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When Grandpa Sleeps on Christmas Eve
My grandparents were over to visit. I loved them dearly, because they were simply what you thought of when you thought of the sweet old people. They told wonderful stories, some about religion, some about what they did when they were my age, some funny, some sad, but all entertaining. I saw my grandparents as my superheroes. I thought they would always be around for me.
It was Christmas Eve, and my grandparents had come over to visit. More family was coming in the morning, but since the rest of my family that could come over consisted of my parents’ brothers and sisters, and in turn their children, my cousins. They would come over after my uncles and aunts were woken up by their screaming children declaring that Santa Claus came due to the boxes of presents under the tree with “Santa” written on them in handwriting that looked like their parents’ own.
I got up early as always on Christmas morning and rushed downstairs, hoping to get a glimpse of Santa like so many other kids did in movies. I ran down the stairs, and I could hear my parents stirring. Apparently my heavy-footedness was enough to stir my parents from their slumber, though I knew they would take their time getting ready. I ran down my steps, turned into the kitchen and ran through it to the living room where I was expecting to find a mountain of presents next to the fireplace (my folks never got a tree cause my dad was allergic to them).
I did find that. Another thing I found was my grandpa slumped over said mountain of presents. Me being my naïve nine year old self, I thought he was simply waiting for Santa and fell asleep, and Santa put the presents underneath him to try and keep him comfortable. I ran over to him and tugged at his shoulder, hoping to wake him.
When he didn’t stir, I thought he must’ve drunk too much eggnog or whatever grown-ups drink when they put the kids to sleep. I sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, getting a glimpse of some Christmas specials. The movie was about dogs that Santa took to help save Christmas after his reindeer got sick. It kept me entertained for about half an hour before the end credits rolled. I looked over to see Grandpa was still asleep.
I went over to Grandpa again and tugged at him again. He still didn’t wake up. I looked down and saw that there was a tag on the ground without a present. I read it and it said “To My Little Buddy. Love, Grandpa.” Knowing it was for me, I looked around for the mysterious missing gift.
After about a ten minute manhunt, I discovered a wrapped up basketball that had found its way into the kitchen. Seeing as it was the only toy away from the pile in the bottom half of the house at that moment, I assumed it was Grandpa’s gift for me.
I went back into the room and saw Grandpa still out cold on the pile of presents. I walked over to him and this time tried to flip him over so I could snap in his face, which was supposed to wake him. You know, like how they do in the movies.
So I tried to turn him over and it was much harder than I thought it would be. After about two or three minutes of struggling, I finally got him on his back. I snapped in his face, and nothing happened. I did it again, and still nothing.
At this point I was getting worried. I decided to break the rules of my home and turn on the lights in the bottom part of the house. I knew my parents would understand when Grandpa told them he just fell asleep on the presents. I walked over and turned on the lights. The darkness that envelops a house on Christmas morning was suddenly gone. I could see fresh flakes of snow on the outside of the house.
I walked back to Grandpa and tried to tell him the good news. As soon as I got to him I saw that this person wasn’t my grandpa. It was somebody who looked a lot like him, but his forehead was all smashed in, and he was bleeding.
My parents came running down the stairs and I ran into my dad’s arms. He grabbed me and held me tight. I could hear my mom sobbing next to us. My grandma was next into the room. She was in a wheelchair most of the time. When she wheeled her way into the living room, she crashed into our wall and knocked over a lamp to get back out of the room.
Two hours later, there were strange men taking my Grandpa away on a stretcher. I tried to stop them, but my parents told me it was their job to do this. I was confused, and I ran up to my room and asked God to bring Grandpa back, even for just a day, just to celebrate Christmas with me.
I went back downstairs and saw another strange man in a coat talking with my dad. My mom was crying and Grandma was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know what was going on. Then, out of nowhere, my Uncle Teddy appeared. He was my mom’s brother, and he didn’t have a kid. Well, I mean he did, but apparently he went on a trip to a place called “Iraq” and liked it so much he decided to stay. Uncle Teddy didn’t like to talk about it.
Uncle Teddy walked over and hugged me. I buried my face into his shirt. I didn’t know what was going on, really. I hoped Grandpa was okay. But something deep down inside of me told me he wasn’t.
Uncle Teddy almost never came over, even on Christmas he usually wanted to be alone. He was always nice, but he cried a lot. You couldn’t play games like “Clue” when he was over, or play cops and robbers. He didn’t like things that had to do with fighting or dying. A lot of times, he’d cry when he heard somebody was hurt or when he saw fighting, even just play fighting.
But he wasn’t crying now. His eyes were a weird red color, but he wasn’t crying. I never understood him; He cried during the times when he shouldn’t, then he sucks it up when he should cry.
Uncle Teddy kneeled down to me and tried to tell me it was alright. I wanted to tell him thanks for holding me tight, for making me feel safe, but all that came out of my mouth was the garbled noise one makes when they’re trying desperately not to cry.
Uncle Teddy picked me up and walked me over to the family room. He always wore a cap that said “Army” and never took it off. Even when we would be saying our blessings around the table at Christmas or Easter he wouldn’t take it off. I thought it was because he was bald and he was embarrassed.
He sat me down on the couch and walked over to the piano on the other part of the family room. He always walked funny, a bit of a limp. He sat down at the piano and turned on the intercom that would play the music across the whole house. He played Amazing Grace, and the nearby sound of my mother sobbing stopped. Uncle Teddy was always good at playing the piano. Whenever he was over and I’d hurt myself playing, he’d get to the piano as fast as possible and played a song he knew I liked.
I’d never heard him play Amazing Grace before, and it was very beautiful. My sadness was almost forgotten in the fluent, clear notes. I struggled to remember the lyrics. I never particularly liked Amazing Grace, mostly because I thought it was very sad. But for some reason, it felt uplifting in this situation.
After several minutes of the harmonious note flowing through the house, Uncle Teddy stopped in the middle of the glorious melody. He stood up and shuffled out from between the bench and the piano. I suddenly felt less hurt. While the pain certainly didn’t disappear, it was quelled. It was like a Band-Aid, it hurt less when you didn’t see it.
Uncle Teddy walked over to me and sat down. He took a deep breath, and took off his hat. My suspicions were correct that he was bald, but it was so much more than that. He had scars all over the top of his head. It looked like I could see his skull right then and there.
I didn’t panic, because he wasn’t panicking. He stared at the floor. “Twenty years, son.” He said. He always called me son, though I never quite got it. “Twenty years ago I got these scars.” He pulled up his pant leg, the leg where he was always limping. I saw that it was metal.
“Twenty years I lived like this. I walked around like some robot and covered my head like I had the devil’s horns growing out of it.” He sighed. “Once upon a time, there was a war that we shouldn’t have been in. There were bad guys I couldn’t fight, and friends that always went away. One day, I was a young handsome man with a child on the way. I was in a helicopter doing some drilling when it broke in the air. It crashed to the ground with me in it. My leg was crushed and my hair was on fire. Doctors said it was a miracle that I lived. And so I came home, I lived under a hat and hid my wounds.
“I had a son who loved me, and he went off to Iraq. But he wasn’t as lucky as me. He stepped on a landmine, and he died right then and there.” He looked on the ground.
“And that, son, is why I never talked about Arron.” Arron was his name. I felt horrible, but I couldn’t cry. Even if I wanted, I don’t think it would’ve been possible to cry.
“I’ve been hiding behind these things for two decades now. My head, my leg, my heart. I avoided the family because of these things that weren’t my fault. I always felt like they were somehow, my fault. I always thought what happened to Arron was my fault.”
He stared at the floor. He was wiping his face with his hat. He put it back on his head.
“Because I hid behind all these things, there were lots of things I wanted to say to Grandpa before he died that I never could. I was too afraid. Of what, I don’t know. After Arron died, I guess I felt that everyone close to me was in danger.” He was quiet for a few minutes.
“You’d better go take care of Grandma.” As he said that, I turned around and I heard him move over to the piano. As I left the family room, I could hear the sweet sound of Amazing Grace start to play again. I hoped Uncle Teddy would be back next year.