It’s funny, what you think about in the evenings. First time I stabbed a man, I was sixteen. I thought he had it coming. He didn’t die, that Hank Jenkins, but he left me alone after that.
Once upon a time, Christmas saved my life. My parents are strange people, and didn’t know what Christmas was when they got to this country. They’d heard of it, and they tried to follow it along, but my mom couldn’t cook a turkey and my dad was terrible at buying presents. It didn’t help that we were in a new country, and that it was cold here. Woke up one morning and found snow on the ground, so I ran outside in my pyjamas. Never did that again.
By eighteen, I was off probation. For me, school looked like a prison, and close to Christmas, it was surrounded by snowbanks because the budget didn’t allow for much snow removal. They spent it on salt instead, and you’d crunch that around under your boots on the bus ride home. Now and then, I walked instead, about 40 minutes total. December 17, 1990, sky was dark. I was already cold. But I watched the buses go. And I started crunching salt on the way home.
We were going to make some mischief that night. We were going to some old man’s home to steal his presents, because we knew he was going to be away. Have you ever firebombed a car? It’s easy. It just takes some gasoline and a little bit of care, but when it goes up, it goes hard. I have firebombed five cars in my life – true story. We were going to do it to that old man that night, about midnight.
But on the way home, I got surrounded by snow, and warmed up by Christmas lights. And music. And wood fireplace smoke. And headlights. And stop signs. And snowbanks crusted over with ice, and downspouts frozen to brick, and Christmas trees in front windows. Porches. Wind. And some signature peculiar to the 17th of December, still far away from the day, but close enough. I didn’t do the hoodlum thing that night. I went home and sat with my parents, helped them cook a turkey. My friends were arrested, two got jail time. They never had any problem with me not going to the old man’s house that night, but we drifted away from each other after that.
Years got on. Lot of people don’t know this, but I’ve been married before. Has nothing to do with my spot in life now, what I do, my kids, my wife, anything. Just was a mistake, that’s all. Her name was Sheryl. I keep her last name to myself. We got together. We had a kid. And after that, Sheryl got into her drugs, until I had the kid to myself, and it didn’t matter if it was Christmas or any other season, that was the thing you had to do – you had to take care. So I did, and one night Sheryl slipped away, and there I was.
When you’re poor and you’re far away from your family, there’s not much you can do. Not much that you know about in terms of raising a kid, and anyway, you’re still busy trying to work so that you have some money. It was tough. I don’t mind admitting that it was the worst time in my life. I couldn’t do anything right.
December 14th that year was cold. Cold enough that engines weren’t starting. Cold enough that the heat in the building went, and a water pipe snapped. I had the baby in my hands as I went downstairs to shut the water off. We were both soaked. We were both cold. Car wouldn’t start. Had no heat. Huddled under the blankets, trying to stay warm.
Later that night, I was outside. In the wind. The baby was in my coat. Could feel his skin. He was freezing. Looked around at the Christmas lights and asked the season to save me again. You know what it’s like to pray when you don’t really mean it? To ask for favours that you know you don’t deserve? It’s dangerous to hope.
But he came anyway. Through the snow, with his big boots and his black hat. He had a cane, and rings on every finger. Stopped before me and looked me up and down. Asked for the baby. I handed him over.
I’ve seen guys like this before. All messed up on hope and dream, and where it took them. You should be making toys. You should be handing them out. You should be flying, bringing some joy to the world. But what are toys and what is joy when little babies are getting cold? That has to affect you, I think. It has to make you rethink. It has to make a change in who you are and what you believe. It has to bring you out earlier than you want to be out; it has to stop your traditions and your other stuff. It has to prick at your dreams until you have a million holes in you, and instead of making your toys, instead of baking your cookies, you’re in the snow and you’re taking my baby away from me because you can’t handle the long list of children in the world who wouldn’t know what to do with a toy if you did hand one to them.