It’s a temperature-controlled night in the backwater terminal of O’Hare as I wait for my next flight. It’s delayed due to the crew being on another airplane. Sometimes I wonder if that happens not because of logistics but because the Captain and the Flight Attendants all got on the wrong flight and rolled with it. Probably not. I’m full of wild ideas tonight.
I’ve spent the last fours months attending graduate school in California. It’s the longest I’ve been away from home. Adrift, this is my first flight alone. There are other passengers on the flight, but I don’t know any of them. A few of us huddle together waiting, I recognize the logos on sweatshirts. If ever an airport were to become the last bastion of humankind, for example because of a Yeti uprising (#yeticongress), I suspect we’d all organize ourselves based on college or NFL hoodies. Like I said, this is my first flight alone and I’m thinking of every worst case scenario.
The crew shows up, and we take-off. I check for Santa out the window, just in case.
When I arrive back home in West Virginia, I’m picked up by my Aunt and Uncle because my parents are out of town for a few days. This is key. I am not the only one getting in tonight.
From the North, my friend Zendrix is traveling on a Greyhound bus.
Actually by this point, Zendrix is off the bus and being picked up by another of my friends, Phil. It should be noted here, that Phil and Zendrix have only met in real life once before. I was supposed to be there, but, due to my delay, the opening ceremonies lacked my presence. I know, opening ceremonies without me are horrendous. However, we all played World of Warcraft together and when you’ve slain internet dragons with someone, you’re pals for life.
By the time I’m supervising the hauling of my luggage inside, Phil and Zendrix are already there at
my house my parent’s house. Computers unpacked, Zendrix and I establish base command at the dining room table. Phil regrets not bringing his computer with him and departs for his parent’s house. He promises to return in the morning. Tired from our travels, Zendrix and I call it an early night around 1am.
Before sleep, I look out the window for Santa, but see snow falling instead. How pretty, I think. Maybe it will blizzard, I hope.
As a kid, I remember waking up at 6:30am every time the weatherman predicted overnight snow. I would watch out the door of my bedroom to see if Dad would be rousing me that day. If it got to 7am and no sign of rousing, I knew we at least had a two hour delay. More often than not, my father would make the climb upstairs by 6:50am to crush my dreams, as is tradition. Sometimes I think we forget how life and death the tiny struggles feel to a child. The galaxy is pretty small when you’re little.
Speaking of galaxies, if this new Star Wars movie is bad I will throw a fit, possibly a Bantha too. Don’t get me started on the lack of Mara Jade.
But of course, those brief morning ordeals with snow days are small, Yukon potatoes compared to the great, gettin’ up morning that is Christmas.
For those of you who celebrated Christmas as a kid, I probably don’t need to explain what that’s like. For those of you who did not celebrate Christmas as a child, it’s basically expensive cocaine. Everything is great, you’re full of energy, and all you want is more! By the end of it though, you’re wasted on materialism and sugar.
It’s one hallelujah of a drug.
When I was a kid, I swore I would never ask for clothes from Santa. You can’t play with clothes. Although, I must admit, they do come in handy with women.
The next morning at Base Command (my parent’s dining room), Zendrix and I watch the snow fall by glancing occasionally away from our computers. I mean, when you’ve seen one snowflake, you’ve seen them all. Plus, it’s snowing in the game, in the one zone that we flew over, once. Phil is stuck at his parent’s house, the snow has kept him from leaving so far, but he hopes the plows will clear the path. For lunch, Zendrix and I order Chinese food and feel downright decadent eating at Base Command, listening to my parent’s Christmas albums and playing games.
And then, as the malaise of digestion passes through us, there’s a knock at the door.
Surprise! It’s Jack! Everybody say Hi.
Okay, Jack wasn’t a surprise, we had been expecting him all morning. He was coming down from Charleston to spend a few days with us at Base Command. Jack also plays World of Warcraft and had slain the Lich King with us a few months ago. It should be noted here that this was the first time Jack had ever met me or Zendrix in real life. Jack set up his computer and we were soon back to annihilating our virtual enemies.
Later in the day, Phil manages to rendezvous with us at Base Command, and together the four of us play long into the winter’s night.
Except, about 8pm, hunger pulls us from our gaming nirvana.
The snow, which had been cute earlier, is now a force to be reckoned with. We agree that food must be procured and set off in Phil’s dad’s truck to go ply a redheaded lass for cheeseburgers. Icy roads make for slow progress but we trek onward with all the heady resolve of guys really not wanting to go back and eat boring pasta at home.
Unfortunately, the Wendy’s is closed due to the weather.
A new plan is proposed, but the next place is also closed. The darkened doors of a snowbound Huntington judge us as we crawl past in the truck. Feeling like the irresponsible fools we are, the inevitably of boring pasta settles in. In my mind,
Base Command the house becomes more and more dilapidated as we cross off the usual eateries. Either we’re finding food out here or we’re not going back. This jolly jaunt has gone from Dashing in the Snow to the funeral dirge cover of Auld Lang- who cares. It’s cold, it looks like the apocalypse and we’re hungry.
And it’s Christmas.
I can’t help but compare us to those Shepherds out tending their flock when the Angel of the Lord stopped by. No, we weren’t shepherds, but after we navigated through the viaduct and crested the opposite side, a shiny, neon Angel came into view. The sign for Gino’s. A pizza parlor still open. We’re saved.
Even though the Bible doesn’t say the angel Gabriel brought the Shepherds pizza, it should be noted that the Bible doesn’t say he didn’t. You believe what you want, but don’t question my faith in mozzarella. We dip our crusts in garlic sauce to remember all the Shepherds who didn’t get pizza.
Stumbling into the Gino’s, we must look exactly like the sad puppies we are because the hostess, who had a mom vibe, gives a once over and motions for us to take a seat. The smallish dining room is decorated for the holidays. It’s warm inside and the glass windows give us a great view of the snow and any potential Yetis. Crooners of a previous era belt out classic carols over the speakers, the sound filling the vacant room. We’re alone in the restaurant, except for the staff, as if we had planned it all along. Maybe someone did. Not us.
The hot pizza and warm sandwiches and greasy fries are brought out. We feast, feeling every bit the kings from afar that we’re not. Well, I’m from afar now, but I’ve haven’t found any frankincense. Does the baby Jesus need a haiku? We’re getting off track. Thinking about delicious food on a cold night will do that to you.
Somewhere in the middle of our dinner, there’s a moment where I hit something deeper than the baked spaghetti. Faster than it takes you to read this, I understand a truth. Tired, hungry, and cold, I am so grateful to be here, in the middle of a snowstorm, gobbling cheese with some of my best friends in the world. The heart swells. And then, a terrifying, wonderful realization dawns. This is it. This. Is. It.
This is Christmas morning. At 9:30pm in Gino’s.
Unlike those rose-colored mornings of my youth, this Christmas, grown-up Christmas, isn’t over in a day. This Christmas isn’t about gifts or sugar or terrible children’s choirs. This Christmas is about seeing the people who mean the most to you. Your friends, your family, and even your old home. You know, boring adult stuff. Like clothes. In the moment after this upheaval of joy, I feel the dread from my inner child slip away. No more worrying if Christmas would somehow be ruined. No more worst case scenarios. It’s a wild idea, but from now on, my enjoyment of the holiday isn’t in anybody’s hands but mine.
And if I can do it, so can you. Right now. Go throw out something you don’t like. Or put a stupid ornament on the tree. Like the one I made when I was wee. It’s a felt Angel covered almost completely in red glitter paint. Roadkill Angel, I call her. She’s a beauty, but we’re getting distracted again. Ornaments will do that.
The rest of the night, we played games in a fit of glorious exultation of our proto-adult Christmas. When my parents returned from out of town a few days later, they found us asleep on couches and floors amid the debris of Base Command. I was unconscious at the time, but I like to think for a moment, in their eyes, we weren’t proto-adults, but children again, worn out from the sweet justice of Christmas cocaine.
This year I’m asking for themed underpants and new slippers.