Sasha had invited David to spend Christmas with her. He accepted, knowing it would be a complicated experience, given their history and her wishes for their future.
Anything but watching the sappy, sentimental Pine Street group celebrate in their sappy, sentimental way, finding new and subtle ways to emphasize his exclusion.
At least his father had seemed genuinely disappointed that they wouldn’t have Christmas together. “Maybe new year’s day, then?” Douglas had said, wistfully. “A meal together on the first day of a brand-new year, with my son. That would be wonderful. But no pressure. You have your life, David, I understand.”
Do you, David had longed to say. Do you understand anything about me?
So he spent a cold and windy day in Seattle, trying, to his credit, not to inject too sour a note into the gathering Sasha planned with a few of her straggly sort of friends. He strove to project good cheer, out of consideration for her good, if misguided, intentions in making a place for those who had no family they wanted to spend Christmas with, or who wanted to spend Christmas with them.
After the last guest left, though, he could not help himself. He blurted something about the kind of people who spend Christmas with their second (or third) choice of company, and Sasha, on her last nerve after cleaning, cooking, prepping, and hosting, burst into tears.
“I’m a jerk,” David said, “I’m sorry, Sash. I really am.” And he meant it. “Let me make you a cup of tea.”
“Why do you have to be so mean, sometimes?” Sasha asked, her voice plaintive, her legs curled under her on the couch as she took the cup of sweet-smelling peppermint tea.
“I wish I knew, Sash. Maybe it’s Christmas. I’ve never loved it. When it was just me and my mom, you know, she’d do her best. I’d wish my hardest that my dad would come around, the years I wasn’t with him. The years I was with him, I’d wish my mom could be there, too. It always seemed like the day of the year when everything conspired to remind me that I wasn’t part of a real family.” A memory flooded back, surprising David with its emotional valence.
Sasha, perhaps seeing the shadow crossing his face, leaned forward, touched his knee. “What is it, David?”
“I just remembered this one Christmas, when my dad’s schedule changed, and he was able to drive me home, instead of putting me on the bus. We spent about eight hours in a car together, stopping at roadside diners for our meals, and just, you know, talking. I think I must have been about eight years old, maybe nine. Old enough to wish that drive would never end.
“And then, when we got back to mom’s house, she came out to meet us, and for about five minutes we three were together. Like a Christmas card, standing by my dad’s big old car, as it snowed around us, and that’s what I thought: If someone took a picture of us now, snow falling, suitcases on the driveway, it would look like we were going on a vacation together, we’d look like a family, this would be our Christmas card for next year.”
The best picture of my family ever, he thought, and it wasn’t even real.