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First Christmas Alone

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Harold closes the glass door behind him, not exactly shutting out the cold; the wintry wind whistles in through the gap. Around the phone booth, the colorful lights of the city shine through the not-quite-darkness.

He stares at the phone for a long moment before he can pick it up and put it to his ear. And an even longer moment before he finds the words.


H-Hi, Dad.

Um…

It’s snowing out. Only a couple of inches, but… y’know, I’m used to snowstorms and power outages, icy roads and giant piles of snow at the edge of parking lots, and this… this is barely a light dusting, but I’ve already seen four car crashes in just two days. New York gets kinda crazy in the snow.

It’s peaceful, right now. They say it’s the city that never sleeps, but… not a lot of cars at two a.m. Not here, anyway.

I got a job. It’s not… I mean, it’s just helping out at a copy shop. I figured I could use the experience, learn some tricks to help me… forge a new identity. And it pays the rent; I’ve got a little apartment now. Nothing fancy, just a place to sleep.

Couldn’t sleep tonight, so that’s why—

I'm sorry, you have waited too long to dial. If you wish to make a call

 

Dad, I… I wish I could see you again.

The last time we talked, I… I wanted to believe you were still in there, somewhere… that you could hear me, that you knew me, but…

I know I’ll never see you again. It’s hard, coming to grips with that awareness. Especially now. I always thought… I just, I never expected it to happen so soon. I wish I’d… I-I can’t help going back over everything I wish I’d done… differently. Everything I wish that I’d said to you, before it was too late.

I remember when… when we lost Mom, and Marjorie, I… I was just so mad. At life, at God, at the doctors, at everything that didn’t or couldn’t help them. And when I wasn’t mad, it felt like… walking through fog, like the world barely existed and I was too numb to know how to take the next step. But you were like a… like a guide dog. Kept me moving, so I didn’t get stuck. Made us food and got me to school and… and…

I'm sorry, you have waited too long to dial. If you wish to make a call

 

That first Christmas Eve, when I didn’t care about anything except missing them, when I’d stayed in bed all day just trying not to think… remember how you dropped ice cubes under the blankets to get me on my feet, and told me to help you decorate the tree? How I got so mad at you celebrating without them that I started screaming and just wouldn’t stop, and somehow we ended up on the floor together under the tree just hugging each other like the world was ending?

I still can’t believe you had me stringing popcorn that night.

Life wasn’t the same without them, but you helped me see that it could still be good. And you—

You always had such high hopes for me, and now I’m… trying to make my way, to do what I can, but it’s… I wish you were here with me, that you could give me advice again, help me figure things out. Sometimes I just feel so lost without you. I’m trying to make my way in a world that seems so different from the one I grew up in, the one I got comfortable in. And I wasn’t… I wasn’t ready to do this on my own.

But I can do this. You always believed in me, and I… I’m going to do what I have to do to make this work. I’m not going to let you down, Dad. You gave me a good start—the best start—and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other until I get to where I need to be.

I miss you. I wish I could talk with you, Dad. I wish—

I'm sorry, you have waited too long to dial. If you wish to make a call

…Goodbye, Dad.

M-Merry Christmas.


Harold holds the phone for a moment longer, and then hangs it up and, for a moment, leans his head against the glass wall and just breathes.

Then he steps out of the booth again, carefully closes the door behind him, and trudges off into the snow.