The Ghosts of Christmas Past
by Don Lockwood
"You need to think about this, Eric," Tom, my roommate, told me. "I don't think it would be good for you to stay in this apartment alone for a month. Please come home with me for Christmas. My family would really love to have you."
I told him I'd think about it.
I grew up loving Christmas. My parents always made it a fun event. There was just the three of us, and no other family nearby, but we made it fun. We were never all that religious, but we understood the peaceful message of Christmas. We also understood the fun. Mom would cook and bake, and Dad always decorated the house to the hilt. When I got old enough, I loved to help him.
My parents were great, anyhow. I was brought up with a lot of love, and we didn't hurt for anything financially. I had good friends, the odd girlfriend or two, and enjoyed childhood, right up until the time I left for college.
It was shortly after I entered college that everything changed.
I grew up about 30 miles south of Boston. I decided to go to Boston University. Far enough away so that I'd have to live in the dorms, but close enough so that I could go home and visit every so often. At first, it was great. My parents drove me up, helped me bring my stuff into the dorm. I met my roommate, Tom Devereaux, a cool guy from Vermont. I kissed the folks goodbye, they headed home.
A couple weeks after I got to school, they decided to fly to Los Angeles, to visit my Dad's best friend, his old college roommate. I was happy for them, they hadn't had a vacation with just the two of them for a long time. They stopped in, early in the morning, to take me to breakfast on their way to Logan Airport.
Then they headed to the Airport. It was September 11th, 2001. They were on American Airlines Flight 11.
I got lucky with a roommate, more than I had realized. I don't know how I would've gotten through the next couple of months without Tom's support. That, and my professors at BU, who cut me a considerable amount of slack. In addition to my grief, I had lots of stuff to settle. My parents were pretty comfortable, financially, and they had left everything to me. A lot of my first semester in college, in between classes, was spent dealing with their estate-and walking around in a fog that they were dead. My first Christmas as a college student, instead of a joyous reunion with my parents, was spent selling my childhood home-I couldn't bear to keep it.
As time went on, things got worse. Part of it was how they died. When your parents die in such a public way, you can never escape it. I mean, 9/11 was contemporary America's "Day of Infamy." I'd never know when I'd be flipping channels on the TV and see that damn plane slam into the tower.
Of course, there was the media. I was a Survivor. How did I feel about all this? I mean, come on-I lost my parents! How did I feel? You've got to be kidding me. And there was so much peripheral stuff. I tried to ignore much of it. The President was sending us into Afghanistan to find Bin Laden. Whatever. There were survivor's groups organizing to sue somebody-the airlines, the government. Whatever. None of this was going to bring my parents back. A bunch of dead terrorists in Afghani caves wasn't going to bring my parents back. Soaking American Airlines wasn't going to bring my parents back-besides which, I wasn't hurting financially. I just tried to make it all go away.
It wasn't easy. As time went on, as I said, it just seemed to get worse. I managed to keep my grades up, but that's all I managed. I know Tom was worried about me. It didn't help that, as freshman year dawned to a close, I suddenly realized that I would have nowhere to go when the semester ended, having sold the house. I luckily found an apartment near campus. Tom went home for the summer to Vermont, and I spent most of the summer alone in my new apartment, being miserable.
Thank goodness Tom agreed to move out of the dorms and room with me at the apartment I had gotten. The beginning of Sophomore year wasn't much better-especially considering I was confronted with the First Anniversary. More footage of planes hitting buildings. More prattle from the talking heads. More media boffins finding me and asking me, "How do you feel?" One of my favorite singers, Bruce Springsteen, released the first album with the vaunted E Street Band in 18 years-and I couldn't listen to the fucking thing, because it was about 9/11.
There were days, and they became more and more frequent, that I wished I had been on that fucking airplane.
Tom was really worried about me. I knew that. He tried, I'll give him that. Tried to drag me to parties, to social events, tried to invite people up to the apartment. It just wasn't working.
It was when he got back to school after Thanksgiving weekend in Vermont that he tried his last ditch effort-getting me to go to Vermont with him for Christmas.
A few days after he first brought it up, he sat in the chair in our living room. "Ever been to Vermont?" he asked.
"Don't think so," I told him.
"It's like magic. Especially this time of year. You'll love it."
"I don't know if I'm capable of appreciating it," I sighed.
He looked at me. "Eric? Look, I'm going to lay it on the line. I'm deathly afraid that I'm going to come back from Christmas break and find you dead on the bathroom floor, OK?" I just stared at him. "Really," he continued. "And if I don't at least twist your arm to come home with me, and that happens, I'm going to feel responsible. Listen. Nobody can replace your parents. I know that. But my parents are good people. They want you to come home with me. They want to pamper you," he grinned.
I managed a weak smile back. "I'm just afraid I'll bring everybody down."
He grinned. "Don't worry about that. That's not possible, not at this time of year, not in my family."
"Oh, are your parents into Christmas?"
"Somewhat. Sort of. That's not really it."
"I'm not telling," he grinned. "You have to come with me and experience it yourself."
"OK, fine, I give," I said, secretly relieved. Because he was right. I had been thinking about suicide. I just didn't want to mess up Tom's Christmas. But he'd twisted my arm hard enough that I just couldn't say no. "I'll come home with you."
"Great. I'll tell the folks."
Our last finals were a week and a half before Christmas, Thursday, December 13th. We drove right up that afternoon. We'd anticipated we'd get to his house sometime in the early evening. Well, it was 9 before we got there-we hit snow in Vermont, big surprise-but that was early enough.
Tom lived in a town of about 1500 people in Central Vermont, not far from Montpelier. We drove through the town, headed for his house, and I could see it was one of those storybook New England Village type places, very pretty. We got to his house, and were greeted by his parents. I'd met them a few times, and it was nice to see them again. They welcomed me heartily, which, I admit, felt good. Tom and I brought the suitcases in and were in the living room, chattering with his parents, when someone came around the corner.
I'd guessed she was a couple years younger that I (I turned out to be right-she had just turned 18, I'd be 20 in February). She was about 5'7". She had wavy light brown hair, just past her shoulders. She was wearing a soft red sweater, pajama bottoms with Curious George on them, and big pink fuzzy bunny slippers. That, plus the absolutely stunning smile on her face, led to an overall endearing effect. When this girl smiled, she smiled all over. Her eyes lit right up. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.
Who was this?!?!?
"Tommy Boy!" she shouted in greeting, and came over and gave Tom a big hug and a kiss. Then she looked at me, still smiling.
"Hiya, squirt," he said to her. "This is my roommate, Eric. Eric, this is my baby sister Kathy."
"Baby?" she snorted at him, then looked at me, smiling again. "Nice to meet you, Eric," she smiled. "I'm glad you're here."
"Nice to meet you, too," I returned, finding myself smiling back at her. That made her smile wider. It was almost blinding.
We settled on couches, chatting for a while, about school, about the trip up. I found out that Kathy was a senior at the local high school. She was very amusing, smart, and interesting. I found myself enjoying her company right away.
After a while, she yawned and said, "Well, I'd better go to bed. Some of us still have school in the morning," she grinned. She said goodnight to her parents, then hugged Tom. "Welcome home, big brother." Then she came over to me-and hugged me! She even kissed me on the cheek. "Eric, we're glad you're here," she said-and then she was off.
Tom chuckled, and then said, "C'mon, rooms. Grab your stuff, I'll show you the guest room." We got up there and he helped me with my things.
"Had you ever mentioned a sister?" I asked, bemused.
"Oh, probably once or twice. Not that you listen to a tenth of what I say," he grinned. "Anyhow, you can't just talk about Kathy, you have to experience her."
Over the next couple of days, I got what Tom meant. Kathy was a trip. As I said, she was 18-but her personality swung between 18; up to somewhere around 30; and down to, oh, five or so. She was incredibly bright and very mature-but, somewhere in the back of her mind, she still believed in Santa Claus and fairy tales and magic. I quickly found out what ...