(Author's Note: The core of this story was posted years ago as 'Bathing with Mike', one of my first. I've redone the story now setting it as a Christmas story.)
A Difficult Holiday
Sue Wharton was depressed. She would have said a curt and tearful:
"Of course I'm depressed. I've lost them all."
She took time, sitting, trying not to think and bring it all back. The strangest part of her day was the damn refrain from the song. It was an old song, she remembered, done back a number of years ago, she thought by Spike Jones. It was that Georgie Rock who sang it: 'All I Want For Christmas is my two front teeth... '
Now the song was haunting her, running through her mind and not leaving her alone: 'All I want for Christmas... ' And it always made her sigh and recognize the finish of the sentence: 'All I want for Christmas is to have them back'! That was her wish, her unfulfilled, unfulfillable wish! To have them back.
She would be speaking of course of Dan, her husband, gone these 5 years or so and now, now, everlastingly now Kenny, dead of a roadside bomb in Iraq! It was a message that she couldn't stand to have repeated but was aways in her heart, in her consciousness, in the back of her mind, never truly and fully going away, just always there! She felt at age 34 that the world had ended and she periodically just wanted to get off.
Now, with the Christmas season pressing in on her, she understood, clearly and well, the idea of people being depressed by the holidays, instead of enjoying them, instead of gathering with friends and family to celebrate.
"What is there to celebrate, with them both gone?" was the mantra of her holiday preparations, though she tried now and again to push it out of her mind and not let it so completely overwhelm her outlook and attitude.
One of the ways that she spent her days now was by some kinds of physical activity. Sue took care of herself still because it wasn't her way to just let herself go physically, even if the little voice within, that was even now in her mind berating the holidays, kept saying to her: 'They're gone, so what's the use of trying of all this exercising and working out?' The voice was there and insistent. Life was dull and gray, always dull and gray for her and neither tinsel or lights or exercising were going to change that for Sue Wharton right away.
She'd had had, this past year, of course, the official treatment from the government. They'd sent a representative Marine to talk to her and be with her during the whole of the grueling time up to and including the funeral. When it was over, when the kind Marine had gone, she put the things away: flag, letters, commendations. Those were likely the only Christmas gifts that she expected to receive, and what gifts they were: well meant but empty, at least empty for her. The idea of noble sacrifice might, one day, take hold of her mind but it wouldn't be this Christmas, of that she was certain. She didn't want to remember those things; she refused to remember him that way. She thought that she'd much rather remember maybe changing his diaper, curbing his periodic wildness, dealing with his teen aged shenanigans. Anything would do but the 'final things.'
If she were to give herself a Christmas gift this year, it would be remembering her Kenny as he was bathed in her love, as he grew and became the spectacular man that he was.
She carefully tucked the government stuff away, dealt with the finally decreasing number of people, who wanted to talk to her about it, commiserate, try to be helpful but who were just keeping her focused always on the depressing reality of it. She realized all the while that people had their own lives and even holiday preparations to see to. She was just as content to be alone with this huge gray cloud that was hovering around her and her life.
Slowly, during that time, gradually she started to settle down to a normal depression, or at least what she thought was a normal depression.
Then she got a note from Mike, Mike Lawler, Kenny's best Marine buddy. Her first reaction, strangely, was that the song was coming true: 'All I want for Christmas... ' This was a kind of voice from that past that she'd left lie, left buried and unattended.
It was certainly a kind of double edged thing. She was pleased to hear from Mike, of course, who simply seemed to fade at the same time that she'd lost her Kenny but hearing from him helped to sweep her up again into the middle of the whole event. The blackness came back all over again.
"No," she thought to herself, in the calm and shadows of the house, "This isn't the answer to the holiday jingle: 'All I want for Christmas is..."
She didn't want those kinds of memories back, not after spending the fall pushing them aside and making them only marginal, as marginal as her deep, deep pain would allow them to be.
But she discovered from Mike's letter that he too had been injured in the same explosion that had taken Kenny. He explained in the letter that he was in rehab, having lost both of his legs in the explosion, and the world was dark for her again.
At that point, Sue just put the letter down and cried. She cried and cried. First her darling Kenny and now his pal Mike: Mike without family or roots, who'd come home with Kenny and affectionately called her "Mom," Mike who was now maimed for life, or so it seemed.
There was no justice here, and precious little sense could be made of such sacrifices, at least she could find none. This was the bitterest answer to the holiday jingle about 'two front teeth' that she could possibly imagine.
In the letter, which, first time around, she could hardly read because of the effect of the tracks of her tears on her face, he apologized for not getting in touch with her sooner. He told her of his own process and where he was with the process. He said that he had been fitted with brand new metal legs, and was trying to learn how to use them but still had to use two canes to get around.
But the end of the letter was what got to her the most. At the very end, apologizing again for not having been in touch with her sooner, he told her that he was intending to come to see her soon, that he'd be released from the government hospital soon and would be coming. His idea was to be there and to give her a hug and wish her a Merry Christmas!
'Merry Christmas indeed!" she snorted. 'Merry Christmas' with my Kenny dead on a foreign field and you his best friend maimed for life!
She shut down her thinking immediately, not wanting to sink into that kind of bitterness, though it was always so close to the surface.
She sat then and thought. Her first reaction was that she didn't want to see him; she didn't think she could see him or would see him. It was her first resolve but it passed.
She sat, after her tears, and got 'tough' with herself, telling herself that 'of course you'll see him.'
And she gave herself a message: "He must be as hurt and aching about Kenny as you; so you'll see him, and try to make it a pleasant holiday visit with him. That's what you'll do, Sue Wharton, and no more sulking about with it either, not while Mike is here!"
She went to bed on that note, deciding to let the idea rest until the morning. In the morning the resolve was still there, she realized that she was still determined to see Mike, to have the visit. To at least get that last part of this over. She'd make that pleasant holiday for him, while he visited for a short time and then she could get on with her private grieving, then she could allow it to be dark and murky in her life again. But for a time, for Mike she'd get a grip on herself. It was her hard and fast decision.
He came by taxi. She had been waiting, hovering, looking out the window, not knowing exactly how to expect him to get there. But then the taxi pulled up and the driver unloaded the bags. Mike stood there a little uncertainly with his two canes, and the old part of Sue went into action.
She bounded out the door, tears streaming down her face but calling out to him:
"Mike, sweetie!" and crying all the while. She got to him, making sure that she didn't knock him off of his unsteady feet and hugged him and held on, just held on.
He caressed the back of her head and let her cry in his arms. It took her a bit of time to settle down from the crying and she looked at him, blinking and said:
"I'm so sorry that I'm such a blubbering baby here."
"Don't you worry about that," he replied.
"Oh, my lovely, handsome Mike! What they've done to you! What those evil, evil people have done to you!" she whispered fiercely to him.
He held her still, and then, when she broke away from the hug, her eyes brightened and she smiled at him, a dazzling smile.
"Welcome, love," she said. "It's such a treat, such a treat! A true holiday treat!"
She turned and grabbed his bags, saying: "Here, I'll get these.' And she began to walk ahead of him toward the house.
(Sue's house was a lovely, big house. She and her Dan worked on building up a business, and then, when the business was built up, and a going concern, they built their big house. It was now way to big for her but it was certainly comfortable.)
"Just put them on the porch," Mike said, "After we visit for a bit, I'm going to ask you to call a cab to take me to a hotel."
Then the mother popped out in Sue:
"Nonsense, Mike," she said, "You're ... you're like one of my own. You'll stay right here, and no backtalk!"
Mike smiled at her and said a courteous: "Yes, ma'am."
Sue laughed then and said out loud, as though to the whole world:
.... There is more of this story ...