Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

A Christmas Story

This is a fictional holiday story!!!  Based on A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, and the ALF episode when he wonders what the Tanner’s life would be like without him.

Ah, the day before Thanksgiving and my wife’s pressure on me to put up the outside decorations has increased 200%.  I am not the big decorator inside the house, but I do a pretty good job on the outside.  I give her my word every year, that the lights will be ready to turn by Thanksgiving night.  One year, I made the mistake of taking advantage of some nice warm November weather, and put the lights up the week before Thanksgiving.  To my dismay, she took advantage of my preparedness, and hit the switch clearly before we had entered the big season.  I will not let that happen again and so far it has not.

Look, I am not anti-Christmas, in fact quite the opposite.  But because of the severe things that I have experienced in my life, Christmas means a bit more to me than the commercialism and materialism that gets crammed down our throats every year.  In a way, I feel that is what takes the holiday feeling away from me, perhaps more so than my life’s experiences.  All I ask is to give me utnil Thanskgiving Day to turn my Christmas switch on.  As usual, it does not happen.  And so it begins, another holiday season proceeds with the “how soon before it’s over” attitude.

Of course, the day right after Thangsiving begins the rat race.  Every fake Christmas tree we have is put up (a minimum of 4, one in each room of the house including bedrooms) and fully decorated.  On Saturday, as soon as I get home from work, it is off to the tree farm for the lone live Christmas tree that we will have in our house.  Our televsion DVR is already half full with movies and shows from the Hallmark Channel because there simply would not be time to show them all even starting to show them back in July.  By the end of Saturday, I am definitely looking forward to Sunday, going back to work.

I am a horrible sleeper, but I had been going non-stop for sixteen hours.  My body had enough.  So I take all of my meds, and then it is off to bed.  Among other things I suffer from, insomnia is probably one of the worst.  Without enough sleep, you simply cannot function properly.  So I lay down, close my eyes, and hope that the next time my eyes open will be sometime after 6am.  But as is often the case, I am startled by something around 2am, wide awake, which under normal circumstances, return to slumber would be impossible.  Tonight will be no exception.

Wide awake, now wakend my kidney, so now I must make a trip to the bathroom.  Once finished, I come back into the bedroom standing in front of the window for any hint of the time of day.  There is none so now I see the clock and it is barely 2am.  I close the blinds and as I turn around I recognize a figure now in my bedroom.  Only one problem exists.  There is a figure sitting on the edge of the bed. 

It cannot be, but it looks like a former co-worker of mine who had passed away a long time ago when I first came into the department that I currently work in.  But it is him.  Greg had worked for our company for over six decades and well into his eighties was still considered a full-time worker.  There had been rumor of him retiring, but before that had any chance of happening, he got very sick and sadly passed away from that illness.  He never saw his retirement.

“Hey Paul, how you doin’?”, Greg asked.  Clearly my deprivation of sleep had caught up with me.  There was no shock or disbelief in what or who I was seeing.  And I slowly walked around the foot of the bed.  I was thinking, “come on Wendy, wake up, you gotta see this.  Greg is sitting on the foot of the bed.”  But just as relaxed I appeared to be, Greg was even more confident, “you don’t have to worry about Wendy, she can’t hear me.  She will hear you so you might want to keep it down.”

Greg continued, “Paul, I have always thought you were a good worker, good quality, commitment.  Other people liked that about you too.  But there is something you need to know.  You have a chance to change.  Take that chance, for your sake, for your family’s sake.”  Okay, dead co-worker in my home telling me I need to change.  No why, or how, or when.  I closed my eyes and stood for a moment.  When I opened my eyes, my view was now of my ceiling.  I was lying in my bed, and there was no sign of Greg.  Yep, sleep deprivation.  I looked over at the alarm clock.  The time was now 1:43am.  But when I thought I was awake, it was nearly 2am.  I have to get some sleep.

No sooner do I nod off, the alarm on my cell phone goes off.  I reach over to at least hit the snooze option, but then quickly realize it is no where near time to get up.  I begin to move a bit more and focus my eyes and I see a face from my past.  But this could not be.  She passed away more than two decades ago.  She had been killed in a car crash on the way to school.  She was no more than a friend and neighbor to me so I could not understand why she would be appearing to me out of the blue like this.

This miniature high school “reunion” covers a lot of catch up conversation, as well as never had “talk”.  Diane and I chatted for seemingly hours about high school, and then talked about our lives before I moved to Allentown.  Life for me was difficult without a father figure, but there were times that smiles did happen.  There were friends and girlfriends.  Plenty of memories took place.  We reminisced about the great blizzard of February 1983 that in spite of over two feet of snow, we still had school.  Diane told me that she admired the courageous battle I fought with cancer, but understands how difficult it can be emotionally to be a survivor when so many do not get the chance.  And like that, she was gone.  Simultaneously, I experienced the feeling that one gets when drifting off to sleep and your body does that “jolt” thing.  Realizing that I was laying in my bed again, I looked over at the alarm clock.  The time was 1:12am.  What was happening to me?  I have heard this type of story about Scrooge or Wonderful Life in many versions, and at least subliminally, I felt I was experiencing something very similar, though I had no idea why me, or what was this about?  What baffled me even more, why was time going in reverse.  A long night’s sleep for me was getting longer, not just in the sense of strange events that were occurring, insomnia, but in actual time.

And just like that, not even drifting off back to sleep, clearly I have another visitor.  I hear some rustling downstairs, so I do what comes naturally, with full lack of intelligence, go downstairs to investigate.  Half way down the steps, I hear a loud humming, something electrical.  And then, a guitar riff starts to play.  I peek around the wall of the stairway, and there sitting on a chair of my living room, is Tommy Shaw of the rock band Styx, and he is playing and beginning to sing “Too Much Time on My Hands.”  While I have a personal connection with Tommy, as far as the “Christmas Carol” routine this was not making sense.  Shaw was still alive and obviously has a sick sense of humor singing a song about having too much time to kill.  Given the way my night was going, this was more than coincidental.

“Yo man,” Tommy looks up and sees me staring at him, justifiably confused.  “You got any more lights down here?  How well do you play the piano?  Wanna jam?”  As I take the next step down, I forget there were actually another eight to go.  Crashing to the bottom of the stairwell, I look up and he is still there, this time laughing at my clumsiness.  “You alright?  Come on.  Let’s do this.  We don’t have all night.”  So I continue to stumble over to our baby grand.  He gives me a nod to start, and I begin the intro to “Too Much Time…”  Shaw joins in and somehow, I hear the entire accompaniment and as if I were Jack Blades, I am realizing I am performing with Tommy Shaw, ableit in my house where no one else is hearing it, including my wife and daughters.

We get done with the entire song and then just sit there in awkward silence.  “Would you like a beer?” I offer as it was only to polite to offer a guest in my home something.  “Look Paul, you of all people ought to understand, I don’t have that kind of time.  You don’t have that kind of time.  And if you’re thinking I am going to take you on a tour of your current life… I don’t need to.  And you know that.  How did it feel to sing, not just with me, but the song itself?  Does it have any meaning to you?  How much time do you really think you have?  You put in on average a week and a half of hours each week.  Every night you are attending at least one meeting.  You have minimal time to spend with your daughters and any time you do get, is spent helping them with your work.  And where does Wendy fit in with all this?  It’s one thing for me to seek out attention from young women old enough to be my daughters who have no idea who I am.  But you have a life, man.  And you are not taking the time to enjoy it.”

Then Shaw concluded, “If you don’t get what I’m saying to you, since you are an 80′s music dork, maybe you will understand this.”  He starts playing the intro from Europe’s “Final Countdown.”  And just then a rush of anxiety comes over me.  Is this it?  Am I dying?  What the hell is happening to me?  The guitar riff fades out, and then the chime begins on our grandfather clock… it’s 1:00am.

Pollo, our golden retriever begins to make his way down the stairs.  Finally, someone has to be hearing all the commotion going on, even the dog has heard something.  Instead, he heads for the front door and starts doing his have-t0-go-pee dance and whimper.  I opened the door to let him out, and he immediately bolts around the corner of the house where I cannot tell where he has gotten to.  So much craziness has gone on tonight, I really do not need this on top of everything else.  Grumbling and impatient, I find Pollo and chase him back to the house.  But the door is now closed.  I know I left it open.  Pollo stops right at the doorstep as I rush to open the door, but it is locked.  This cannot be happening.  It has to be manually locked and I did not do it.  I look for the spare key but it is nowhere to be found.  Come on!  What is going on?!?  I have no choice, I ring the door bell.  Wendy is going to be pissed to have to get up to let me in.  But she is never going to believe this night.

A silver haired gentleman opens the door.  I immediately rush at the door seeing the stranger in my home.  He slams the door shut and I hear the bolt latch.  He is yelling something but I cannot hear it, but can at least make out, “I’m calling the cops!”  I look over at Pollo and he is now standing and looking up the street.  He alternates his glance between me and up the road and now starts to walk away.  He looks back at me one more time as if to tell me to follow him.  My car is not in the driveway.  Some stranger is in my house.  I try to convince myself to stop, slow down and think.  If my hunch is correct that I am experiencing some sort of Scrooge activity, what is going to happen next?  But there are too many things that have happened that make this too real.

I followed Pollo down our road.  In the distance, I hear the church bells of Corpus Christi chime.  As the bells start to ring for the time, the bells have gone well past one… ten, eleven, twelve.  And the ringing stops.  Could it be?  Midnight?  If time has been going backwards, it is Saturday again.  Am I getting another chance to get this right?  A chance to slow down.  An opportunity to realize that decisions that I have made in my life have made a difference to people.  Memories of my childhood are remembered by so many.  More importantly, my daughters and my wife deserve more time than I have given them.  I have to learn to give my physical and mental condition more of a chance.

The truth is, I have gotten plenty of these warnings, perhaps not via hallucinations or dreams, but the warnings have been real.  Slow down.  Enjoy life.  Appreciate. 

I most certainly do appreciate you for taking the time to read my stories, offering me comments (and appreciated critiques), and giving me encouragement.  I hope that my stories have been able to offer support, information, laughs, whatever might have been needed at that particular moment for you.  Happy Holidays and wishes for you and your families for a healthy and prosperous new year! 

More stories are coming and I will let you know of current pieces being published publicly very soon.  Who knows what will happen from there.

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