“How can you make yourself stop remembering?” she thought to herself as she handed the fare to the cabbie and stepped out into the winter cold of a December night in the city. The memories were especially hard to take this time of year.
She could pretty well stave off the sharp edges of remorse in late October. There were, after all, plenty of costume parties with open bars to give the world just enough of a tilted spin to keep her mind off the guilt and regret of having left home with no contact, seven years ago.
Thanksgiving was pretty tough. Everywhere you looked there were pictures of dad’s cutting turkeys with mom’s carrying mashed potatoes and wide-eyed children oohing and awing over the holiday feast. But she wasn’t the only one eating a hamburger at City Grill on the fourth Thursday in November, so she made due.
But Christmas, Christmas was the hardest of all. And with each passing year, it had gotten a little more difficult. She had been only seventeen when she left with her nineteen year old boyfriend. Her parents didn’t understand their love, and so they had runaway in the night. They had come to the city to start their great new life together.
Turns out, she didn’t understand their love either. Two weeks after they moved into their rat-infested apartment in the section of town affectionately referred to as “little crack corner”, she came home to find the love of her life with one of the neighborhood hookers.
And so two weeks and a day after she had left, she was broke, humiliated, ashamed and absolutely alone in a cold, cruel and unforgiving city.
She survived on the streets in ways she would never have dreamed. She had reasoned to herself over the years that if her parents knew the kind of person she had become, it would kill them. At the very least, they would disown her. “No. Better this way”, she had said to herself on many occasions. “It’s better they never see me again. It’s better that they never, ever know”.
The hardest thing now was the remembering. In the earlier years the drugs and alcohol kept her from remembering what she had done the day before, and while she was in the fog, it served to anesthetize her from the pain.
But now, at 24, sobriety had restored her memory.
She remembered Christmases of her childhood. Recently she awoke with the smell of baking cookies just a breath away from her nostrils. Last night she woke with the sound of her father reading “T’was the Night Before Christmas and all through the house…” ringing in her mind, almost as if she had just barely heard the last word in the heartbeat before she opened her eyes.
But the memory that had so plagued her in the past couple of weeks was a holiday snapshot that had somehow resurfaced and refused to be silenced. It was the night of the Christmas pageant at church on Christmas Eve when she was ten. She had played an angel, as usual. She had always wanted to be a shepherd because she thought it would be cool to wear a bathrobe to church. But, as she was reminded every year, “little girls were meant to be angels”.
Every day recently in her mind, she relived it. Sitting there by her mom and dad, with her brother in his bathrobe (lucky goober!) sitting to her right. And every day at some point, over the past several days she had heard in her heart the sound of her mother’s voice, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed….”
Even though she had heard the story every year, it always seemed fresh. Even with its familiar ring, she always heard it with great anticipation. There was something about hearing the story, that made her believe that all was well. There was always a goodness and a hope in those moments. A goodness, and a hope, that she had not thought about for a very long time.
She opened her eyes with a start, as the bus hit a slight bump in the road. And looking up, tears began to fill her eyes at the sign: “Scranton twenty-five miles”.
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