(This is the third in a series of connected shorts that will create one larger story. I would strongly recommend reading Most Wonderful Time and Do You Hear What I Hear before reading this post.)
The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, this year
I sat on my couch just staring out at the snow coming down through the living room window. I didn’t see a beautiful landscape similar to what Thomas Kincade paints on his postcards. The weather wasn’t so beautiful as that. No, this was the wet, heavy stuff that turns the ground to slush rather than proper snow. The clouds were grey and it continued to be dark even though the sun should have risen. The weather and the sky were a perfect match for my mood. Miserable.
The memorial service isn’t until Friday but I told my boss I was taking the full week off. My company only gives me three days for bereavement, so I have to use up two sick days to do so. Already, I am wondering if that was wise. It is only Tuesday and it’s going to be a long slow week if I am stuck with nothing but my thoughts and this miserable weather.
Last Christmas, April let me borrow her Elvis Christmas CD. Actually, she foisted it on me. I’m not a fan of Elvis, but she insisted it was only because I am not listening to him enough. “Just give him a chance,” she would say. “he grows on you.” Last winter I never did give him that chance. Somehow, instead of ending up back in her hands, the CD got packed away with my box of Christmas decorations. Who even listens to CD’s anymore anyway? Now it’s too late to give it back.
I check my laptop to make sure my Bluetooth speakers are connected, Then I pop the CD in. Blue Christmas is number five on the CD, but I jump right to it. Right now, it fits my mood. With Elvis crooning through the house, I sit back down on the couch. I try not to think. I try not to remember. Right now, everything is still too raw. And when those blue snowflakes start calling, that’s when those blue memories start calling…
This is too much. I can’t do this. Not alone. I slam my laptop shut and look around for my phone. Misery loves company. I don’t want any right now, but I will go insane just moping around on my own. I need to go somewhere. I need to do something. Not even thinking, I start calling my brother.
“Hey, Jayson, what’s up?”
“Hey, Dave. You at work?”
“Nah. They gave me the week off. You too?”
“How are you holding up?”
I couldn’t force any other words out of my throat. They had all fled from me, and an uncontrollable urge to just fall to the ground and weep was coming over me.
Dave heard my pain through the silence. “Hey. That was a stupid question I asked. You’re probably doing just as rough as I am.”
There was more silence on the line as I struggled to wrestle my emotions back under control.
After a moment, Dave continued, “Sherry and I bought a new TV that night. It’s still sitting here in the box in my living room. Getting it put up looks like a two-person job. Care to come over and give me a hand?”
I said something like yes and that I would be over in an hour. Dave and Sherry are only a twenty-minute drive away, but I could probably use a shower and a shave before heading out. Those things had both been neglected for the past couple of days. I grabbed some clothes that weren’t too wrinkled or smelly and headed to my bathroom. Once that water started pouring down on me, the pain that had been pushing against my chest all morning finally broke free. As the hot water rolled over me, I just sat down in my tub, put my head in my hands and wept. I didn’t move from that spot until the water started losing its heat. The tears were cathartic, but they did nothing to change my situation. My older sister, April, was still dead.
Sherry met me at the front door with a hug when I arrived at their house. Dave was in the kitchen heating up the leftover turkey to make us sandwiches. For a while, we all just sat around the kitchen table eating sandwiches, corn, and mashed potatoes. It was the five day old remnants of Thanksgiving leftovers.
“We should have finished this off days ago, but Dave and I have been eating out the past couple of nights.”
“No blame there. I’ve got a pizza and a half in my fridge. With the Jets win on Sunday, Papa Johns had their discount and I bought three of them.”
“Oh, to be a bachelor again,” Dave said. That earned him a playful hit on the shoulder from his wife. “Don’t worry, Sher. You’re a far better cook than Papa John ever was.”
The momentary levity faded back into a sad silence.
“I can’t believe she’s gone. We all just saw her on Thursday.”
“Can you imagine what the driver must be feeling? He must be so guilty right now.”
“I have no sympathy. I hope he loses his license.”
“Come on, Jayson. It wasn’t his fault. He had his breaks on the whole way down the hill, but it was just too steep and the road too slick. There was nothing he could do.”
Our sister had been coming home from Thanksgiving dinner late Thursday night. She was on Route 81 just south of Cortland and there had been a small accident right at the bottom of one of those hills. The cars were all backed up right to the hill. She was the last one in line and an 18 wheeler was coming behind her. The thing simply couldn’t get the traction to stop in time while sliding all the way down the hill. It hadn’t been going that fast when it hit her, but something that big and heavy doesn’t need all that much speed to become lethal. Google told me there was likely 417 people who died on Thanksgiving day and 50,000 total accidents among the nearly 50 million people hitting the road for the holiday. It’s scary to think that there are 416 other families out there going through the same thing we are. We seem so alone in our pain.
“He should have been going slower coming over that hill. You know how bad those roads were that night.”
“She should not have been out that night.” Sherry countered, “It wasn’t safe.”
Dave just looked at his wife. “We were out. Heck, we went to Walmart instead of going straight home.”
“I went to Tony’s,” I said. “I wasn’t exactly sober by the time I got home. If anybody should have died that night…”
“Hey now.” Sherry rubbed my shoulder as I stared at the wall and fought back the tears welling up in my eyes.
After another short bout of somber silence, Dave and I headed into the living room to set up the 65-inch TV. Once we finished that, the 50-inch screen formerly holding pride of place made its way into their bedroom and their old 36-inch bedroom TV found its way into the backseat of my car. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be an early Christmas present for me, but there are advantages to being there when things are getting moved around. Of course, Dave and I then had to play a few rounds of Call of Duty once everything was set up. You know, we just had to make sure everything worked. I think he wanted the company just as much as I did.
“Does Eric know?” David asked between rounds.
“Yeah. I called him Saturday. He took it hard. I sent a text with the service details, but I haven’t got a response back yet.”
“Do you think he’ll come?”
“Dunno. She broke it off a month ago, but it was what, two years that they were together?”
“More than that. He’d already bought a ring but hadn’t popped the question when she left him.”
“Huh,” I said. “Didn’t know that.”
“He was asking me about how I proposed to Sherry. I think he was planning to do it when she came down to the city for Christmas. Didn’t he just lose his parents this year too?”
“His mom,” I replied. “His dad skipped out on them when he was still a kid.”
“Poor kid. All alone in The City. I can’t imagine how he’s handling it.”
David just looked at me for a minute. “You’ve got us. And Mark and Mary, though they are down in Baltimore. Eric is an only child with no parents.”
I just chewed on that for a while as we focused back on the game neither one of us was doing all that great in. After a bit, I asked, “Do you guys still own any CDs?”
“Huh?” Dave asked.
“I pulled out my Christmas box this morning and found an Elvis Christmas CD April lent to me last year.”
“Her and her Elvis.”
“Yeah. I didn’t even know people still owned those things anymore.”
I don’t think Dave registered that comment because his next statement went in an entirely different direction. “It is gonna be a blue one, isn’t it?”
“That’s for sure.”
I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me
And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doing all right
With your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas