Needing inspiration, I set out on my daily jogs collecting other people's trash to create a story around. Here's #1.
Santa Claus delivered presents even though our Christmas tree was a two-foot, pre-lit pink treat borrowed from a co-worker. The eve before the five-year old, Feisty said a prayer to Santa asking that he please visit us even though our tree was fake and small. Feisty wasn’t expecting much, so the large amount of presents around the tree in the morning was a shock to him and also to his seven-year old brother, Spaceboy.
Christmas eve and morning was my time with the boys this year while my ex-husband, Skinny had them at night for Christmas dinner with his family. Since his girlfriend, Whiney was out of town somewhere with her relatives, Skinny wanted to come by and see the kids in the morning for present opening. I didn’t protest. I had no plans for the rest of the day, only an invitation to my sister’s place and another to my mom’s, but I didn’t want to leave the city.
I let the boys open their stockings just before their dad arrived but waited on mine so I could open with Skinny so it looked to the kids like Santa left their dad something. Everything inside was really for me and of course, purchased by me, but I would share the bottle of champagne that fit in the stocking so snugly. I had never uncorked a bottle of champagne on my own anyway so I could use the assistance. Conversation was typically easy between the two of us if kept off the topic of our relationship and relationships with other members of the opposite sex, but would certainly be much lighter on a holiday with a drink.
Once Skinny was in my place and we had glasses of champagne in hand, we finished opening all of the presents with the last ones being from the boys’ grandfather, Pop, on the east coast. The boys opened identical remote control trucks purchased by Pop from the QVC shopping channel. Oh, how Pop loved QVC. The trucks required batteries that I searched around for in kitchen drawers, but didn’t have available. I did find my nifty Harbor Freight Tools twenty-two-piece screwdriver set for 14.99 (on sale from 19.99) to crank open the battery compartment on each truck. When Pop visited he bought me the set from a hardware store in Pasadena. There was something about the case he liked plus he was sure it was the exact set he had admired on QVC and sure, he loved almost anything on sale. I accepted the gift at the time because I felt put on the spot, unable to rattle off what tools I had at home in my old mix and match red toolbox that I somehow acquired from Skinny in the divorce. I let the boys figure out which size screwdriver to use from the set and promised a walk down to 7-11 to buy some batteries next.
“Uh-oh. A tool’s missing,” said Feisty.
“Really?” I asked like I didn’t notice, “Well, I’ll look around for it later. See if you can make another one work on the truck.”
We headed out on foot as a “ holiday family” to get the batteries. At this time normally, the boulevard was packed with traffic, but today it was mellow for the holiday. A decent amount of cars passed, but no maniacal weekday driving. The Christmas Eve drizzle had left the streets damp, but the sun was out, a decent alternative to a White Christmas. We followed a young man in grey hoodie walking his corgi and I found myself hoping he had plans with family or friends for the holiday. I didn’t want anyone to be alone if they didn’t want to be. Hoodie was headed into the bakery that I was surprised to see open, a few customers scattered at patio tables.
The kids and I would wait at the bakery while Skinny crossed the street to get the batteries at 7-11. I followed the boys and the unknown Hoodie into the bakery and then spotted another guy, known and un-hooded. Boots. There were two forty-something non-committal types who were afraid of my kids that I had been dating. They didn’t like to come around unless I was solo. I almost always had every other weekend free and a couple nights during the week as well, but recently took great pleasure in telling them that the kids were always with me instead of answering honestly. It gave me some control. I knew both guys weren’t the right fit but sometimes it felt nice to just get a phone call and make phony plans to see them soon.
If I had to pick a favorite of the two, it was Boots who lived on my street and there he was sitting with sunglasses on at the bakery. Alone. We had met and were seeing each other occasionally long before I moved into a vacant apartment near him. Since we had no commitment from the beginning, living that close, I had the pleasure of seeing him out on the street entertaining other ladies on occasion. In turn he got to see me walking my kids to the park and every now and then walking with my ex, like on Christmas. Boots was the one who had borrowed the missing tool. Somewhere in his apartment was my screwdriver. I had always thought that returning it would be a good excuse for him to stop by and see me, but he didn’t use that reason. Within the last three months he had been sending drunken text messages around 4 a.m. I thought it best not to respond.
There were a few tables open inside of the bakery near Boots but I was definitely headed outside. I had the boys decide what they wanted to eat, take their trucks and go grab a table outdoors. I ordered without saying hello to him, took the coffees and treats and went to join the boys. As I sat down outside, Skinny was walking back across the street toward us. I was happy to have him as a buffer. From a distance Skinny looked like the guy I used to love, but as he got closer, a flash of all the nasty stuff that happened between us hit me and I remembered why we were only spending a few hours together on a holiday.
Before Skinny took a seat with the batteries he was greeted by a woman with a big fro, her back to me in a nearby chair. Fro was accompanied by two men and a teenage girl. Once she stood up and turned to me, I recognized Fro, we had gone to art school with her. She was in the same program with Skinny. Skinny introduced me as his ex-wife. She said she remembered me from art school too. In turn Fro introduced her company as her husband and daughter plus another guy who we had happened to be in a band in school. He didn’t remember us. We remembered him because back in the day he carried his cat around on his shoulder. Cat Carrier.
“This is so weird. We just spent a weekend together at the Body of Power convention. Funny,” snickered Skinny like a fifteen year old.
Fro added in her thick German accent, “Ya, it was good. I’m going again next month. Have you been?”
Super defensive and surprised by her question I retorted, “Oh, no. I’m all for self-help but Body of Power doesn’t sound like my thing.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m skeptical of anything that costs a lot and pushes you to recruit people.”
“It’s not far from seeing a pricey therapist that you would recommend to friends. You should try it. Marriage is a lot of work. Maybe it would help you two get on the same page, you know.”
I wondered what Skinny had told her at the convention.
“We’re not married anymore.”
And then Skinny chimed in, “Well, we could be.” I rolled my eyes then used the kids as a diversion, reminded them to use their napkins.
Fro reached out to touch Skinny’s arm, “Don’t worry about it. I can’t get my husband to go either. He thinks I’m crazy for spending the money. Focus on yourself.”
Before Fro headed away she invited us all up to her apartment for Christmas cocktails. We said thanks and maybe after some truck racing, but in reality, Skinny would forget about the invitation and there was no way I was going to engage in any conversation with Fro or Skinny again about the possibility of re-marrying.
We watched them go and then Skinny offered, “I’ll pay for you to go with me to the next convention.”
Disappointed, I pleaded, “Pay for your girlfriend to go instead. Here’s your coffee. You might need to add more cream.”
Skinny took a sip of his coffee and started to put the batteries into the trucks. I watched until the bakery door opened and out sauntered Boots, sunglasses still on, his own coffee in hand.
“Isn’t that your old boyfriend?” Skinny was smirking.
I had a bad habit of sharing too much information with him in the past, assuming that signing divorce papers meant we could be friends.
“Shut up, please. Not a boyfriend.” I whispered.
Boots gained on us with a smile, “Merry Christmas.”
Skinny smiled at him and I tried too, “Merry Christmas,” we said in unison, like a real couple would.
“New toys?” he asked the boys.
The boys nodded.
“Lucky little guys. “ he added before leaving. Instead of heading up the street toward his apartment he looked both ways and started across toward 7-11. Maybe he needed batteries for a Christmas present too.
“Who was that?” asked Spaceboy.
I surprised him, “That’s the guy who has the missing screwdriver.”
Spaceboy panicked, “He stole it?”
“No, he’s our neighbor. I let him borrow it. He just forgot to give it back.”
Spaceboy, “Ask for it back.”
And then Feisty said, “I’ll ask for it back.”
“No, don’t ask. I’ll get it eventually.”
And then Skinny became a pain in the ass, “Why can’t he ask for it?”
I shook my head, “Don’t meddle. It’s my screwdriver. I’ll ask for it.”
The boys finished their cupcakes and Skinny got the trucks going. Soon the remote control cars were headed up and down the sidewalk from the bakery to my place and back. I sat and watched the boy joy, every now and then a truck crashing into a tree or heading beneath car wheels in someone’s driveway.
Soon enough Boots was on his way back across the street from 7-11 minus his cup of coffee and instead a brown bag in hand, clearly outlining a bottle of liquor. I judged him momentarily and then realized he deserved a break. Santa probably didn’t put any champagne in his Christmas stocking. I thought of the only picture I had ever seen of him as a kid on the fridge in his kitchen. I knew very little about him except that he had once been a little boy with a big grin.
As Boots approached he smiled at me kindly again, no avoiding. He looked to the boys and Skinny nearby. I wondered if perhaps he finally understood my situation with the kids and the ex. He had introduced me to a couple of girls I had seen him with at the bakery on occasional weekend mornings. Admittedly, I had been repulsed, but like he was doing with us, I also tried to show some maturity.
Boots stopped at the table next to me, “Must be nice to have kids to share the holiday.”
“Yeah, it definitely is.”
And then Feisty appeared with his inquiry, “Can you please give my mom’s screwdriver back?”
Boots turned to look at me, brows raised as he recalled, “Oh, I completely forgot. ” And then he turned back to Feisty, “Definitely, little guy. I’m on it. Thanks for reminding me.”
Satisfied, Feisty went back to playing.
“Someone’s looking out for you.”
“He just wanted the missing one to open the back of his toy this morning, “ I said embarrassed.
“Well, I’ll definitely get it to you.”
“No big deal, ” I said.
“Have a good rest of your day. Merry Christmas,” Boots started home.
Eventually we started home too. I packed the boys up to go with Skinny to Christmas dinner and stay overnight with their grandma. I was looking forward to a tiny break. I would see them early the next morning anyway. As the day turned dark and the city’s holiday lights went on, including the pink tree in my living room corner, I settled on television and any remnant of Christmas movies still playing. I resigned to the single lady Christmas evening for ease and to have the story. I hadn’t had very many single holidays. yet I hadn’t had many single glasses of wine either. I uncorked a bottle given to me as a gift from the head of production somewhat successfully, only picking out bits of cork in my glass. I looked at the boys two trucks carefully placed by the sliding glass window, thought of them so excited to be coming back in the morning to drive the trucks up and down the street some more. I became slightly melancholy.
At about nine-thirty there was a knock at my door. I stood up, sat back down, almost turned the sound of the TV off, debated asking, “Who is it?” but instead I just sat there. Again, someone knocked. I grabbed my cell phone for safety, walked to the door and then carefully tiptoed to a nearby window to get a view without poking one of my big eyes out the peephole. It was Boots standing with a bottle of what appeared to be gin. Gin and a poinsettia, how sweet. I got lower in the window and took pleasure in watching. The thought crossed my mind, he could be good, he might not be on drugs when he texted at 4 a.m., maybe he was just an insomniac. He was coming over unannounced, which meant he had to be prepared to actually hang out with my boys, but still I hesitated. I watched as he leaned down and placed something on my doorstep, but when he stood back up the poinsettia and the gin were still in hand. Then he turned away and stepped off of my porch. I guessed the gin and poinsettia would be for the next available taker.
I sat back on the couch and watched Judy Garland sing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me in St. Louis and almost started to cry but then my phone rang. I was certain it was Boots but it was Pop, said so on my screen. I answered it readily and with relief. As he wished me a happy holiday, I went and opened the door finally to check and see what, if anything, Boots had left. It was the smallest screwdriver. I picked it up, cut Pop off midsentence to thank him for the boys trucks and also thank him for the screwdriver set that helped open them. He went on a tangent about kids’ toys these days and plastic but I didn’t mind, I just drank my wine and listened. I could hear him sipping something on his end while he rambled and cooked a midnight bird in his oven. He lived for late night cooking.
There was a time when I was very young after my own parents divorced, spending Christmas with Mother that I felt bad for Pop and didn’t understand how he could be sleeping alone. But now I was in the same boat. I got it. Some days, even holidays, were just days and it was okay to park yourself in them solo. No need for a person next to you to fill every void in every hour. Pop once told me while I was having heartache in college, unsure which relationship to gravitate toward that I would meet so many appealing people in life and it would be hard to know where they all fit. . I was only now starting to realize that some wouldn’t fit at all and had to be let go. It was okay to pass them in a coffee shop and only nod. They didn’t even need to give screwdrivers back.