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Christmas in November
I look at the calendar Dad had given me before he had left. Four months had passed since I had last seen him. I remember him vividly; him walking stiff and straight, in his freshly pressed army uniform. I remember me clinging onto his arm, begging for him not to leave. I remember my mom; telling me in her strained voice to let him go, telling me that I’ll ruin his recently-ironed cuffs. I push the memory from my head, and rub my eyes. I check the calendar again, hoping I made a mistake, hoping that a year had already flown by and my dad would already be on the plane back home. I sigh. Still four months. Oh, if only it felt like it! The days seemed to drag on, and the nights felt longer. I sigh again, making my way downstairs.
As I walk into the kitchen, I stop, frozen in my place. I stand there watching my mother, who sits at the kitchen table, with her head resting in her arms. Tears slip down her cheeks and a discordant sob escapes from her chest.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” I ask nervously. I have never seen my mom like this. She is the quiet and reserved type, and isn’t the one to cry.
She lifts her head up once I say this, as if she has just noticed I have been standing there. Her tear-stained cheeks go red, and she stands up and clears her voice.
“Just missing your Dad, honey,” she sniffles. “Go back upstairs and get dressed. We’ll be leaving for school in ten minutes.”
I nod, and hurry out of the room, wanting to forget the state of distress I had seen my mother in. I throw open the door to my closet, and rummage around, trying to find some clean clothes. I put on a shirt and shorts, and tie my red and black running shoes. I run a comb through my hair and grab my backpack. I snatch a granola bar from the table, and hastily begin eating it.
While finishing up, the phone rings. I hurriedly run to the phone and check the caller ID. THAYLOR, RUTH. I cringe. It’s my teacher. I remember her warning distinctly, “If you don’t show your mom that report card then I’ll be calling her up!”
I let the phone continue to ring and walk over to where my backpack lay. I unzip it, and pull out my report card. There, written in bright red pen, were two D’s next to the subjects English and science. But that wasn’t all. Three C’s were written next to the subjects social studies, Spanish, and math. How could I show Mom this?
The phone rings again, for it is my teacher calling for a second time.
“Can you get that, Nick?” my mother asks from somewhere upstairs. I fret, unsure of what to do. I couldn’t show my mother my report card after seeing her this morning. I wouldn’t! I pick up the ringing phone, laugh, and then slam it back down. Satisfied, I slip on my backpack over my shoulders and head out the door to the car.
As I walk into Room 459 of my school, someone calls out, “Nick, I need to see you.” I pretend I don’t hear the voice and rush to my locker. I slowly take off my jacket, hoping the person that said my name would forget. I methodically take out the books needed for first period and just as I’m about to close my locker, a hand grabs my shoulder. I struggle underneath the tight grip, but it’s no use. I turn my head around to face the person, and am met with the cold stare belonging to Mrs. Ruth Thaylor. I look down at my red and black running shoes and fidget with my fingers.
“Hello, Nicholas,” she begins.
I wince. The only time when anyone calls me Nicholas is when I’m in serious trouble. I glance up at her and she continues.
“This morning, at precisely 8:45 AM, I made two calls to your house this morning. The first call went unanswered. The second call was picked up, but then was abruptly, and may I mention rudely, disconnected.”
I stare into her dull blue eyes.
“Very sorry to hear that, Mrs. Thaylor,” I respond.
She looks at me, unsure of my response.
“So you had nothing to do with the hanging the phone up, Nicholas?” she asks.
“No,” I respond smugly.
“Hmm, that’s odd because I heard a boy’s laughter right before the call ended,” she says. “Could that have been you?”
My hands begin to sweat. “No,” I stutter.
Her lips form into a firm line. “Nicholas, why are you doing this? Why have you been purposely failing your classes? Why have you not bothered to do homework and study for tests? You used to be a bright student, don’t get me wrong. But now, for two months, you’ve been the exact opposite.”
My hands tremble and I can’t talk.
She repeats her question, “Nicholas, why are you doing this?”
Tears begin to fill my eyes, and I’m unable to talk.
I can’t take it anymore.
So, I run out of the classroom.
I run to the boy’s bathroom, and lock myself into an empty stall. I kneel down to the cool tile and curl myself into a ball. A new batch of tears cascade down my ruddy face and a feeling of emptiness runs through me. I breathe sharp and fast, and my hands clench at my sides. I close my eyes tight, and I see Dad. I see his smiling face, his golden auburn hair, his twinkling hazel eyes. I also see someone else… me. I’m hugging his legs, laughing.
At the sight of the image in my head, I immediately stop crying. I lay there on the floor remembering. Trying to remember the good times my father and I had, trying to remember the bad. But nothing comes, and I feel like I can’t remember him, can’t reach out to touch him. The memory I had of his leaving, vanished.
Suddenly, the bathroom door opens. My memories of my father flash before my eyes and I freeze.
“Nick?” someone says.
I don’t respond.
“Nick, are you in here?” someone says again.
I feebly reply, “In here.”
My stall door is opened up and there is Mrs. Thaylor.
I look away and bury my head into my arms.
She says nothing. She kneels down to the ground beside me and pats my back.
I start to cry. She doesn’t seem to mind. She keeps patting my back, and I’m unsure of how to react to this.
Suddenly, I burst out, “It’s my father, he’s in the war in Iraq.”
In between sobs I say, “I miss him. I feel I can’t function without him.”
Mrs. Thaylor nods and says, “My son left home a year ago to fight in the same war as your father.”
She clears her voice and continues, “My husband left me four years ago, so my son was all I had. And when he left, it was like I went into a depression. I wouldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I went day after day worrying that he wouldn’t come home. Then, a phone call came. It was about my son; he had perished in a bombing.”
Quietness fills the room.
I sit on the floor and think to myself. Mrs. Thaylor had it worse than I did. Here I am, not functioning because I miss my father, who’s alive and fighting. And here’s Mrs. Thaylor, functioning fine, even though her husband left her and her son is dead.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’ll do better, I promise.”
She looks at me at says, “I know you will.”
Five Months Later
I check the calendar. Nine months has passed with three remaining ‘till Dad gets home! I glance at my desk, and upon my science textbook is my report card. I’m proud to say that for the first time, I got second honors!
After my talk with Mrs. Thaylor, I pulled myself together. I did my homework, participated in school, and studied for tests. My mom and I are getting along better, and tomorrow we have tickets to go see a football game. She also bought an extra ticket, “just in case,” she says. Probably one of her friends!
As I walk downstairs, the doorbell rings.
“Nick, honey, can you get the door? It’s probably an early Christmas present!”
I race downstairs. A Christmas present in November; it had to be something special!
I pull open the door, and standing there, with a bow on top of his head, was the most special gift of all.