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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Christmas Sweater

The little holiday windmill on the hutch twirled around and around, as the room grew colder by the minute. I was lost in its continuum as so many people do when they have a short, little attention span. Virginia’s golden retriever whimpered at my feet and suddenly I snapped out of the trance. I had been staying with Virginia for awhile now; so much so that the dog was starting to feel like my own best friend.
“What, George,” I asked. “I fed you, and you just went outside. What more could you want?”
George looked up at me with long, sad eyes. He had to have been thinking about what I was thinking about. He missed her. He missed her laugh, the things she used to say, and the little routines that came with having her around the house.
“She’s gone, boy,” I said. “She’s long gone.”
Three weeks prior, my girlfriend, Colleen Frank, broke up with me over a cup of coffee. We were sitting in a local coffeehouse the day after Thanksgiving, preparing to start our Christmas shopping for the season. Her latte was piping hot, and she sat with her hands in her lap as she waited for it to cool down. She seemed troubled that morning, as if she found out that someone close to her had died. Not being the best communicator, I didn’t ask her what was wrong. I assumed she’d talk to me if something was bothering her, like she always did. After two years of dating, I fell into an easy habit of just waiting for her talk to me instead of inquiring within.
Colleen didn’t say anything, though. She didn’t need to. I could read it all over her face, and I could feel her energy. She moved out our apartment the next day, without even so much as a letter or e-mail explaining her actions. The only thing she left was her name and year etched into the wood of the bedroom closet.
This Christmas was going to be a lonely one, but I wasn’t going to let it bring me down. I had people all around me that were like family to me. I looked forward to being with them and feeding off of their love. All in all, despite the recent circumstances, I wasn’t as upset as I certainly could be. Most often times, I actually felt pretty lifeless. I kept telling myself that I was simply numb.
Virginia and I were walking around a public market in the downtown district. Colleen and I used to go there almost every Saturday. There were goods of all kinds being sold and traded there; artwork, clothes, plants, and jewels. More than anything, it was fun to see all of the possibilities. We typically didn’t buy much, but we found it absolutely fascinating to see the new treasures on display. It was our own modern art gallery. Being there with Virginia, though, I hoped that I’d see Colleen. I wanted to see her. To say that I missed her was speaking too lightly. But most specifically, I was obsessed with whether or not she found someone else to go with, or if she only went all of those Saturdays because it was “our thing.”
An hour later, Virginia and I still hadn’t seen her. I was disappointed. A million and one thoughts raced through my head about why she wasn’t there. Did she move out of the city? Out of the state? Did she meet someone else? Was she alone? Did she hate going to the public market all along, but went because I was into it?
“She’s probably at the gym,” Virginia said. “Remember how much she liked to work out?”
“Not on Saturdays,” I responded. “She hardly ever worked out on Saturdays. She’s normally here.”
“She’s here with you, Paul,” she said. “She’s not with you anymore. Surely, you understand. It’s like you begin a new life when…when it’s over.”
Virginia was right. What was I doing there? I didn’t need anything. I didn’t care about the merchandise. I didn’t care about being social. I was holding onto my memories of Colleen. I needed to let go, and forget about her.
“Let’s go,” I said. “I need to get out of here. Let’s go catch a movie or something.”
As we turned to leave, however, I noticed something on one of the seller’s tables. Amongst several potted plants and vases, something stuck out like a black cat in a snow storm. It was the crystal Tiffany vase that I gave Colleen for Christmas the year before. I rubbed my eyes at first to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. “It can’t be the same one,” I said. “It just can’t be.” I quickly went over and examined it. Sure enough, on one side, there was an engraving:
To My Colleen – No Christmas is more beautiful than being with you. Love, Me – 2009.
I blinked a few times, just staring at the words. It wasn’t possible. I was sure that I was dreaming. There was an eerie stillness in the air all of a sudden, even though a slight winter breeze constantly blew through me. Tears started to form in my eyes, and I realized that I wasn’t as far along from moving on as I thought.
Virginia soon joined me, reading the inscription. “It sucks,” she said. “This really sucks. I’m so sorry, Paul. At least now you know…”
I sighed, “it’s over.”
Almost a year prior, on Christmas Eve, Colleen sat on the couch with the red package on her lap. I had just opened my gift from her: an ugly Christmas sweater that I hated beyond belief. I pretended to love it because it was from her. I even planned on wearing it to my folks’ place the next morning, purely because it was from her. She then untied the glistening gold bow, and tore through the red wrapping paper around my gift to her. Taking the vase out of its box, she beamed with excitement over what she held in her hands. Her eyes were alive with joy; she screamed about how beautiful it was and how much thought I put into it. I then told her about the inscription and she started to tear up after reading my words. The moment was all too perfect, and right out of a made-for-TV Christmas movie.
Virginia dropped me off at home, somewhere I hadn’t been to in weeks, and I went to the living room couch to sit and think about what had just happened at the market. I pulled out a piece of paper and composed a letter to Colleen. I wrote about how hurt I was by what I’d seen, about how heartless she is, and about her talents as an actress to falsely love a gift that obviously meant nothing to her. But I didn’t send it. I tore off the page from the notebook and ripped it to shreds. Sending the letter was not going to help with moving on from her. That was hopefully the beginning of the end of my thoughts on Colleen Frank.
I went to turn on the shower in the bathroom; a hot shower was what I needed to clear my head and to make myself feel better. Steam filled up the mirror and I stripped off my clothes. The hot water felt so good against my hard body. I was lathering up my hair with shampoo when a soft, muffled voice said something suddenly outside the bathroom door, and I instantly panicked. Someone was inside my apartment. I leaped out of the shower and threw a towel around my waist instantly; water droplets fell everywhere. Shampoo soap was creeping down into my eyes, and it stung like a bee sting. I was so frightened that I didn’t even notice the pain. I quivered endlessly. With slow steps, I grabbed a baseball bat from the nearby closet and crept into the living room. Ultimately, I found the front door wide open, but not a soul was in the apartment. I was alone again; at least for now. My shaking didn’t stop for nearly an hour, as I sat on the couch trying to collect myself.
I eventually got up the nerve to return to the bedroom and find something to wear. And then, standing there in the closet, I became confused. Several of my things were loaded into a box marked “charity.” It was still open, and there were some trophies and old clothes sitting in it. Most specifically, there was a sweater; an ugly Christmas sweater. It was the sweater that Colleen gave me. It sat at the top of the donation box, staring at me. I picked it up and held it against my cheek. It was so soft, and it wasn’t so ugly anymore.
A tall brunette woman and a shorter, blonde woman suddenly entered the apartment. They went into the bathroom, where they talked about the shower, briefly, and then came into the bedroom closet, where I was still crouching by the donation box, and completely ignored me. I was so surprised that I didn’t even have a chance to be scared.
“There,” the brunette said, pointing to the box. “That’s the last of it.”
“Sorry about that, Charlotte,” her lady friend said, picking up the box with both hands. “I guess it’s a little creepy having some dead guy’s things in your nice, new apartment, isn’t it? Consider it gone.” There was a small pause. “You sure this is the last of it?”
Charlotte nodded. “Oh, well there are some torn up pieces of paper in the living room. But I’ll clean them up; it’s okay.”
“What’s going on here,” I asked, confused. “Those are my things.”
“Poor Paul,” The woman said. “Such a tragedy what happened to him. But hopefully he’s in a better place now.” She took a few steps out of the bedroom and then looked back at Charlotte. “Welcome to the building, anyway.” And then she was gone.
Charlotte looked around, as if scared to be alone. She was looking right at me, and yet not seeing me. Right then it hit me what was going on, and I understood why the crystal vase was for sale at the flea market that day.
“Paul,” Virginia suddenly said from behind me. “Are you okay?”
I closed my eyes tight. “So now I know where I am. What about HER? Where’s Colleen?”
Virginia shrugged. “She’s just… gone, Paul. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t. The truth is…” Cutting her off, I said, “it’s over.” I opened my eyes and smiled.
Virginia smiled back, “Let’s go see that movie.”

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