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2:15. Your least favorite time of day. You force yourself to make the long walk down the driveway, trying to avoid the ice that litters your path to the dreaded mailbox, the mailbox that adds nothing but unhappiness to your already-miserable life. You arrive at the mailbox just as the mailman drives away- even he is in too much of a hurry to say “hi.” You open the box and stare at what’s inside for a moment, hoping against hope that today will be different somehow. Different from yesterday, different from last week, different from the last few dismal years you’ve spent alone in that gloomy house on the hill.
Unable to wait any longer, you snatch the stack of bills and advertisements, slam the mailbox shut, and hurry back to the house so you won’t catch a chill. Suddenly and unexpectedly, your legs slip out from under you, and you fall down on your knees, hard. The ice had taken advantage of your carelessness as you hastened to get inside, and now you had to pay the price. Knees burning, you stand up and, cautiously, finish the rest of the trek uphill.
Once inside, you take off your thin jacket and worn-out boots and set them carefully next to the fireplace to dry. You throw another log on the fire, for good measure. Setting the mail on the kitchen table, you warm up some water on the stove and look for the cocoa in your pantry. You’re down to the last little bit you have, so it looks like you might have to make your trip to the store early this month. Once the water is boiling, you pour in the chocolate and take a sip. A little too chocolaty, but no matter.
You grab a chair and sit down. In so doing, your knee painfully reminds you of your earlier fall, but you ignore it as you begin to sort through your mail, almost without emotion. This has become such a routine that you’ve almost lost the hope that change would come. Almost. The phone bill- you rarely use it, so it shouldn’t be too high. The water bill- the bathtub was leaking all of last week and it took forever to get someone to come and fix it, so the bill would be unnecessarily high this month. There’s a huge sale at the furniture store, a big “blow-out,” but you don’t need any more furniture. The heating bill- it’s winter, you need heat. There’s not much you can do about it. And, of course, there’s the insurance company who wants your money, money you don’t have.
Suddenly, you stop. You have spied a letter, a handwritten letter that has your name on it. But there’s a catch- there is no return address. You stare for a moment, trying to take it all in. You can’t seem to remember the last time you received an actual letter from someone…
Excited and a little anxious, you carefully peel open the envelope, as if it were something fragile that could be taken away if handled too harshly. You reach inside and pull out…. A plane ticket? Destination: Sacramento , California . You don’t know anyone who lives in California . You look inside again, trying to find some clue to who it’s from. But there is nothing, nothing but a plane ticket.
A floodgate opens in your mind, and a million questions come pouring out. Why me? Did they get the wrong address? No, your name is clearly written on the envelope. Well, then who could’ve sent it? Not your spouse, they had died many years ago, and you had no children. Has someone else died? Maybe. Your Aunt Edna had been in the hospital the last time you’d seen her. Maybe she has finally lost her battle. Or maybe it is good news. Have I won the lottery? Is this their just their way of giving prizes? Sending their winners on a wild goose chase? Or maybe this is just someone’s idea of a joke. But why would someone go through all the trouble to buy a ticket if it is just a joke?
Try as you might, you can’t think of a logical explanation for it, so there’s only one thing left for you to do. You must go to Sacramento tomorrow morning and just see what happens.
You go to bed early, but your mind keeps wandering, so you don’t fall asleep until sometime after midnight. Even so, you wake up around 6:00, almost as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning. You hurry and get ready, arriving at the airport a little after 8:00. However, the plane wasn’t supposed to take off until 10:30. So, you wander around the airport, aimlessly looking around at all the shops and all the people that seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going. Once again, you wonder if this isn’t just a joke, a horrible trick being played on a lonely person who has lost almost everything in the last couple of years.
Finally, after what seems like years of waiting, the board flashes: SACRAMENTO , CALI : BOARDING. Hardly able to contain your excitement, you are one of the first people on the plane, and you take a window seat near the front. Less than ten seconds later, a young man in a nice black suit sits next to you. You politely smile at him, but quickly turn away. You don’t really want to start a conversation at the moment. You have a plane ticket to decipher, and a million scenarios to play out in your mind. But after only less than a half an hour, you’ve used up nearly all your brainpower thinking up the best and the worst things that could happen, and you are no closer to having the answer than you were the day before. You give up and turn to the man beside you, who’s not doing much of anything, really. You try to start a conversation and find that he is not shy at all. Before you know it, all cares are forgotten as you learn about who he is and where he’s from.
You are surprised when the pilot comes on the intercom and says that you are about to land. Excited once more, you can’t help but hide your nervousness and the man next to you notices it.
“What brings you to California ?” he asks.
A little ashamed, you reply, “I’m not exactly sure. I got this plane ticket in the mail, but I’m not sure who it’s from.”
He looks at you quizzically, then shrugs. “Well, I guess you’ll find out soon, then, won’t you?”
“I hope so…”
The plane stops, and he stands to leave. “Good luck,” he says.
As soon as you are off the plane, you look around, hoping to see some sign of where to go. There is none. All you see are families everywhere, hugging a loved one or two as they file off the plane, and soon, you are left nearly alone in the terminal. Noon comes and goes as you wait there, but your nervousness is mounting. What is happening? Why are you here? Why isn’t anyone else here? Thoughts of family, friends, and winning the lottery flee as time goes on, leaving you with nothing more than your thoughts.
Suddenly, you see someone coming around the corner. It is the young man you sat next to on the plane. What was he still doing here? Behind him comes what seems like a mob of people- men, women, and children of all ages. There are only about 30 people all together, but to you, it’s almost too good to be true as you recognize your siblings and their spouses. This is your family! It has been far too long since you’ve seen them and now, here they are! They have children (including the young man you met on the plane), and it looks like they might even have grandchildren.
They finally reach you, and the young man hugs you and says, “We couldn’t let you have Christmas alone for another year. It’s time you came home.”