this year, a bit squirmy, emotionally speaking, but as necessary to the happiness of my child now as getting to the airport was then. I need to prepare a speech to the internal state trooper who would try to stop us getting all the way to our destination: feeling all right, now, with what we have, and what we are. Which is two lucky people who have each other. Splendid.

Can I wish the same for you? Yes, I do. I do.