The Improvised Christmas


December 25, 2005  Sunday

What a strange Christmas today is, odd in its normality.  What was the difference between today and an early April Thursday?  The first sign that the tide was still Yule came as we were driving across the tunnel this morning as the sun was rising.  Few were on the road as a skimming of the radio’s offerings was met with one of those unfortunate platforms that have been decking the halls without stop since leaves were still green and safely swaying in the breeze.  I wondered about what it was like to work at such a place– are there trees in the lunch room, decorated with bulbs and tinsel in the late days of October?  Can they remember if they’re trudging towards the Glory Day, or trapped in Groundhog Day?  Would Nat “King” Cole should so sweet on the 91st listening?

The sole sign of anything being amiss as we walked towards the pier was the utter lack of other vehicles, the blessed who were at the moment being human and watching their children actually open gifts, instead of their sugar-plum slumbers being interrupted by the sound of daddy driving to work.  Don’t say that the Navy doesn’t know how to tie on the jolliness with the best of them, though: most of the ships are decorated with generic greetings of nonspecific, general tidings.  A snowman stood in defiance on the flight deck on an amphibious carrier, but a small white flag with a blue cross was actually being flown above the American flag.  I wondered about that as we neared the brow of the Elrod.

A History of Russia kept me company in the morning, as I read on the mess decks as many stopped and asked me how crazy I must be for spending Christmas onboard.  It wasn’t much to stop in mid-battle between sixth-century Vizi-Goths and Huns to say with a sigh that I was invited to spend the day in DC with my girlfriend, but I was missing it without a way there.  I should have just posted a sign for those interested enough to read.

As I dug back into my reading a clean, sharp, mechanical suddenly voice fills the ship: “This is BM3 Sutton from the quarterdeck, advising all hands to have a Merry Christmas.”

I couldn’t have come up with that if I tried.

Yet how peculiar, that on the ship it was impossible to tell it was Xmas at all, not a single bulb, nor a lick of red-and-green linked construction paper.  It must actually be tomorrow I thought, and returned to my book…  Oh well, it’s not so bad a Christmas, after all on second thought.

This was entirely by accident this time, and not a premeditated exercise to jazz up my self-worth, as I suddenly reflected on how lucky I might actually be.  No, I am not with my family, but I have family all the same.  They were not swept away by a tsunami or left destitute by a hurricane.  As I sat there paying lip-service to my lukewarm coffee, I knew that moment that they were safe and warm.  Nicole was probably opening two presents, to be fair to her until Christmas can make up with another late arrival by me at the Carlson house.  The breakfast rolls baking in the oven would not be the only food that they would have today.  And they loved me.  It must be so hard to be away from a son that you do love, for the reasons I do give them.  They did not ask me to leave and effectively cut my life from them for four years and counting.  They did not want me to go, they advised and in their own quiet ways asked me not to, but go I did.  I’ve gone off to live me life, as anyone person must do, yet I am amazed, always amazed at their eternal patience, whether it be merely a token trip home, now occurring only annually, or the phone call that comes just a bit more regularly.

And what will they receive from me this day?  A phone call?  I am embarrassed to know they will be thrilled by this, and that my simple presence will be enough to count as a gift.  What did I ever do to deserve such people?

As I drew my gloves back on to warm myself, I was happy for Marley that she was able to be with part of her family, and that she was safe as well.  It has not hit me yet, but I know I will one day soon, most likely in mid-June when I reflect back and wish I could do anything to have that day back, it will.  I wish I could take all of her disappointment and make it entirely my own, just so she would feel better.  Perhaps an extra gift for the family to express again how terrible I feel.

Today could have turned out differently, the use of my car would have seen to that.  Sitting in an empty theater in my beloved island of the artsy Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, with an indie movie Babel, I could only at times half watch.  I would absent-mindedly check my phone for the time.  I don’t even know why, perhaps to only know how much time remained in the day. The wince of lost memories are strong as I try to imagine what electric impulses I might have stored away in my mind forever had the circumstances been different.

Well, Charlie Brown, you’ve got your slight, sagging sapling, and I’ve got my 1998 Cavalier Z24.  Wanna trade?  No, I didn’t think you would.  Now I’m just waiting for the final scene, and the line, “See, Will Carlson, it wasn’t such a bad little day, I think all it needed was a little love.”

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