What’s “home” anyway?
I was sitting at the bar in the Plaza Hotel when I accidentally dropped a maraschino cherry on my white dress shirt. In the bathroom, washing my shirt, my phone silently buzzed. Another missed call from my parents. This was becoming an increasingly common theme in my life, but especially so today. The thing is, I was about 4 cocktails deep, it was barely noon, and I hadn’t eaten much more than chestnuts all day. Well, that and the maraschino cherries. Not to mention, it was the first holiday I had spent away from home and I didn’t want them thinking I was desperately drinking my day away to deal with the loneliness of it all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
At some point, New York became my home more than Indiana ever was. I guess I started drifting away from my roots. Oddly, I felt right at home in this ritzy hotel that I sure as hell didn’t belong in — the friends and co-workers that I was celebrating with had replaced distant family members, and my girlfriend had become the best friend I could ever hope for. However optimistic I felt in the moment, though, to look at my phone and see the missed calls from my family put a funny taste in my mouth. I needed another drink. Maybe a cigarette, too.
I found my way back to the bar, where a fresh drink was waiting for me. The piano player started playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and I felt a little better about things. I asked the bartender what he had lined up for me. “A Manhattan,” he said. “This one’s on the house. Merry Christmas.”
I finally got everything wrapped at 1:30am. She probably wouldn’t notice how much sweat I poured into getting everything just right, but I didn’t mind. I found the perfect tree, strung the lights with the perfect amount of drape, perfectly flirted the line with too much tinsel (but didn’t go overboard), and made sure the stockings hung at a perfect angle. If our tiny New York apartment had a fireplace, you could have bet your ass that it’d be roasting chestnuts. It was our first holiday we were spending as a couple, and it had to be special.
We told each other we would sleep in a bit, but not too much. “Nobody wants to celebrate Christmas morning at noon,” she said. But, inexplicably, I still found myself awake at the crack of dawn. I crept out of bed to make some coffee and double check that everything was still there — that we hadn’t been burglarized in the 4 hours I barely slept.
At around 9:30, I snuck into our room to wake her. I handed her a fresh cup of coffee and a candy cane. She gave me a kiss and wished me Merry Christmas.
As we made our way into the living room, I could tell she was still pretty groggy. She took a piece of chocolate from the table and a bite or two of the quiche I had made while she was still sleeping. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” started playing on the radio, which has always been a favorite of mine.
She sat on the floor next to the tree looking distracted. I handed her her first present, and as she started to unwrap it, she paused and put it back under the tree.<
"I just wish we would have gone home for the holidays,” she said. “That’s all.”
I thought we were home for the holidays.
My wife was still in the bathroom when my phone buzzed: it was our daughter. The text read, “Merry Xmas!! I’ll call before I go to bed.” I was glad she texted, but I missed her like hell. As I sat at the bar, the piano player started playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. It’s always made me a little sappy. I turned to give him a nod for playing it so well, and he seemed vaguely familiar, though old as dirt. No way he could have been the same guy.
My wife came back and asked if I could see the wine stain on her blouse. I could, even though I told her I couldn’t. I told her Maggie had texted. My wife and I had just relocated back to New York, and every time Maggie texts us, I can see the decision weighing on her. Especially during the holidays. There’s relief in her eyes knowing that she’s safe and happy, but something else hidden in them, too. Maybe she just misses her. Maybe it’s guilt.
I read her the short text, put my phone away and asked the bartender for my tab. My wife seemed a little surprised, but I just needed some air. There was a fresh coat of snow outside The Plaza Hotel, and I’ve always liked walking through the city after a nice dusting. “Are we going home?” she asked.
Sure. Wherever that is.