By Carlos Perdomo
In the middle of September, after the last fight between my father and my mother, I knew that we were heading for a sad end to the year. Despite the constant efforts of my mom to keep the marriage going, Patricia and I were sure that it was a sacrifice without any potential reward.
Often, people live together and then go their separate ways; I strongly believe that most of the time it is much better for everyone involved, that a relationship without any fundamentals, should be stopped at the first signs of misunderstanding and lack of communication. The problem is, as I learned throughout my family, there is always one who believes that somehow everything can be fixed, creating a mirage of the possibility of starting anew. For what I have seen and experienced, I am still waiting for the first successful attempt from a couple to, with a blink of an eye, go back to the basics and forget about the succession of mistakes made along the journey.
Just a few years prior, no one was even thinking about leaving, much less, getting divorced. But different ideas developed, new laws were enacted, and because of these changes I was part of a break up experience.
I did not understand why my father just left without any concerns about the three of us. He was a well-off individual, and it was so easy for him to grant a decent monthly alimony to cover our necessities. His excuse was very simple: my mother was a cheater; therefore he was not sure if we really were his children. “I won’t support any one who does not carry my blood,” he said.
My mother was a good teacher (a profession she gave up to marry my father), and a responsible woman. When Peter left, I constantly saw her in state of despair and desolation. Obviously, all the bills were behind, and the bank was ready to repossess the property. All of this was happening in December, the month of love and closeness between families, a period of time in which most kids wait anxiously for Christmas day.
The situation got to the point in which we were not sure, if for the next day, we would have any food on our table. The sole idea to ask for help was rather improbable. My mother’s motto, “Whatever you get in life, you have to work for it. Never accept anything for free or anything handed to you out of pity,” was in full force.
On top of everything the festivities were at its best. As a child I enjoyed every second of them. I loved the protocol: the wishing, the expectations, and most of all, the sound of the clock’s chime at noon, “authorizing” us to open the presents. In 1986, my sister and I did not have any hope of a merry Christmas. At school, my teacher very often emphasized to think and not to forget about the needy, or the less privileged. Because, knocking on wood, as she normally did when touching a delicate and negative subject, “life is not a straight line and maybe any one of us could at any time be facing that tribulation.” I completely agreed that it was relevant to talk about this kind of difficulty, without knowing that I was going to be part of this group.
The morning of the 25th, I awoke about nine o’clock. I decided to turn on the television and watch the holiday’s international celebrations. Glued to the screen, captivated deeply by the fireworks display, the astonishing decorations of the trees, and the songs of praise performed in a joyous manner, I did not pay too much attention to the small tree sitting – almost unnoticed – in the right corner of the room. After a while, I became aware of the isolated twinkling light at the top of the pine which created a surrealistic impression in the narrow space. I also began to notice that in the middle, at the bottom of the tree, a small golden box with a red heart-shaped bow was waiting to be opened.
Evidently, I did not dare to take action. Instead, I ran to awaken my sister.
“What are you doing?”
“Get up! You have to see it.”
“You are a terrible pain!”
With not much enthusiasm, she started getting ready, and in between, gave me the speech of her life. As we were leaving the room, I automatically held her hand, a gesture of protection learned in my early years from my mom. After I told her about the box she was as curious as me, then, the big question arose – should we open it without asking permission first?
“Go and tell mom.”
“No way, you do it.”
“Better not. She is not feeling well and has a terrible headache.”
“You’re right. Better not to bother her. I still think it’s not right to proceed.”
“We have to decide what to do.”
Following a two-minute deliberation, the novelty stronger than our reluctance, we headed to the living room already feeling that the box was somehow special. I lifted the extra light carton from the floor. The papier-mâché, glittering scarlet in front of our eyes, a prelude to revealing a little secret from my mother.
“Open it,” urged my sister.
“Okay, okay. Wait a second.”
I removed the lid, and I have to confess, my initial disappointment. Inside the box there was just a small piece of paper with my mother’s handwriting. Patricia, a classic female, told me that she wanted to know the content of the short note immediately. Obliged, I read it aloud. “This small package contains a magnificent present for the three of us.”
We looked at each other in astonishment; inside, there was nothing else but a note that we could not understand.
“I don’t get it.”
“We have no other option.”
Timingly, my mother was entering the room. She examined us for a brief moment, came closer and told us to kneel in front of the tiny tree. She spoke softly: “I know you are wondering about the message; I want to explain my words to you.” Taking the box, she put her right hand inside and asked us to do the same. Next, she told as to put our hands in her palm and not to move.
“You are going to feel warmth, not only from our hands, but also our emotional response of love and tenderness toward each other. Close your eyes. Imagine three hearts beating rhythmically in this miniscule area. Feel our wholeness covering this small space. Are you aware of the sensation?”
“Yes mom,” we barely answered as we were about to cry
“That is our love today and forever. The most fantastic present we can ever share”
We remained, embracing each other, until there were no more tears to shed.