Eleven years ago this month, I moved out of the house I’d shared with my boyfriend of 7 years. We broke up, and I was completely broken.
I moved into The Apartment of Despair and everything was just … wrong. I didn’t have any plates that could go in the microwave, so I ate most of my meager meals off the same Pyrex pie plate. Since I suddenly found myself with 2 dogs and no backyard, I tried to navigate walking a psycho dachshund on ice. It did not go well. And my freelance business was … fledgling at best. I knew it was going to work out, but times were hard.
I got a job working holiday retail, which gave me a reason to leave my apartment. And I tried to figure out how things were going to come together financially. When I decided to leave Ex-Ex, I had exactly $25.35 in my bank account. I’ll never forget it. I was so ashamed, and wondered how I had gotten there, both financially and emotionally.
Christmas was to be a pared-down affair. The big gift for the family would be that my brother would fly home from Ireland, where he’d been living. We didn’t need any other gifts. I think this was my mom’s clandestine way of ensuring that I didn’t feel like I needed to spend money I didn’t have. We were just going to hunker down and celebrate being together.
There were a few notable gifts, though. Poochie brought with him a huge Milk Tray chocolate assortment. His coworkers from the factory in Ireland had chipped in and purchased it as a going-away present since his visa was expiring. These people were all Indian and Middle Eastern immigrants who assembled belts that jiggled your gut for supposed weight loss. To a man, they sent most of their earnings home to their families. These kind folks adopted Poochie, and had him to their homes for holidays. He brought their kindness home to us.
There were also envelopes from our grandpa. He was still reeling from the death of his wife of 69 years. It had been almost 3 years, but after 69 years … that’s barely a heartbeat. But he was doing his best, playing a little golf, going on a few excursions at the assisted living facility. He still wrote his letters referring to “we.” It was both heartbreaking and a case of, “well, of course!” They had started their married life together on a farm in western Kansas during the depression. Their love was an example of “through thick and thin.”
Poochie and I each got an envelope. Our folks had no idea what was inside. I opened mine first.
The note read:
Christmas brings memories of happy times of celebration with our family and great appreciation for all the thoughtful and caring things that you do.
Your grandma’s legacy continues to grow in many ways. It is my pleasure to share this with you during this holiday season. Enjoy!
And there was a check.
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a ton. But to me? It was a gajillion dollars. It was rent and groceries and being able to breathe. It was moving forward instead of being moored to the idea that I had made huge, irreparable mistakes.
I cried. Ugly cried. The kind of sobbing you don’t want anyone to see, except I was doing it at Christmas. I couldn’t speak. Too much mucus.
My family couldn’t figure out what was in the envelope and why I was so emotional. My brother opened his similar envelope, and everyone figured out quickly that I was good ugly crying, not bad ugly crying.
In all the photos from that holiday, I look rather raw. My eyes are red. I’m too skinny. But there’s a glimmer of better things to come, of resilience.
|A different Christmas. But just as magical.|
And that’s what I think about when I hear great stories about Secret Santas, people handing out cash at thrift stores, or folks covering bills for others. You just never know how that not-so-big-to-you kindness will size up for the recipient.
For me? It was king-sized. It was huge. And it reminded me that everything was going to be OK.
Have you been the recipient of such a life-changing gift? Warm my heart this Christmas and tell me all about it!