"Christmas Lights" Part Five (Final)

(Photo used by permission from the talented Tori Watson at Marvelousthingsphotoblog.com)

            Every single glowing light I pass reflects a choice and a chance. In every life, there are so many that we’re almost blinded by them. Every day there are so many choices to make. Every day there are so many chances we’re given.
            My choice for this night has been made, but I have tomorrow and the next day after that.
            But I have someone who will help me out in times of trouble. And I’m not talking about Linda either.
            The street is lined with strands of glistening pearls. Pieces of the stars and the moon hanging over this little town. I think of Linda again and smile.
            I remember someone said that Christmas doesn’t have to happen once a year. Not the spirit of Christmas, the reason we celebrate, the idea behind it.
            A gift. A tiny breath of a gift.
            A tiny gift that would burst forth the brightest light ever shone in this dark and decaying world.
            There’s still hope inside and still light outside. These troubles outside, the ones that find me in the morning and figure out how to get deep inside by nighttime, have been left behind. They’re long gone.
            I’m heading back home. There’s still time left. There’s still life to be lived.

            Molly answers the door before I get a chance to open it. She swallows me in her arms, asking me if I’m okay and wondering where I’ve been. When I step inside and finally look at her, it appears she’s been to a funeral. Her eyes are swollen and red and drained.
            “Why are you crying?”
            “Why did you take off like that?” she asks. I can tell she’s trying to see if I’m drunk or not.
            “I’m fine.”
            “Where did you go?”
            “I needed a break.”
            She shakes her head, a habit she picked up from her mother.
            “I’m fine, Molly.”
            “We’ve been waiting to open presents—the kids went ahead and opened them. Rick went out to look for you. We’ve been calling everybody we know. We’ve been worried sick.”
            I exhale and put a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry.”
            She starts to cry again.
            “Molly—I’m sorry. I just . . .”
            There’s more I want to say. Lots more. But there’s no point in it. This lovely woman who I have known since she took her first few breaths as a baby shouldn’t be crying. Not tonight, not because of me. Anything I can say to justify why I got angry and why I left and why I wanted to get blind drunk—none of those things matter. To share any of them would be wrong. So I just apologize again.
            “I’m here. I messed up but I’m here. And I’m okay. I didn’t drive off the deep end.”
            She gets a text on her phone and then she sighs. “It’s Rick. He’s pulling back in the driveway. I texted him when your car showed up.”
            We look at each other. She knows the history between Rick and myself. I can only imagine the fury that he’s holding back inside. He might not be an alcoholic like his father, and he might be able to control the rage, but he still has my DNA. Nothing I can do about that. Nothing at all.
            A voice calls out “Mom” from the other room and I tell Molly I’ll be in there in a minute. I make it clear I need to talk to Rick and straighten things out before this night continues.
            Molly’s almost gone before I call out her name.
            “I love you,” I tell her. “Even if I don’t show it.”
            She nods and wipes a tear off her cheek, then disappears into the kitchen and family room. 
            I wait in the entry way for Rick to walk inside. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to tell him. There’s a lot I’d like to say. A lot. But I don’t know. I just don’t know.
            I don’t know what to think myself.

            “What were you thinking?”
            Rick unzips his jacket as if he’s trying to tear it off of himself. There’s no “Hello” or no “You finally made it”. I can tell he’s angry. He’s a man who likes to be in control, and his father has given him a lifetime of feeling out of control.
            “I went to a bar.”
            He pauses for a minute, doing the same thing Molly was just doing. That examination I used to always detest, the look and held breath and the subtle smelling and studying. I deserved it every time I showed up late to home when they were teenagers. I deserve this now.
            “I’m fine,” I tell him. “I didn’t have anything.”
            “I went over to Lenny’s because I figured he would lie even if I called. Then I drove to a few other places.”
            I nod. “Your mother always had a knack of finding me, regardless of where I went. Always.”
            “Yeah, when she actually wanted to go looking.”
            Rick takes off his coat and tosses it in a chair near the entrance to a study. I see him stand there for a moment, probably composing himself before going back in to see everybody else.
            “I’m sorry,” I say. “Rick, I’m sorry. For messing up Christmas Day. For making you and the rest of the family worry. For causing any concern you had.”
            “You’ve been doing good. Real good. I just—I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
            These are not words that have come easily to either of us.
            This is the man I refused to back down to when confronted with a platter of my mistakes and failures during the intervention. I was angry and I blamed him first and foremost.
            But not anymore.
            “God’s watching out for me,” I tell him.
            We look at each other and I know what he’s going to say before he says it. Even now, after apologizing and knowing the error of my ways, I want to sprint back outside again. I don’t him to say anything else. I don’t him to utter the reality of the situation.
            Yet knowing Rick . . .
            “I’ve been worried ever since mom died. I know it’s been hard for you.”
            This is what I didn’t want to hear. The words. The actual words still tear me up inside. I don’t like to even acknowledge them. I keep them out of my head because the reminder still claws at my heart and soul.
            “It’s been hard for all of us, not just me. I’m the only one who wants to take this grief and drown it in some way.”
            “Mom always loved Christmas,” Rick says.
            “Yes she did.”
            “Dad—I know—there’s nothing I can do or say—I know today feels just odd. Every bit of it. It’s not the same with Mom not here. Molly and I—we’ve been talking ever since you left. Crying and apologizing and crying more. It’s just--”           
            “I understand.”
            “We all miss her.”
            I do something I can’t remember doing last.
            I hug my firstborn son.
            There’s nothing awkward about it. I used to hold him when he was just a little guy, a toddler still running around in his diapers.
            “What is your fondest memory of our family?”
            I said the toddler years because all the kids were still young enough to be held in my arms. I blinked and they were adults and they weren’t mine to hold anymore. I blinked and suddenly they were smarter than me. I blinked and I’d lost them.
            Maybe not.
            I let go of Rick and wipe tears away from my eyes. He does the same.
            Neither of us are big on tears. Or emotion like this.
            “It’s been a heavy day,” he says.
            “Yeah. I’d say.”
            “Let’s go open presents.”
            I nod, then tell him I’ll be in there in a minute.
            I want to go in his office and see the picture of Linda he has on his desk.
            It was the photo we used of her at her funeral three months ago.
            I want to look at it again to remember and to remind myself what I had. I also want to look at it to make sure I’m not losing my mind.

            In the silence and muted light of the den just to the right of the entryway, I look at Linda’s photo and think about what happened back at Pete’s Pub. I think about everything she said. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but she was there talking to me. She was there and I was speechless because I didn’t know what to think or what to say.
            Sometimes there’s too much you want to tell someone.
            Sometimes there’s just not enough time.
            Yeah, and then sometimes you’re approached by the wife you buried months earlier and you’re a bit freaked out so you don’t know what to do or say.
            There’s all that. But in reality, I didn’t get a chance to tell Linda what I wanted to simply because she was there to talk to me. To guide me out of the darkness. To bring light on this Christmas day.
            There are many things that come to mind now that I’m thinking of Linda. Nothing too eloquent or sweet or profound. Just the sort of things that really matter when you look out an office window at night and see a dim reflection staring back at you. The shadow shows an old man with little hair and narrow shoulders. But more than that, the shadow shows him alone. No one is next to him to look out and notice those lights across the street.
            I liked having you by my side even when it never seemed like it.  
            Yeah, I’d like to say something like that.
            I notice the small things you did that once annoyed me and now only sadden me because they’re no longer around.           
            Yeah, something like that too.
            I miss that girl I fell in love with then took for granted until I couldn’t anymore.
            I can go on but the problem and the reality is that I can’t. I won’t.
            I saw her and I believe Linda was there in that pub. But she wasn’t there in order for me to finally say all the things I needed to get off my chest. She was there because of all of the rest of this group in this home. Our children, their spouses, the grandkids.
            I lost myself for a while yet found myself one more time. God let her come back so I didn’t lose myself again.
            Or was it just a lonely and frustrated old man talking to himself before relapsing?
            I don’t believe that. Christmas started as a miracle so this was just a minor one on a major day.
            Linda was there. I know it. I felt it. I felt her touch my hand.
            I turn and see Rick at the entrance to the office.
            “Are you okay?” he asks.            
            He sees the photo in my hand.
            “You think she’s watching over us?”
            I’ve never been more confident in telling my son something. “Your mother is watching over me. And us.”
            He just stares at me, looking like a younger and more sad version of myself.
            “God’s watching over us too, Rick. And He was working overtime tonight.”
            “I don’t like you having to go back to that empty home tonight.”
            I hear the laughter in the other room where the kids are playing.
            “So I’ll stay.”
            “Yeah, right,” Rick says with a mock laugh.
            “No, I mean it—I’ll use that guest bedroom that’s so nice and decorated.”
            I can tell I’ve surprised him. Maybe I’ve surprised myself. I don’t know.
            “I don’t feel like going back home either,” I say. “It’s starting to snow. Maybe we can—I don’t know. Maybe we can have pancakes in the morning with the kids.”
            “Okay, now I know you were drinking somewhere.”
            “I’m more sober than I’ve ever been.”
            He looks at me, but he doesn’t look as sad now.
            I can’t make up for those lost years. But I’m here, and I still have my kids, and I’m sober.
            These are the things I can celebrate. So I will.
            There are things I wish I could have said and done that I never got a chance to. But I still have chance to say things and do things and be a different man. I don’t have to jump on the bed with the kids and be someone I’m not, but I can try.
            I’m going to try, Linda. I’m going to keep trying.
            A good man told me when I first got into recovery that it’s not too late. It’s never too late to do the right thing.
            I follow Rick in the glow of the family room where the rest of the family waits. And where those Christmas lights keep shining on.

             (Read author note on "Christmas Lights" here)

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