Route 7 Review - Page 171

scent of our family’s Christmas tree. Quickly, we stepped inside and closed out the cold. Megan shuffled into the living room and knelt down next to our treasured Christmas tree. Careful not to knock it over or damage any of the presents beneath, she plugged the lights into the outlet. I found my favorite Christmas compilation cassette tape and pushed play. Bing Crosby began singing “White Christmas” as each of us grabbed a candy cane from the tree then plopped down onto our cushy, brown sofa. As I sat on the couch next to my big sister, the moment froze in time. I became hypnotized by the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights and assortment of home-made ornaments. We remained side-by-side sucking on our candy canes, trying to see who could make theirs pointier. Like always—she won, so I crunched into mine and savored the sugary peppermint on my tongue. The front door swung open again and in strolled one of my half-brothers—though to me, he was simply my brother. He looked over at me and Megan with a loaded smile on his face, “Hey guys,” he said. We waved back at him. He kicked off his boots then joined us briefly on the couch. He gazed across the room at the tree, drawn into the magical moment. “Is anyone else home yet?” We shook our heads. Eventually the rest of my siblings trickled in, followed by my mom and dad. I ran up to each of my parents and gave them a hug, blissfully unaware of the stormy undercurrent raging between them. Mom changed into her Hawaiian Christmas muumuu, tied a holly-covered apron around her tiny waist and started preparing dinner. I hugged her from behind as she sang along with Karen Carpenter’s “Christmas Waltz.” That night, just like so many others, we gathered around the table and ate dinner together as a family. We spent the next couple of days building snowmen, playing in our snow fort, and sledding. Occasionally we wandered inside to thaw by our wood-burning stove and sip hot cocoa. We ind ulged in various cookies and treats Mom had spent hours baking. Mom and Dad wrapped several last-minute gifts and added them to the pile under the tree. Christmas morning I awoke before anyone else. I leapt out of bed and started yelling, “It’s Christ- mas! It’s Christmas!” It only took seconds for the rest of my family to wake following my outburst, but to me it felt like an eternity. We all scurried downstairs. Per tradition, we lined up just outside of the living room—youngest to oldest. We waited outside the curtain that “Santa” had hung across the doorway, blocking our view of the living room. I was next to the youngest, so I got to be second. I danced around in line impatiently. When Mom and Dad gave us the signal, we drew back the curtain and entered the living room in a frenzy. Lights sparkled and candles flickered. The Beach Boys’ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” drifted softly from the speakers. Since we didn’t have a fireplace, our stockings lined the sofa, bursting with candy and trinkets. “Santa” never wrapped the gifts “he” brought us, so I immediately ran towards the tree and my eyes honed in on the Tropical Barbie I had been wanting so badly. My siblings did likewise with each of their most desired gifts. “Daddy! Daddy! Look what Santa brought me!” I exclaimed as I hugged him gleefully. My dad stroked my silky blonde hair lovingly, “Wow! That’s great!” He smiled down at me, but in my naiveté, I failed to notice his smile was distant. ********** “Are you girls ready to go?” The deep sadness in my mother’s voice apparent. “Yeah.” My oldest siblings had already left for St Louis to spend Christmas with their biological father. I took one last look at our lonely Christmas tree before picking up my suitcase. We loaded everything into the car, then headed towards the Cincinnati airport. I hate leaving Mom all alone like this. But is it wrong that I can’t wait to see Dad? My tangled, conflicting emotions threatened to tear me into pieces. Dad had paid extra for our plane tickets because we were unaccompanied minors. The flight felt like an eternity, but finally we landed in Boston. “Hey Dad!” I nearly knocked him over as I jumped into his arms. “Hi, girls!” He looked older and hollowed out. The past year had clearly been as hard on him as it had been on us. When we arrived at his little townhome, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It smelled