Thursday, August 15, 2013

Then and Now 74 - Last Christmas

Then and Now 74 - Last Christmas
Time: Late 2007, dating my wife.

For the sake of this Then and Now, I'm going to refer to my wife as my girlfriend.

This is the final transition of my single time, from dating to marriage, and is also the final time I had as a free man while dating my girlfriend before my entire life turned into the married gruel that it is today. Because this particular Then and Now was the last period of my life before I ended up shackled and beaten down into the married loser that I am today, this time holds an especially warm significance to me.

From the time of my birth to the day I left my family for the final time, my mother, siblings and I had never missed a Christmas together. Even through my mother's first three divorces, several family troubles, moving almost a dozen times and everything else, we always had that one day of the year to be with one another. In 2007, after I had conquered my depression, moved to a foreign country, lived on my own and met my excellent girlfriend, I wasn't about to let this be the year that our family was missing one. I had left a child, and I was coming back that Christmas a man.

Speaking of traditions, it was also tradition in my family to blow your entire first paycheck on something for yourself. And so, that's what I did: I saved up about $2000 for my plane ticket and money to buy pizza and stuff for my friends, and brought along a sack of video games to sell so I could go back abroad again with a little scratch. Truthfully, it was hardly necessary: I was making so much money before I got married that I would have been able to save up my emergency money goal of $5000 in about three months, and started giving to charity by mid-2008, so I wasn't all that concerned about my finances at that point.

My last Christmas took place over two solid weeks of absolute fun. It started at the airport with my girlfriend, and we had a final meal of Burger King, which I hadn't eaten since I entered the country. She couldn't believe the way I liked to eat the hamburgers there, by placing rows of french fries on the patty before eating. When I had checked my bags, she couldn't stop kissing and hugging me as I was on my way out. I protested fakely and hugged her back, then we finally waved goodbye and I was on my way to the plane.

My hair was spiked and I was dressed very nicely for the trip back home, because date, work or plane trip, I liked looking my best no matter where I went. I chatted with a couple of the people aboard the plane, then when they settled into their seats and got quiet, I pulled out my freshly charged laptop and PSP to play some video games. Thanks to them, and the movies playing on the little TV on the seat in front of me, I was back home in no time.

My mother met me at the airport, and it was getting on in the day. Luckily, my favorite Mexican restaurant was still open, so she took me there to get some massive, oily, creamy bean and cheese burritos covered in their exquisite sauce. Then, we went home, where hugs, kisses, handshakes and everything else waited for me from my family. As soon as I could, I put up scads of my video games up for auction on the family computer, and over the following two weeks, I saw bids coming in from all over the country piling up on them. I made close to a thousand dollars from sales, and ended up taking back a good chunk of the money than I started with.

I took a long walk back to my grandma's house from my mother's on my second or third day there. It was the middle of the afternoon when I left, and it took an hour or two to walk all the way, but it was such a great day that it felt very relaxing. The air was crisp with the chill of winter, and having spent six months in the cramped cities of this country, it was refreshing to be back in America, where the houses were big and the roads were wide. As I walked through the business section of town, I noticed dozens of stores that were run by locals of this country who had immigrated to America. All of the signs were written in both the local language and English, but where the local language signs had mystified me as a boy, I was able to read and understand most of them that day.

Passing through the lines of shops, I left my lower-middle income city behind and headed through some rich towns to where my grandma lived. The more I walked towards her house, the more trees there were growing on the sidewalk, down the road medians and in front of houses and offices. The air, already refreshing from December's frost, was cleaner than I had ever breathed abroad.

When I got to my grandma's house, I was happy to see that her car was there. I knocked on the door, and she surprisedly let me in, where I gave her her angel doll present that could plug in to make it light up. We talked for a good hour or two, and she told me about some health scares that she had had, what she had done with my old room there (storage room), and showed me some gardening that she had done outside. I even learned a surprising fact that day: she was as into the WWE as I was back then.

After getting some lemonade from the lemon trees she had out back, I said goodbye and walked on. With every couple of minutes, the day was getting darker and darker, until it was almost pitch black in my childhood town. There were very few streetlights in the city, and with the towering, dark trees lining the roads everywhere I went, and a lack of cars on the roads, it soon became a place of peaceful solitude.

My best friend lived very close to my grandmother, maybe a fifteen minute walk away, so I went to his house next, snapping blurry pictures of Christmas lights all over the place as I went. When I got there, though, he wasn't home, so I left a note on his door to get into contact with me later. An hour or two later, I was back home.

On another day, I walked to my bud's house, who lived relatively close to my best friend, so I could bring him his present and apologize for my lazy behavior in finding us housing abroad. His mom let me in the house and called him down, and I said sorry. Cool as ice, he let me know that it wasn't a big deal, and he and I made plans to get together with my other best friend later.

When we did, my best friend had brought our mutual friend Oscar, and six other friends we had all made on World of Warcraft a few years back. While I was gone, my best friend and his WoW buddies had all gotten to know one another even better, and we all decided to have a big bash at Medieval Times while I was in town, so we could meet up for the first time. On the way there, I got to know one of the WoW guys, Sid, a long-haired guy with an amazing sense of humor. He was very quiet when we first met in my best friend's car, but I kept up with my self-effacing humor, experiences abroad and general good nature so well, that the ice between us was broken in a matter of minutes.

I met another of my former WoW buddies when we arrived at Medieval Times: Elaine. She was incredibly nice and very cute. When she first saw me with my spiked hair standing next to my best friend, I smiled and said, "Hey, Elaine." She looked back at me warily. "Who are you?" she asked. I smiled wider and told her my Troll Hunter's screen name. Her face lit up in an instant, and she shouted my real name as she ran forward to hug me tight.

That night was an excellent night of feast, sport and action. Our knight lost, but I got to hold an Excalibur replica at the shop later.

Another day, Oscar brought his PS3 and Rock Band to my best friend's house for rotating groups of us to play together, while the others smoked, drank and ate pizza. As luck would have it, I had bought a PS3 and Rock Band while I was abroad, so I was excellent at guitar, great at drumming, and halfway decent at singing. There were several awesome people at the party, and I got to know two pretty well:

Ed, a hilarious, larger than life guy with long hair, was Sid's brother. He was amazing on the vocals, and always had hilarious jokes to tell. I learned the term "spank bank" from him.

Henry was someone that you might think, from the looks of him, was a completely average person. But he was anything but: he was sharp and quick-witted, and while we were all outside between songs and smoking, he led several interesting discussions. One was an interesting observation that animals feel euphoria before they die, and it served no biological purpose, so that might be evidence of a creator. Another was a "Would You Rather" game, where everyone in the group unanimously picked being paralyzed, getting a sex change operation or having their testicles eaten by a shark (my choice) over sleeping with Rosie O'Donnell. He was a great drummer, too.

During Rock Band, everyone was amazed by how well I was playing the drums, especially when I took us through Cherub Rock on Expert, but even I wasn't good enough to beat Paranoid; Henry and Sid had to take turns pressing the foot pedal for me. One of my favorite moments was when I was playing a guitar solo while smoking, taking hits of my cig from one side of my mouth and blowing the smoke out the other side while I kept up the strumming nearly perfectly. It felt cool, though I know it was geeky.

Yet another time at my best friend's place, we all did some screwdrivers and smoked a little pot. I was a bit nervous, because the last time I smoked, I was a depressed teenager in college. After I had smoked then, I was scared to death that everyone around me was staring at me and judging me, I had hot and cold flashes, and I had pitch black tunnel vision for several hours after. Even when I went home and slept, I was still out of it for another day.

But this time, I got giggly. Everything everyone was saying was absolutely hilarious, but when we had our two DDs take us to Denny's to get something to eat, I tried to keep myself under control. Still, I remember that when my best friend ordered the "Super Bird" sandwich, I couldn't stop snickering at the name. After I had a burger and fries, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I felt a little dizzy. I started to think that everyone was looking at me and judging me again.

So? I thought to myself. Let 'em stare. I gotta take a leak.

On another day, my family and I went back to my favorite Mexican restaurant to get more burritos, but this time, an aunt that I hadn't seen in about ten years and her husband came with us. I was charismatic, funny and interesting the whole time, which I guess was a shock to my aunt, because the last time she saw me, I was a long-haired, depressed, scowling loser. I took a picture with her outside, bright smiles on the both of us. My hair was spiked, I was wearing my favorite black shirt and blue jeans combo, and I had a bit of a beard growing: my favorite look. It's the last picture I have of myself before my girlfriend got pregnant, and I still can't believe how lively I looked back then.

My littlest sister and I spent a lot of time playing our favorite video games together, ones that she watched me play over several years as she fell asleep in my room nearly every night. We played every one of those games together over our vacation. I directed her on how to pick up Poshul, her favorite character from Chrono Cross, showed her how to beat quick enemies in Castlevania - Symphony of the Night, and advised her on upgrades to buy in Rock 'n Roll Racing while we played together (and I let her win half the time). The last game, Elemental Gearbolt, was one that we had played for years together, and had never beaten. It was during that vacation that we finally downed the final boss together, me on the controller and her on the gun, with stunned looks of disbelief on our faces.

My other sister and I went out to get lunch at Subway, but otherwise we didn't hang out that much. She grew up faster than all of us, and she had a huge network of friends and club activities to take care of during that vacation. She's awesome.

My brother and I hung out in my room, watching Fenslerfilm's G.I. Joe PSAs, sharing internet meme Youtube movies with one another, and swapping stories of near death experiences from the time we both rode motorcycles. He had to head out to join the military pretty quickly after Christmas, so we didn't hang out that much either. He's awesome, too.

Christmas day was as excellent as ever. We tore open our gifts and thanked one another for our swag, told stories, ate candy and laughed a lot. I made out like a bandit, with several DVD sets and a couple of wanted video games to take back to my apartment.

When it was time to go, I said goodbye to all my friends and family, and my parents took me back to the airport to say farewell. I played video games on the flight back, and arrived just a few hours before work started, when my girlfriend picked me up and took me back to my apartment. When we got there, we had sex almost immediately.

Matching up the dates to her eventual birthing of our son, I'm pretty sure that that's the moment I impregnated her. How ironic it was to cap off such an amazing vacation with the action that would ruin my life.

As for now, my current Christmas days are somewhat relaxing with my family, and certainly a great time for my son. My family and I open presents, get something to eat, then go back to our usual routines for the day. I think it's telling, though, that the first of my wife and I's major fights took place during Christmas vacation in 2009, two years after my last Christmas vacation as an unmarried man, and that I really don't remember much of the others besides the smiles on my son's face as he opened presents.

And yet, the last Christmas I had before I married still sits fresh and unspoiled in my mind.

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