by Baloney Bill
Being alone isn't so bad, is it?
The Hole-In-the-Wall Come Christmas
The place was small and messy, but he preferred to think of it as comfortable and “lived-in.” He’d been here a long time, moved in right after Veronica divorced him, so, Lord! He’d been here for over twenty years. The plan had been this place was to be temporary housing until he got his finances squared away and was able to rent or buy something better. Problem was, he’d underestimated how much of his pay would go to child support. Then his employer went bankrupt, and he was out of work. Stuff happens.
He didn’t go out of the little apartment much. Stayed in. Watched TV. Fiddled around on the computer. Read a lot. He had developed over the years a routine of doing nothing. Since the heart attack and surgery and being out of work for years now, “nothing” had developed into a way of life. He didn’t mind it.
He really had to force himself to do anything out of his nothing routine. For weeks he had been trying to write his Christmas cards but kept putting it off. He had the cards and he had the money to put in the cards and the number of cards he sent out was very small. He sent out three cards every year -- one to each of his children and their families. And it didn’t take long to do. He wasn’t like people who included a note of good tidings or one of those printed-off letters chronicling the year-gone-by that some people use. He wrote three letters on each card -- “D-A-D.” And felt like an imposter even writing that. He had a formula for how much cash went in each card: how much he could afford per person times how many family members. This year it was twenty bucks times four, three and five since Andy and his wife had another baby. He'd received a birth announcement in the mail, that’s how he knew. A girl. Two boys and a girl now. Same as he and Veronica had. Nice sized family, not too many, not too few.
He pushed himself out of his cushy, threadbare chair and went to get those Christmas cards and the money. Get this thing done. Shouldn’t take long. Now, where did he put those cards? Got them at the grocery store. Should be on the counter. Not there. He was kind of hungry and swung open the refrigerator door. Bowl of cereal or something. Then, next to the milk was the flat bag with the cards inside. Dummy. Put the cards in the refrigerator. So they wouldn’t spoil, maybe? Dummy. A pen? Can never find a pen even though he probably had a dozen of them. None in the junk drawer. Everything else imaginable except a pen. He paused his search to use the can and thought to look in the medicine cabinet after he washed his hands. Eureka. A pen.
At the kitchenette table, he pushed the dirty dishes and fast food wrappers aside to make a bare spot where he could have enough elbow room to write. He’d start with Andy. Always went oldest to youngest for no particular reason. Didn’t matter. But he used to be an orderly guy, a numbers guy. Guess some of it carried over into these days of nothingness.
The card was pretty generic. A picture of Santa on the front. He’d always loved the idea of Santa. A happy, generous person who thought every individual in the world was important. Inside, the card just said, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” and under that, he wrote “D-A-D.” He counted out the money and started to address the card.
Suddenly, he felt so sad. Like the emotional rug was pulled out from under him and he came crashing down. It just all seemed so little and pointless. “D-A-D.” How could he even call himself that? He thought of that new little girl. Remembered the scent of a new baby, the coo’s, how they just nestle in your arms, and the fulfillment of rocking a baby to sleep. He thought of Andy’s boys, in grade school now, and how excited they would be this time of year with Christmas coming and all. He really liked kids. Always had.
And he was good to his kids when he lived at home. He had real relationships with them. Then the divorce. He deserved it. He couldn’t blame her. But why did she have to turn them all against him? He never disputed his dismissal. It seemed appropriate. He didn’t have a leg to stand on. He was alone and would make the best of it. But everything went downhill from there. The divorce, moving out, the decree, no custody of the kids. Then the company going belly up, job after job, none of them good. So after work, he built a cocoon in his little hole-in-the-wall. Night after night became week after week became year after year. It wasn’t so bad. He got over it.
Oh, my God! Was he crying?
It was so bad.
He was so alone. He’d lived in the same place for twenty years and didn’t even know any of the neighbors who moved in and then as quickly as they could moved out. What was the point? He got to know a couple of them when he first moved in, really tried, but then they were gone, and it was just so exhausting. Trying to meet people. Trying to be friends. Being, after all that, left alone again. It was all so exhausting. And, after all, there was the cushy, threadbare chair and the TV and the old desktop computer. And he convinced himself he was fine.
Then the heart attack, and to Veronica’s credit, she looked after him until he was back on his feet. Then she was gone again. Understandable. He did not deserve her.
He never bounced back from that heart attack. There was always something the matter with him. It seemed he was never healthy. No wonder. He didn’t eat right or exercise, the only places he went any more were the laundromat, the grocery store, and fast food shops. He smoked and drank. He had given up on himself, on life in general, and had convinced himself he didn’t care, that it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
On the Christmas card under his hand where he had written “D-A-D,” he could see the impression of Santa Claus on the blank part of the card across from “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” He didn’t know what came over him, but he just started writing:
Christmas back again already.
Hope you and Pat and the boys are doing well.
That sure is a beautiful baby girl you’ve got there.
Thank you for the picture.
Hope you have a really nice holiday,
you and your family.
He read it over and - God, was he still crying? - it looked okay. He tucked the card in the envelope and sealed it shut.