The WORST Halloween EVER?!
7 Perfectly Imperfect Holiday Stories
The package came early
by Emma Donoghue
Our first baby was due on Christmas Eve, and by November, we were pretty organized. Hey, we'd bought a crib and a stroller. My partner's teaching semester would end early enough that we'd have weeks to paint the baby's room, fill the freezer with meals, have evenings out...
One windy night, November 13 to be exact, I woke to the house shaking. We opened the front door and a rush of tree branches burst in. A lofty maple had flattened our car like Godzilla and ripped the front porch right off. I didn't stop to grab my "Ideas for Books" file; we didn't look for the cat. We stumbled around to the back of the house--only to be stopped by an emergency worker, shouting, "You're about to step on live wires."
I felt a vast gratitude that we were alive. The neighbors brought us in for pumpkin muffins. It was very exciting. So exciting that the next day, I went into labor. By the following morning, November 15, our son was in our arms, five weeks early, but absolutely fine.
Except that preemies aren't ready for the world. At five pounds two, our baby looked more shivering frog than boy, feet tucked under his chin. After three days in the hospital, I felt unfit to take this frail creature out into the harsh winter, but the midwife insisted: "You'll feel better at home."
And we did, even if we couldn't use the front door. Those first few weeks were a blur of shattered sleep, more tears (from me) than I'd like to admit, and endless laughs. By late December there was a crazy kind of order to the chaos. Friends painted the bedroom yellow, put together the crib, filled the freezer. They were the spirit of Christmas at its most generous and made festive togetherness seem more important than peace and quiet. We invited half a dozen family members for Christmas--so long as my brother-in-law promised to cook. By the time our guests arrived, on the "due date" of December 24, we had a tree (scrawny, lopsided), with a photo of our ravishing frog prince on top, in lieu of an angel.
Emma Donoghue is the author of the best sellerRoom. Her new book,Astray, was published last month.
Flight: delayed. Romance: on time.
by Amanda Fortini
Almost four years ago, near midnight on the night before Christmas Eve, I found myself stuck in the San Francisco airport. I'd traveled there for a daylong interview, but a monstrous blizzard had created the sort of cross-country travel chaos that's characteristic of that time of year: My flight to Chicago to visit my family had been canceled, and my new flight home to Los Angeles was delayed. Since my fiancé and I had split on Thanksgiving Day--I'd passed the intervening month alternately weeping and screaming at him on the phone--it was beginning to dawn on me that I'd be spending the holiday alone.
I did what any bored and lonely traveler with a laptop and a few hours to kill might do: I parked myself on the filthy floor near a power outlet, plugged in, and went online. I checked my email. I flung instant messages back and forth with a friend. I scanned Facebook. There, I was surprised to find in my inbox an obliquely flirtatious message ("Where in L.A.? Why L.A.? What's your favorite color?") from a Montana-based writer whose name and work were familiar to me yet whom I'd never met.
I'd been a Facebook friend of this writer since October, when, before the launch of his new book (he later told me), he'd swiped a number of contacts from his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and sent friend requests to them, in an attempt to build his social network. I'd recently enjoyed a magazine article he'd written that mentioned he was born in Ohio, where I'd spent childhood summers visiting my dad. So I accepted his friend request, but not before studying his profile picture, in which he was wearing dark aviator sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. I could see half-moons of dirt beneath his fingernails, but I couldn't see his eyes. A Midwestern bad boy! That seemed intriguing. I had considered sending him an email, but my relationship was still in its death throes, so I didn't. Now here he was, two months later, emailing me! I pushed my laptop away, like my teenage self had once tossed an errant Ouija board across the room out of fear. It was as though I'd conjured him.
Maybe I was more receptive to mystical notions of fate and fortune than usual, there under the bright fluorescent terminal lights at what can be the bleakest time of the year. Maybe I was looking for "signs." Whatever the reason, in that heady Christmastime mood that's equal parts melancholy and optimism, I did what I might not have done had his message arrived in the midst of everyday life: I replied. He replied. I replied. He replied. We started an epistolary exchange that lasted for two weeks, until he drove 18 hours to Los Angeles to take me out, then rented a small guesthouse so we could date. A few months later, we moved in together. Our conversation, you might say, has continued into the present. I've spent the holidays in Montana ever since.
Amanda Fortini is a writer living in Livingston, MT. She has written forThe New Yorker,The New Republic,Rolling Stone, andThe New York Times.
What I remember most is love
by Ayana Mathis
I have almost no recollection of my childhood holidays, only a series of impressions: my name in glitter on a Santa hat; standing outside in the dark after Christmas dinner with cold cheeks and a full belly. I don't recall decorating a tree or ripping open presents, though these things surely happened. My mother, who always got by with very little, made certain of it. But my Christmases are eclipsed by darker events.
In 1982, the year I turned 9, my mother was institutionalized for a mental illness--the hearing-voices, not-leaving-her-room kind. We lived with my grandparents that year, and not long after being released, my mother stopped taking her medicine. Her behavior once again turned erratic. Christmas came. We were all demoralized. The usual trips to the mall or the tree vendor must have felt unimaginably frivolous. But my grandparents were devoutly religious, and on Christmas Eve, we attended a candlelight vigil at our church. I don't remember anything about the car ride there or back, or the Christmas day that followed, but one precious instant emerges: I am standing alone in front of the congregation. White candles burning in wall sconces and in the hands of the congregants provide the only light. The preacher's wife nods at me and plays the opening strains of "O Holy Night." My knees knock with nervousness as I begin my solo in a wavering little voice. I am overwhelmed with a sense that I am in the presence of something transcendent, something benevolent. I look out at my mother and grandparents in the second pew. My mother has not allowed my grandparents to touch her in months, but some grace that night makes her sit very close to them. Her eyes shine, there are tears on her cheeks. I sing on in my little voice. In that moment I am loved, I am safe, and we are a family like any other, celebrating Christmas the best we can.
Ayana Mathis's first novel,, will be published in January.
A gift worth waiting for
by Cat Greenleaf
On Thanksgiving Day 2002, my grandfather lay dying under ugly fluorescent lights in an anonymous New York City nursing home. He was my best friend. My boyfriend could sense this was his last day and felt moved to make an old man happy. I chose to sense nothing, and felt moved to go out and get coffee.
In my absence, swept up in emotion, young man turned to old man: "Joe, I'm going to ask Cat to marry me, and I'd like your blessing, but I need you to keep it a secret." This was a massive gamble on Mike's part. Mike knew my grandfather loved him, but he's not Jewish. There was no guarantee that Joseph, a cantor, would ever accept such a marriage. Then there was the small matter of whether or not he actually planned to propose... ever. Details.
"That's wonderful, mazel tov! Of course, not a word, my lips are sealed!"
His lips remained sealed for exactly five minutes, until I returned to both of them in the room. Never tell a dying man a secret; he has no reason to keep it! "Cathy, darling, this is fantastic news, congratulations on your engagement! Mazel tov!" Mazel tov? Was he hallucinating? I looked at Mike, who said nothing, so I said nothing too.
Hanukkah began the next night, and Mike and I never once discussed the NHI (Nursing Home Incident). Instead we lit candles, ate latkes, and danced an awkward hora through eight nights of my uncertainty: Had I received the promise of a ring, or just some hopeful parting words from my lifelong cheerleader?
Like the miracle of Hanukkah itself, my grandfather lasted another eight days before passing. Mike's proposal didn't come as a holiday present, but as a birthday gift four months later. Still, on the last night of Hanukkah, before he left this world, we celebrated the life of cantor Joe Greenleaf, alight with the possibility of what the future might hold for the two of us. It was a perfect send-off, because he loved life, loved me, and would've hated to miss the party.
Cat Greenleaf is the host ofTalk Stoopon NBC New York.
Consommé, comfort, and Christmas
by Averill Curdy
Every morning of advent
you and I would walk, tracing the same
figure around a lake cataracted
by winter, unmiraculous as clock-hands
(our few words, like that tick, etching
a deeper silence). Across our paths leaves
passed dry comment on the routines
of marriage. Could you any more than I
construe anything from empty trees
shaped by their devotion to the invisible?
On Christmas Eve you get the flu.
Friends, festivities canceled, you,
like a covered fire, consume away in dreams
all but our most indurate years together.
Bones like old grievances crowd the pot.
It's for you I stew this unlikely mess:
knuckles, hocks, shoulders, shins,
choking the house with perfume, blackly
amorous, of time and labor, of stumps
pulled and stones broken, of a stag's heart
burned to draw off winter's wolfish dreams.
Turning in cloudy liquid blebbed with fat
the round bones like little moons repeat
our original vowel--of woe, and wonder.
To such a moon I'd ask, "A long marriage,
a short life, whom won't this chafe at times?"
I stir in egg whites, the shells, then
set it at the simmer of your fever.
For one long hour at blood heat I tend
the stock, bound to patience, to this one
in that sum of small consummations since
the day we put ourselves in each other's hands.
The dirty crust spuming the surface
engrosses bits of marrow, waste, and meat,
but it's the ligatures--clinging threads
of tendons, cartilage, dissolving--that
yield this barbarian gold you'll wake to
Christmas morning. Lake walk forestalled,
together we'll break our fast in bed,
raise spoons kindled with winter light.
Averill Curdy's first poetry collection,, will be published in April. She lives in Chicago and teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.
Real beats Norman Rockwell every time
by Wendy Lawless
It was the first time I was spending Christmas with my boyfriend, David, and his family in Ohio. I'd been dreaming about it for exactly a year. The Christmas before, I was performing on Broadway and had to stay in the city. I spent the day with my sister, Robin; we ate roast chicken and watchedHigh Society. Even this was a lot more festive for us than holidays past, when we'd sit around a table with our chain-smoking mother and stare at a big piece of overcooked meat. Still, every time David called to tell me about ice skating or drinking hot chocolate with his family, I longed for their kind of Norman Rockwell holiday. This year, there would be a hand-knit stocking on the mantel with my name on it.
When we pulled into the driveway on Christmas Eve, the house was lit up with cheer. Lights twinkled on the snow-covered bushes, and a beautiful tree stood in the front window. It was picture-perfect, except for the tears in David's parents' eyes when they opened the door. His mother threw her arms around him and said that his grandmother Josephine had passed away while we were on the road. That night, along with the stocking hanging, I saw him cry for the first time.
Christmas morning, a snowstorm hit. We opened presents, had breakfast, took down our stockings, and went to the funeral home. Surrounded by David's solemn family, I didn't want to admit that I had never seen a dead person. I felt trapped between terror and nausea as I approached the coffin, but it was my only chance to meet Josephine. She was wearing a pretty pink nightgown and, at her request, her glasses--"So I can see in heaven."
The next day we set out over icy roads to the tiny town in Pennsylvania where Josephine had been born. I sat in back, holding his sister's hand while she wept, and tried not to get carsick. That night at the hotel, since Josephine had been one of 11 children, I sat down to dinner with a horde of extended relatives. I was overwhelmed at first, experiencing culture shock--suddenly, I was in a foreign country where people hugged and kissed each other. It was like a crash course in family, an evening filled with wonderful stories and tender toasts.
The church was packed the next day. David struggled to deliver his eulogy, sobbing intermittently. And watching him, I realized that even at a funeral, I was experiencing Christmas at its best. What matters most isn't the traditions but what underpins them--the deep foundations of love and devotion between family and friends, between generations, that bind us to one another.
Wendy Lawless's memoir,,will be released in January.
Hope is a blue-eyed husky
by Andrea Buchanan
It was the time of year when people work hard to spread cheer, and Jason and I were doing our best. I hung the last ornament on the Christmas tree as he looked for the menorah to put in our window. Nonetheless, there we were, facing another holiday without a baby in our lives.
Then came the knock on our door that would save the season. A neighbor stood on our front steps with a lost dog, a beautiful white and black Siberian husky, drenched by rain. He sat on command, gave us his paw, and then plopped down in our foyer from exhaustion and slept for hours. It wasn't the first time Jason and I had agreed to take in a stray. But that particular Christmas, after multiple failed attempts to conceive through IVF, and having just learned that an adoption of a little boy had fallen through, it felt like a Christmas miracle. Curling up with this blue-eyed husky would help fill the void. We decided to foster him and call him Wiley.
Two days later we took Wiley on a hike. Out of nowhere, in the kind of scene that only unfolds this way in the movies--or, as it happened, in our favorite canyon in L.A.--a girl ran up to us and fell to her knees, exclaiming, "Blue, is that you?" Wiley licked her face. I couldn't believe it. What were the chances that we would run into his owner? I welled up with tears at the thought of saying good-bye.
She told us more of his story. It turned out, before he ran away and made his way to our front door, the girl had been looking for a new home for him. She loved the dog, but didn't have the wherewithal to take care of him. I asked her what she wanted to do. "I want you to keep him, as long as you have a fenced-in yard and you name him Blue."
This past summer, two years and some months after Wiley Blue's arrival, I gave birth to a baby girl named Ruby. Wiley Blue licked her toes and ran through the yard leaping over bushes with excitement. He had helped usher Ruby into our lives, keeping our hearts open and our house full of cheer long after the carol singing was over and the decorations were put away, while we waited, with hope, for our baby to arrive.
Andrea Buchanan is the editor of the anthology.
Video: Conditional Sentences Comparison: The Perfect Holiday (Creative ESL Video Story)(Mixed Conditionals)
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