We made a deal. No Christmas presents this year. In fact, we didn’t even put up a tree.
November flew by with Hurricane Sandy taking up most of our time. Cliff worked eighteen hour shifts for the power company while I sat in the dark for three weeks.
Halloween came and went with no Trick or Treaters. That bag of candy is still on the counter.
It wasn’t bad being without power. I was cold, but I had candles glowing in every room. I read by night light and outlined a novel about a haunted house in Bradley Beach.
We went to the Dominican Republic the week after Thanksgiving – a trip planned and paid for in June. I wasn’t into it as much as usual. All the people who lost their homes and businesses, I didn’t feel I deserved a vacation.
I was sadder than I usually get in the winter time.
When we got home, I turned Fifty. Not that I care about the age because you know I’d be lying.
But there was no birthday party.
No big deal.
I just lived a half of a century and no one cared. I had trouble with turning twenty five because I thought I’d be some high profile attorney by then.
I was a bartender at Ocean Eddie’s in Virginia Beach.
The morning I turned fifty, I woke up to a card and a dozen purple roses. I thought of Woody Allen and wished Cliff had booked us on an Egyptian adventure. Something clever for my fiftieth!
“We’ll go to St. Pete for Christmas,” he said. “I still have vacation days left.”
“No,” I told him. “You’re tired. Take those days for yourself.”
A couple days later:
“St. Pete would be nice. We could sit on the beach for a couple of days.”
“We could go to Busch Gardens.”
“Yeah. We could do that, too. I have friends in Tampa.”
“We could go see my cousins.”
Our quiet Christmas would be spent in a rental car.
“Let’s just stay home and be together. I haven’t seen you in months.” I really mean this. No guilt trip here.
“Overtime. I can’t pass it up.”
“I know. Let’s just stay home.”
“Ok. Do you want to have a Christmas party?” I fought tooth and nail to have one five years ago. Now it’s a tradition.
“Not really. We don’t have a tree.”
“We don’t need a tree to have a party.”
“No. I don’t feel the spirit this year.”
“Ok. Whatever you want.”
“You should’ve thrown me a party,” I told him a few days later. I fired up my computer. Two hundred and ninety eight Facebook friends wished me Happy Birthday with comments about being over the hill. Most well wishers welcomed me to the Club.
“Hey. I tried. Okay? They wanted twenty bucks a head at the Elks for five hour open bar with appetizers. I know you’d want two hundred people there.”
“I could have done the food.”
“You catered our wedding! You’re not catering your fiftieth surprise party!”
So I got nothing.
I’m not going to lie. I was sad. Dejected more like. I turned it around like I normally do when life doesn’t go my way.
If I can’t celebrate my birthday, I can’t get old, can I?
On Monday he tells me we’re having our Christmas party on Saturday.
“Yeah,” he said. “Too many people asked when our Party was happening, this weekend or next. I couldn’t tell them we’re not having one.”
“I don’t want a party.”
“Too late. I already told people we were. Only a few people. No big deal.”
About fifty people showed up (one for each year?). I cooked my usual spread. I had appetizers and lobster bisque. Lasagna and jambalaya. Butternut squash ravioli. Sangria and Brandy Alexanders.
No big deal.
Before anyone got there I was sad. I would’ve have rather cooked for two hundred people. And had a huge 50th birthday party with a band that played all night long.
Like at my wedding.
But that didn’t happen. Jen brought a birthday cake and everyone sang and we did a shot of something made with caramel vodka which was tasty. I blew out the candles and kissed Cliff on the cheek. The pictures are cute and can be seen on Facebook.
Every year Ellen brings me an ornament for my tree.
“No tree this year?” she handed me a cute Santa. We both agree that some Santas are creepy. This one was cute.
“You can hang it on a door knob,” she tells me.
The party was a success. I think I made it to bed around four am after we put the fire out in the back yard.
Cliff has been spending a lot of time on the computer. He’s looking for a good deal for our trip to Alaska in the spring.
Another reason we decided not to have a party.
“We’ll save our money. We’ll do Alaska right.”
“I want to go in the helicopter.”
“I want to see the blue glaciers.”
“I want to kayak with the orcas.”
“Yeah.” I had to think about that for a moment. Be careful what you wish for, that sort of thing. “Yup. I do. And the train to Denali.”
“Okay. Whatever you want.”
“I’m going to tell people you’re taking me to Alaska for my fiftieth. And I want a big lens for my camera so I can take pictures of bears.”
“Of course, dear. Whatever you want.”
Christmas Eve I decide to open the restaurant because I had a couple people call for reservations. I usually don’t take them but one lady wanted to bring in eight people. Ok. And then another lady called and they were coming in with six. I thought it was cool they wanted to spend Christmas Eve at Ragin’ Cajun. I’m usually there for a while anyway selling last minute gift certificates and this year I had the cookbook. I sold a lot of hot sauces for stocking stuffers.
A few tables came in but not the eight top or the six. And they didn’t call to say they weren’t coming.
I stayed open until 9:00. Cliff called and asked when I was coming home.
Even though we agreed on no Christmas presents I still had to give him something. He’s like a six year old. He would have pouted if there was nothing for him to open Christmas morning.
Nothing from Santa.
But there was no tree. No stockings. Our joke is he fills my stocking with stuff he finds in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets.
One year I turned out my stocking looking for a little blue box.
I got nothing from Tiffany’s, but there were a couple of Tootsie Roll Pops, a bag of Twizzlers and some loose tampons.
Oh yeah, and a couple dollar coins he found on my dresser.
This year I’d get nothing because we had a deal. So I bought myself underwear from Costco and wrapped them up. I bought a new pair of gloves with faux fur and finger tips so I can use my iPhone. I wrapped them up.
I bought the new Thomas Jefferson biography by Jon Meecham because I want to read it.
So I wrapped it.
I did this so he wouldn’t feel bad when he opened his gifts and I got nothing.
I got him a new pair of slippers like I do every year.
And some wild print swim trunks.
I got him new socks. And a big box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because there were only a few in the big bag of Halloween candy I bought for the Trick or Treaters who never came because of the Hurricane.
I also wrapped up sample tiles for our new bathroom we’re having done after the new year. I ordered the jacuzzi tub.
I called Cliff to tell him I was on my way home. He told me to be careful because the roads were slick with the freezing rain.
We should have gone to St. Pete.
No wonder I’m depressed. It’s cold and nasty out and I’m getting underwear for Christmas.
Cliff heard me pull into the driveway. He came out in his New York Giants lounge pants I bought him for Christmas last year.
And his old beat up slippers.
I handed him the grocery bags. We were going to spend Christmas in our pajamas and eat all day.
We’d have a big breakfast and a Bailey’s and coffee.
I’d make lasagna.
Some shrimp cocktail.
Cheese and crackers with pepperoni.
Chips and homemade dip.
A nice salad.
Prime Rib for dinner.
Tiramisu for dessert.
Cliff was happy about that. Sure. I’d be the one in the kitchen all day.
I handed him the Foodtown bags.
“Are those my Christmas presents?” he asked pointing to a brown shopping bag filled with red wrapped gifts.
I told you he was six.
“We’re not doing presents, remember?”
“Oh. I thought maybe they were from Santa.” He gives me that little boy smile I love so much.
“Maybe.” I smile. He kisses me and takes all the yellow plastic bags. I bring in the Santa bag. I didn’t put any ribbons and bows on any of the gifts.
No tree. No big deal.
Although his hands were full, he opened the door for me. He’s like that. He wants to make sure he locks the door because he doesn’t want anyone to come into the house in the middle of the night and steal me.
I step into the living room.
And there she is.
Just sitting patiently, waiting.
Her ears go back.
Her tail moves side to side.
She leans back on her haunches and springs up against the crate.
I think I drop the brown bag and drop to my knees.
Cliff is somewhere behind me but I don’t care.
The box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups falls out onto the living room floor. I know this because it was the last thing I wrapped.
She’s in my arms, her pointy little teeth scratching my nose.
Puppy breath fills the air and I cry.