In putting together this dip into Christmases long gone, I found myself thinking about one Christmas Eve in particular, that of my first year of college. The oddest Christmas Eve I've ever experienced.
During my years in high school, my parents had a house built on the family land north of Albany, N.Y. [see journal entry of 15 October, 2001], and pretty much the nanosecond I graduated 12th grade, they bolted from Long Island. I had the house on the Island to myself that summer -- yes, we are indeed talking large-scale partying -- after which I bumbled my way up to University in Binghamton, N.Y.
I met some interesting folks at school that autumn, including Tony and Jackie, a couple from Huntington on Long Island -- two lovely people. When classes broke for the holidays, I returned to the Island where I would pass a few days before driving upstate to inflict myself on my parents. On Christmas Eve, I was to pick up Tony, Jackie and Jackie's cousin, a nice woman whose name I can't seem to remember, then drive us all into Manhattan. Tony and Jackie would go uptown to a movie, a downtown concert awaited Jackie's cousin and I. Post-performance, she and I would collect T&J, we'd all head back out to the Island.
And that's what I did. I found my way out to Huntington, crammed them all into my VW bug, we sped west toward Manhattan. A nice drive -- Christmas Eve, the four of us in the bug, Jackie's cousin and I seeming to enjoy being with each other. Conversation flowed easily, the evening's beginning unfolded comfortably.
We were 15 minutes or so from crossing the East River, Christmas lights shining around us in the evening darkness. Out of nowhere -- literally, with no prior thought on my part -- the statement "My car's going to be broken into tonight" popped itself out of my mouth. Startling me every bit as much as it startled everyone else.
A moment of silence. Jackie gazed at me strangely, saying nothing. No one ventured to ask, tactfully or not, what I'd meant. We all just quietly sidled our way around the moment, conversation slowly resumed, the evening continued on. A short time later, we landed in Manhattan, I dropped T&J off, Jackie's cousin and I zipped downtown. I hadn't forgotten about the mystery statement, though. And though I managed to keep it from intruding in any visible way on my time with Jackie's cousin, I found myself in a growing state of worry and preoccupation. Everything I'd brought with me from college was in the car (me not being smart enough to leave it all in Huntington). A paltry collection of belongings, really -- some clothes, a box of records, Christmas gifts for my family -- packed tightly into the teensy trunk and the cramped space behind the rear seat. It was what I had, though, and it was out there, draped in the shadows of a minimally-traveled, poorly-lit East Village street.
Post-concert, back out in the night air, I found my pace slowly accelerating -- Jackie's cousin nicely indulgent, not complaining about our increasing speed -- until we reached the car, where I could see for myself that the vehicle had gone undisturbed.
Huge relief. Apprehension bled away, my heart slowed to its normal, happier state. We mounted up and returned uptown.
T&J were at a theater on Fifth Avenue, just a stone's throw from St. Patrick's Cathedral. Christmas Eve was in full swing, the Avenue packed with cars, the sidewalks dense with people. Amazingly, I found a parking space on the Avenue, about two blocks from the movie theater. We locked up the car, trotted to the theater, found T&J, headed back toward the bug. An excursion of five to ten minutes. As we neared the VW, I could see something was wrong and ran the remaining distance to discover that, with all the traffic going by, with the throngs of people out walking, someone had, in that five to ten minutes, forced their way into the vehicle and made off with my stuff. All of it.
I'd had the records stuffed into a packing box from a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which had been jammed behind the rear seat, apparently in clear enough view through the rear window to be inviting. Whoever spotted it had expected to find a piece of electronic equipment. They wound up with albums, luggage, Christmas presents.
It's an interesting life.
My parents' insurance company treated me kindly, covering enough of the losses that I could replace the gifts for my family, the part of the whole affair that had hit me the hardest. The rest was just stuff. So that, apart from some emotional tumult, everything more or less worked itself out. Kind of like life itself.
Be well, everyone. May you spend the holidays with folks you love, in ways that feel good to heart and soul.