“You know, I hate Christmas cards.”
“What! Are you a Communist?”
“Ha, ha, ha. I think that stopped being a witty response, oh, about the time the Berlin Wall fell.”
“OK, so what’s wrong with Christmas cards?”
“Well, either they have Santa Clause on them, which reminds me of my miserable childhood; or they have some stupid winter scene on them, which just reminds me of how miserable I am here in the ‘frozen north’; or they have an even stupider manger scene on them, which reminds me of all that religious garbage.”
“Well, excuuuuse me, Ebenezer!”
Silence returned as Theresa thought about what Jack had said.
It was their job to take all the Christmas cards that had been sent to the company by venders, would-be vendors, and used-to-be vendors, and stand them up around the filing cabinets in preparation for the company Christmas party.
Jack had already vented about THAT. “I know we’re a small company, but how cheap can you get? Can’t we even go to a restaurant? How are we supposed to enjoy ourselves HERE? And what fine decorations! A couple of strands of lights hung up by that moron Stanley, some tinsel garlands that were worn out ten years ago, and a bunch of stupid Christmas cards!”
Theresa was SO tired of hearing Jack say “stupid.” But she was also unexpectedly broken-hearted over what she knew must be some real pain in his life.
She desperately wanted to keep the conversation going. She thought that she might somehow say something to comfort him. Or draw him out. Or ... she didn’t quite know what.
She started to say “Chicago is hardly the frozen north; try Alaska, Frosty.” But she didn’t want to risk him mistaking her playfulness for nastiness. She wanted to ask what had made his childhood so miserable. But she knew that they didn’t have the depth of relationship for that. So finally she said, “Well, it is Christ’s mass, you know.”
“What are you talking about?”
Theresa was so absorbed in her thoughts that she had not realized that a good ten minutes had gone by. “Oh! Well, you said that some of the cards had mangers scenes that reminded you of religious stuff. And I was just saying that made sense since the word ‘Christmas’ comes from ‘Christ’s mass.’”
“Oh good grief!”
“Don’t even go there!”
“Oh, I don’t know .... To church? To little baby Jesus?”
Out loud, Theresa asked, “What’s wrong with that?” Inside, she berated herself: “I’m blowing this!”
“I told you before; all this religious stuff is a bunch of garbage.”
Theresa quickly turned away, before Jack could see the tears on her cheeks. She had no idea why she was crying. Was she angry at his harshness? Hurt? Hurting for him? Maybe all of the above. The silence returned again.
Theresa tried and tried to think of something—anything—further to say. Without realizing it, she eventually stopped. Her mind wandered back to the question of why she had cried when Jack repeated his claim that religion was garbage. After all, she wasn’t a particularly religious person. But for some reason, his atheism had shocked her.
Eventually Theresa’s mind dead-ended on this train of thought, too.
She started reading the verses on the cards again, like she had been before Jack said that he hated them: “Happy Holidays from our company to yours.” “During this Season when the Christ Child ....” She stopped reading there. Somehow she had unconsciously picked up Jack’s “lens.” He would have stopped reading there—not that he would ever have started. The next one was blank on the front. Even though it had a manger seen on the front—which Jack hated—she was intrigued and opened the card: “I AM real.”
An inexplicable jolt of electric adrenaline shot up Theresa’s spine.
The card carried no signature.
For no reason she could ever explain afterwards, she shouted, “Jack! Come here!”
Jack heard the edge in her voice and, turning, saw the wild look in her eye.
He crossed the room to where Theresa stood.
“Look at this.”
Jack read the words: “I AM real.”
Theresa watched as Jack desperately, unsuccessfully, tried to keep his composure. She saw tears streaming down his cheeks.
She had no idea what had caused this reaction—or what had caused her own jolt of electricity. But she knew that, together, they stood on the edge of a great adventure.
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