It is Christmas eve. Three ghosts have RSVP’d to my card game. They come every year. In years past, they came with all the theatrics of time travel, teleportation, and chroniton phasing. At first, it scared the hell out of me. But over the years, I have adjusted to it to the point where I tried to feign fear and intimidation so as not to offend the egos of my ephemeral antagonists. I think my mock gestures just angered them. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just wanted to respect their talents. But, I came clean and said it just wasn’t working for me anymore. At first, they just redoubled their efforts and I continued to play along. Finally, the realization sank in. It takes a lot of energy to muck around with primal forces of the universe. So now they just come over and play cards. I am glad that they still come. It means that I still have lots to learn about how to live and they still think it is worth the effort to come over and inform me.
As usual, Christmas Past shows up first. CP wears the black robes, has the bony fingers, and a skeletal face. He is not much of a fashion leader. Most people mistake him for Christmas Future. But the future is not dead, the past is: you can’t undo it, you can’t unexperience it, or unlive it. I see life and death in the face of CP depending on the lighting. In a good light, the past breaths life into the future; in a bad light, the past suffocates us, drowns us, chokes us, keeps us from all the opportunities of the future. I sit him directly under the ceiling light and to my immediate left.
Christmas Now shows up next. CN is the spitting image of St. Nick himself. He wears a red Santa hat with its cottony ball hanging over the side by his ear. His beard is patched gray and his face just a bit more weathered than last year. He fills out his red suit nicely this year not with the fat of joylessness but with the stuffing of experiences. When he laughs, it is less like a bowl full of jelly and more like the shudder of a person strangely confronted with a very old memory that he would rather not confront.
Finally, Christmas Future shows up. CF is always late. As she walks through the door, her outfit changes faster than a genius Thaumoctopus mimicus eluding an underwater predator, as fast as the thoughts in my head, as fast as the actions I take. Sometimes she looks seductively beautiful; other times she looks like she just rolled out of bed.
My guests take their place at the square table. I pour spirits for the spirits. CP likes the hard stuff; CN like the beer; and the lady likes the wine. CF and CP face off against CN and myself. CF, sitting to my right, cuts the cards. I size up my card-playing friends. CP has the strange habit, whenever he wins a round, he keeps the cards face up. You can always see what was played. I have to keep a very watchful eye on CF. CF cheats. She knows the future, or at least a possible future. Better to keep her guessing. My partner is CN. We actually have to use observation, strategy, and tactics to win. If we don’t learn from the past, and keep an eye on the future, we will lose. Game on!
CP plays the first card. He plays the kid card. Christmas has many meanings, but to me, it has always been about either being a kid or providing a Christmas for my kids. Christmas might be one of the greatest conspiracies ever propagated on this planet. Adults the world over lie to their children. Eventually kids figure it out. If they are really clever, they figure it out and don’t tell their parents that they have figured it out so they can keep receiving copious presents. Kids grow up and most decide to propagate the conspiracy. I think back to my youth. I don’t remember any specific Christmas. I just remember that my mom always made sure the stockings were stuffed and the floor covered with presents for all. We had to take turns opening. On a good Christmas, it would take at least an hour to open all the presents. Jocelyn and I always have a live tree with plenty of presents. When Brooke was two, and I didn’t think she would remember what Christmas was because the last Christmas she was just one and two months old, I brought out the ornaments and I showed her a Santa ornament, she said “Ho Ho Ho”. I remember when Brooke was starting to question the conspiracy and getting savvy. I took a shoe into the fire place ashes and made a trail from the fireplace to the tree. In the morning, she followed the trail and I think Christmas survived for one more year. Damn. CP didn’t play the kid card. CP played the nostalgia card. I lose the first two rounds, one to my own childhood and one to the childhood of my children.
CF leads. She shows me a future of my friends sitting around with their families enjoying Christmas. I am not in any of these images. I am sitting at home watching Christmas specials by myself with no tree and no presents like it is just another day. It is a cold, lonely Christmas future. Her bright, white dress changes to dull grey sweats. She flashes to my friends. All my grinchy friends sit at the head of their tables, their hearts having grown three sizes that day, serving up Who Hash and Roast Beast, to a festive party of their children with all their grandchildren, caroling their Christmas songs hand in hand. Damn. CF played the self-pity card. I didn’t recognize it soon enough. I lose another round.
CN and I get the lead. CN plays. CN plays the Christmas card. I sit in a chair, by myself, saying Bah Humbug! Christmas! It looks a lot like the CF lead. I probably could of invited myself to someone’s house tonight. I’m pretty good at inviting myself over to my friend’s houses, taking the crumbs from my friend’s mouses. But I don’t. I would feel like an intruder on this day when they should be with their families. CN misplayed his hand. I will have my time, it just is delayed a little bit. Christmas is a time and a spirit. But the time is flexible and my family comes from all over. Soon Max, Brooke, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nieces will all be here. Another lost round. These damn ghosts are getting the best of me, even the one that is supposed to be on my side. I fill up all their drinks to triple strength.
My play. I size up my opponents. The past and the present have a trajectory to the future. And the future has both the face of the trajectory that I am on and the trajectory that I want to be on. My hand has aces and trump but it requires that it must be played creatively. I want to chose a path where I don’t confuse alone with loneliness. I want to chose a path where I embrace creativity over security. I want to chose a path where I bring happiness and joy to the people I care about and maybe even people that I don’t know. I want to think outside myself. I want my ghostly spirits to befriend me, not haunt me. I want to live big not simple. I see CP in the best light. I see CF in a bright, beautiful dress. I see CN as a vibrant, creative, alive spirit that embraces the ambiguity of the future.
I pour myself a drink. And play the next card.