The Two of Us
Mixed Media 48” x 28” x 12”
THE YEAR I SAVED CHRISTMAS
At about 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the year after I turned thirteen, my parents announced that they had decided I was old enough to babysit my five-year-old brother. Since Buddy was already asleep in his bed, it didn’t seem like much of a challenge. They were going to a Christmas party at the house behind ours in our 1960s suburban housing development.
“Don’t wait up for us,” Mom said. “Just go to sleep when you’re ready.”
My parents never really knew that I didn’t sleep until they did. It was part of my overly responsible eldest-child-of-an-alcoholic neurosis. I still have trouble going to sleep at night while anyone else is awake.
When I got tired, I climbed into bed with a book and dozed off and on. Shortly after 2 a.m., I heard Buddy get up and walk out to the living room. I got up and met him as he came running in to tell me that Santa Claus had already been there. Fortunately, the boxes were all wrapped, the stockings filled, and the assembly-required items had been put together earlier.
I marveled with Buddy over the beautiful presents. I told him we really shouldn’t start opening them yet since it was still the middle of the night. I was wondering how I could get him back to sleep or whether I should, as he begged me to let him open “just one present,” when Mom and Dad stumbled in through the back door. Actually, Mom was supporting Dad, who had sprained his ankle. He had been convinced, in his inebriation, that he could run down the neighbor’s snow-covered hill and leap the chain-link fence into our backyard. He was a little over forty-years-old at the time.
Buddy gaped at them in confusion. He had thought they were asleep in bed.
“LOOK!” I called out to them before Dad had a chance to say the wrong thing. “Santa came while you were at the Millers’ party! Buddy must have heard the reindeer, because he got up and woke me up! Can we open one present now?”
They played along—at least Mom did. Dad alternately laughed and groaned in pain. Mom permitted us to peek into our stockings and open one gift, and then we all went back to bed—Buddy safe in his beliefs for another year.
Denise Thompson-Slaughter is a writer and retired editor living in western New York. She has published two books of poetry, a mystery novella, two short stories, and a handful of brief memoir pieces, the most recent of which, “The Right Place at the Right Time,” is about to appear in Iris Literary Journal.