Hi! My name is Tiffany, and this is my Christmas story. It actually started mid-October, but, to my dismay, that’s when people in Dasher Lake started putting up their Christmas decorations. I’m not sure when that started since I hadn’t lived there for five years. I really wasn’t ready to start thinking about the holidays! It just increased the pressure I already had on myself to change my financial status change from flat broke to at least mediocre. It was also the time of year where family fun time became mandatory, and don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but after the excitement of reuniting wears down, relatives grade you on how you’re doing in your life. With both of my little sisters now married , they’re extra judgmental about why I didn’t have a husband and two point five kids running around a white-picket fenced yard. Most people in this town my age had that, and this time of year really rubbed it in lonely people’s faces! So, combining all of those things made me dread it! I think most people in similar situations would believe that this time of year would bring them their Christmas miracle, but I got too jaded to think that would come my way!
We were getting closer to my new home, and for whatever reason, I felt compelled to check my appearance. It seemed kind of silly to want to impress a building, an inanimate object, but this would be the first time I’ve been back in this town for a long time, and it felt like a debut of the new me. If the spirit of the town decided to watch, I wanted to make a positive first impression. That’s not actually a thing, really, my nerves created that! I pulled a mirror out of my purse and felt a little surprised at my reflection. I knew the flight made me jet-lagged, but I didn’t expect to look like I went through such an ordeal! I didn’t want to show my depression, especially with all of the people who made the same stupid joke, “I thought blondes had more fun!” Just thinking about it made me cringe! I usually got compliments on my eyes because of its unusual golden brown hue, but I doubted anyone would compliment me that day because of all of the red blotches. I’m normally pale, but my skin was especially pale that day, of course! I pulled my shirt down because it started to roll up, which told me I probably gained some weight from the stress. I still didn’t consider myself obese or anything; I still had an hourglass figure, just with more sand than some other people! I liked my curves, but not at that moment. I didn’t have the time or the money to buy new clothes, so I made due with what I had. I slapped on some lipstick and called it a day.
My father turned into a curved driveway behind a stone sign that read “Vine Knock’s.” It just occurred to me at that moment that the ground had a light dusting of snow, and I wondered if people decided that the first snow meant that they could start celebrating the holiday season. The sign for these condos seemed fancy, but I had a hunch that they spent more money on the signs the actual building! It just looked so square- well, more of a rectangle, but still! From far away, it looked like a giant brick, but on closer inspection, it was actually made of a somewhat dilapidated wood. Even the snow couldn’t hide that they probably hadn’t renovated the place since the early nineties! I noticed numbers on the door, and the bottom floor had one through five, which meant my condo, number ten, was upstairs. The staircase didn’t seem very steady, and I felt hesitant to even set foot on them! My parents went up before me and didn’t fall through, so I followed them upstairs.
I threw my duffle bag over my shoulder as Mom and Dad took my checked bags up. As they rolled my bags to the end of the row, my mom asked me a question. It took me a moment to realize that she was talking to me, and it made me wonder if they had been talking to me this whole time. I wondered if I had unintentionally ignored them or if my autopilot kicked in and answered for me. I think it was the latter because I caught myself saying, “Yup, Merry Halloween!” To this day, I have no idea what question I had answered with that, and I’m still too embarrassed to ask! Number nine had a Christmas wreath, and even though that poor object didn’t deserve it, I vented my frustration out on it, “Really? It’s not even Halloween yet! Are we forgetting about that holiday? Does all of Dasher Lake want to celebrate Christmas for two months? Doesn’t everyone get sick of it by the time the holidays come? How about we change our name to Santa’s Village and we can just celebrate all…?”
The door opened, and the smallest old lady I’ve ever seen stood there in a dignified astonishment. Her large framed glasses covered half her face, but she could still clearly glare at me. Hoping to brush it off and forget this awkward moment, I waved cheerily. “Hi! I’m Tiffany, your new neighbor!”
I didn’t bother to extend my hand for a handshake. She surveyed me as if she was trying to detect any impropriety in my character. Eventually, she croaked, “So, you’re Sabine’s niece, huh? She spoke very highly of you.”
“Thank you?” On the surface, it seemed like a compliment, but her tone suggested otherwise. It also kind of surprised me to hear that Aunt Sabine talked to anyone outside of her apartment! She still gave me a hard look, so I tried to clean up my reply, “I mean, thank you very much, Miss…”
“Allsburg.” She very dignantly held out her hand for a limp fish handshake. As a former business woman, I got so used to strong, firm handshakes that I didn’t know how to handle this one. I let her take the lead as she quickly bobbed my hand a little. Afterwards, she commented, “Yes, Sabine always said she saw so much of herself in you.” I took a little pride in that, but then Miss Allsburg continued, “I shudder to think that might be true!”
My face fell at that. She didn’t like Aunt Sabine? What could have caused such dislike from a woman who almost never left her house? She just kept staring at me with those piercing eyes, and I thought desperately on how to end this uncomfortable interaction. Luckily, my dad called my name! “Gotta go! Talk to you later!” I felt relieved to get away, but I really wish I hadn’t said that last bit because I really didn’t want to talk to her later!
I went over to the railing across from my front door, and I glanced over to where my dad had pointed. “The movers are here! Man, we had great timing!”
“Yeah, definitely…” I sort of trailed off. Seeing the moving truck roll in made everything feel so real! I had a hard time believing that I had left a job I was at for three and a half years and that I ran out of money and came here! A place I tried to escape since graduation! I felt so grateful for my family’s help at such a desperate time, but I could hardly fathom that it had come to this point. I took a deep breath and turned around to face my new reality. A huge part of me wanted to avoid it, like I should have just turned around and ran away as far as possible. Obviously, I couldn’t do that, but seeing my new place would make my fate seem so final! I steeled myself up, grabbed the key from my purse that my parents had given me after they picked me up from the Sacramento airport, and turned the key to get it over with.
I really hoped that this would be one of those places that looked shabby on the outside but really posh on the inside, and I don’t know why I got such a shock that it didn’t! The floor and the walls were made of the same coarse wood on the outside. The living room looked so boxy and empty except for this hideous rug that Aunt Sabine had obviously gotten before I was even born. I could see the kitchen from the front door, and I wondered if these decade old appliances still functioned. I saw an antique cabinet that rested between the living room and my bedroom, and with nothing better to do, I opened it. I saw a few half drunk liquor bottles, and it actually made me sad to see that this was the only thing that had gotten updated!
Before I could really process everything, the movers started to bring in my furniture. My mother gazed at it quizzically, and I explained, “I just got things people were giving away for free. I couldn’t take the nice stuff because my roommate is still living there.”
Mom offered, “Oh, well, if you needed furniture, we could have bought…”
“No!” I interrupted her. “You guys paid for the move, it’s the least I can do!”
My parents exchanged a look but said nothing more. I know it may sound silly to have chosen worn-out furniture over brand new stuff, but this was my way of showing myself that I had the ability to take care of myself. However, as they set it down, I sort of had second thoughts about that decision. Never in a million years would I have picked this bright yellow settee on my own! I told my parents, “This will just give me incentive to find work right away. I’ll replace them when I start earning a check.”
My mom said encouragingly, “That’s right, it’s all just temporary!” I tried to smile convincingly back. Keyword- tried. My mom’s advice for hard times had always been to remind me that it was just temporary, a habit she developed from comforting her patients. People were always afraid that horrible experiences were permanent, and I was no different. I really didn’t want to feel so pessimistic, but it felt hard been tough for so long that it was hard for me to imagine it any other way.
The overs finished so quickly that it was almost embarrassing! I really didn’t come with much stuff! My dad gave the movers a tip, and as the movers left, he turned to me and remarked, “Well, if you need anything, give us a call!”
“I will!” I gave him a hug.
As I hugged my mom, she promised, “I’ll always cook an extra plate of food for dinner. Come over any time!”
“Thank you!” I could tell they were really happy I was back, but they could tell I was a little depressed. I watched them leave, and I felt a little guilty for now showing a little more gratitude. Also, watching them leave gave me a twinge of loneliness. I wanted my own place, but I didn’t expect it to make me feel so alone!
I decided to unpack the luggage in my new bedroom first. Most of my clothes were in there, and I really wanted to find my comfy clothes and just relax. As I sat on my new but old full sized bed and began to dig through my bags, I heard a loud meow! It startled me since I thought I was alone! After a mini heart attack, I registered that a cat probably wasn’t a threat! I turned around to see a skinny white cat with black spots that reminded me of a Jersey cow. It stared at me with its big, green eyes in an expectant way, so I opened the window and, figuring it was a neighbor’s cat, I gently directed it, “Go home, Kitty!” The cat didn’t move. I saw its collar said “Finn,” so I told him, “Oh, Finn. Go home, Finn!” He stayed rooted to the spot. I groaned a little because I figured I would have to help him find his owner and I really wasn’t in the mood for an errand. I turned the tag around and saw my new address! “Oh, you were Aunt Sabine’s cat!” Then it dawned on me, I just inherited a cat! I felt sorry for him being alone in the cold for all this time, but it didn’t seem like a good idea for me to take on a cat when I could barely afford to feed myself! I thought about shutting the window and letting him survive on his own, but my ungloved hands were starting to get cold. I saw the sad look on his face, and it just melted my heart! “Oh! I love you already!” I picked him up, brought him inside, and shut the window. Finn immediately curled up next to me on the bed, and as I pet him, I relished in the idea that maybe this was the first good sign of the rest of my journey here!