I stood at the top of the stairs and watched my father emerge from the basement carrying a stack of presents.
This was Christmas Eve, God alone knows how many years ago, and I had gotten out of bed to investigate the sounds I heard coming from downstairs.
We lived on the second floor of our house back then, and the stairs leading to the cellar had a medieval dungeon look to them, disappearing quickly into a critical shade of blackness that seemed to defy the strongest beams of light.
Our cellar was something of an underground junkyard. We put just about everything down there—old clothes, furniture, books--even a couple of refrigerators. Why the hell we didn’t just go ahead and throw this crap out I can’t rightly say.
At the bottom stairs was this small storeroom and one of my brother’s had scrawled “Frankenstein Lives Here” across the room’s green wooden door in an attempt to frighten me. I maintained I wasn’t scared at all, but I avoided that room until I was a teenager.
I kept watching my dad climb the stairs until he looked up and saw me.
“Get back to bed!” he snapped and I quickly did what I was told.
This may have been Christmas, but my dad had a rough temper and could connect with his inner Frankenstein with alarming speed.
Strangely, this was not the night that I suddenly realized that there was no Santa, no elves, and no eight tiny reindeer.
No, my illusion wasn’t shattered on this particular holiday.
I kept a firm grip on my loyalty to Kris Kringle and reasoned that Santa must have left the presents in our cellar—we didn’t have a fireplace—so my father could bring them upstairs and put them under the tree when he was ready.
Santa was real, I decided, and Dad’s just helping him out.
I was so committed to the fantasy that I refused to believe what I was seeing with my own eyes: a hard-working, flawed man lugging a pile of brightly wrapped presents that he probably couldn’t afford.
Christmas happened as it always did and my faith in Santa Claus and all the surrounding mythology was as solid as the tree standing in our living room.
I believed in Santa for a few more years until the magic of Christmas gave way to the reality of shopping in crowded stores, wrapping presents and eating too much.
I live alone now in a third-floor walkup and the only person who climbs the stairs on Christmas Eve, or any other night, is me. I don’t put up a tree or any decorations, but I’m thinking now maybe I should try and make the apartment look more festive.
But I still remember the little boy standing so high over the gloom, so devoted the man who sees you when you’re sleeping, who knows when you’re awake.
We all have a bit of a Saint Nick and a bit of the monster inside us. We’re all balanced on the brink of darkness, waiting to see which one is climbing up the stairs.
(I'm posting a little early this week as I have to fly to Dallas tomorrow on business. Take care, one and all)