It was me and father on Christmas day. Everyone else was gone. It was like those post-apocalyptic movies you may have watched, where the hero walks around watching the ruins in despair, holding on tight to those he loves, those that have survived the disaster and in the end, a smile lightens up their faces, because they are the lucky ones for whom life goes on.
Dad had decorated the tree and had prepared a delicious meal for two, a smile on his face feigning a sense of normality which was long gone, reminding me of that hopeful smile on the survivors’ face on those action movies. I had never doubted the hope in it, yet a thought crossed my mind, as I watched my father pretending to be happy, or at least satisfied: Was that an authentic hopeful smile, or only an attempt at ignoring disaster? My eighty-year-old father seemed determined to enjoy Christmas dinner with the only son he got left, to defy despair, like the heroes on those movies, like the poppy I saw standing proud out of my house on Christmas eve, right in the middle of winter.
“Poppies are dead this time of the year,” I told her.
The poppy looked the other way, a warrior who couldn’t be convinced to give up, ready to fight the cold, the wind, the rain, against all odds.
I embraced father with all my might, as if he were the last person on earth. As a matter of fact, he was. At least for me. Mother had passed away two years ago. It was a stroke that had taken her away. It was more than a stroke, as I see it; it was despair that killed her. Mother had always been a hard-working woman, expecting a comfortable future that never came. She saw all her efforts for a happy life prove fruitless. Instead of blaming the circumstances, she took full blame for the failure. She should have thought better. She should have been more responsible.
My brother left us following his dream. This wouldn’t be bothering, if he hadn’t forgotten all about us. He went away to escape misery, moving to another country, selling himself at a better price. His wife, who offered him the chance, who accommodated him while he was still broke, asked him to cut all ties with his former life, including us. My brother sold us out, come to think of it. A person who jumps at opportunity, never looks back anyway.
Then came your turn. You left a week before Christmas. You were tired, you said. Of course, you were. It seems that sometimes, love isn’t enough. Things had been tough for us the last couple of years, since I lost my job. Unemployment killed our love. We’re considered collateral damage in an otherwise successful story of a terminated war. We’re the ashes left behind, after the fire is extinguished. We’re the victims of the bomb that saved the world from a never-ending war. Is the war over? Has is ever been over?
I didn’t mention our separation to father. I wasn’t that sure he could take another blow. His whole world had collapsed long before you left, yet he was still standing. All his dreams were dead, his beliefs mistaken, yet somehow, he still believed in the future. He still believed in us. In my mind, our separation could be the last straw. His last belief taken down.
He didn’t talk much during dinner. I made some silly jokes to keep the conversation going. The television was on, his eyes fixated on the Christmas show that was playing, ignoring my words.
“Dad, are you listening?”
“What did you just say?”
I felt like the TV had swallowed him. As if it represented a world long gone, a fake world of glamor and luxury he once hoped he would join. It was his dream world and father seemed unable to let go. I finally gave up. What could I offer him in exchange? My presence seemed not enough, one more proof of my latest belief, that love sometimes, just isn’t enough to sustain relationships.
As if he read my mind, he turned my way all of a sudden, strictness taking the place of indifference on his face and I felt like a child again, ready to be punished for a deed I wasn’t yet aware.
“Love is always enough,” he said, standing up, his eyes sparkling, making a gesture, showing me the way to the door, as if he wanted to show me the way out and get rid of me. In my eyes, he grew bigger and bigger, like I saw him as a child, while he was still standing on the pedestal parents are supposed to stand on, yet little by little he was not my father anymore. Perhaps he was Father Christmas himself, announcing me the verdict about my behaviour during the past year. Only he wasn’t dressed in red, and his black outfit made me think that he was another figure, a more frightening one. It felt as if he transformed into the ghost of Christmas future, or was he indeed? What if my father had already passed away and I was spending Christmas with a ghost, about to teach me a lesson?
“You crave for your life to make sense, only to realize that stories only make sense when the end approaches,” he said in fainted voice as if the effort to stand up took away most of his energy.
“You’re fine, Dad. Don’t talk like that.”
“I made some choices and so did you. We all make choices, yet despite all those false beliefs I built my life upon, I still rest assured of my choice to love. Love is always enough,” he repeated.
A glimpse in the mirror was enough to overwhelm me at that moment. All those dead persons, looking back at me through the glass seemed thirsty for revenge. My dead selves, killed by choices, yet mainly by circumstances craved for justice. The ghosts of who I was or could have been wanted another chance and wouldn’t let me, the survivor, the one who was left alive after the disaster, to enjoy anything at all. I was in my father’s shoes for a little while. For a short period of time, I justified his despair along with his need to keep believing. I almost heard his screams inside my head, asking me to justify all his choices, all the sacrifices he had performed, all the time wasted, all his former selves killed in the name of a dream. One part of the dream should remain alive, or else all hope is gone.
I gave him a hug before I left, mostly to make sure, he was still there, in flesh and blood, that I hadn’t been talking to a ghost.
“Love is always enough,” he mumbled in tears, showing me the way out, and I almost believed him.
You are now here. In front of my doorstop, waiting for me, watching the poppy defy nature’s laws, fighting the wind and the cold. You watch her in amazement, before you turn my way, as I approach you.
“Have you come back home?” I ask.
You smile and I realize you might have come to collect some of your things.
“You’re home to me,” you say and I already feel the wings growing on my back. I’m ready to fly in the sky and my heart is already flying above the clouds, into the clear sky. “You can’t stay away from home without hurting. You can choose to go elsewhere, where luxury is, yet misery will follow. You can surely drown the misery with money for a while, shopping expensive clothes, eating expensive meals in trendy restaurants but at the end of the day, misery will look you right in the eye, maliciously grinning, reminding you’re not home. Home may not be the perfect place you had once imagined, but it’s the place when you feel truly loved.”
I’m already an angel flying into the Christmas sky now. I am happy, despite being broken, beaten down in the middle of a wasteland. In the middle of winter, summer is reinvented. I now know the smile on those movies’ heroes, who find themselves among ruins, ready to begin a new life from the start, along with their loved ones is genuine. I now realize the poppy’s struggle to survive in this weather. Christmas is the opportunity to experience summer in the darkest days of winter. It’s the celebration of light in the midst of darkness. The fairy lights blink, unsure of themselves, as opposed to the continuous brightness of sunlight in summer. That’s when you have to work to keep hope alive, which makes it more precious than when it’s freely abundant.
I can’t say much at this moment. I only feel the Christmas miracle unveil in front of my eyes, proving my father was right.
“Love is always enough,” I tell you.
Then we walk back in our house, holding each other’s hands as tight as never before and it seems like we don’t only hold on to each other, but also to the dream we have kept alive. To the miracle that saved our hope. To our invincible bond that will transform the ashes into a fire destined to burn for eternity.