Christmas In Georgia
It was two days before Christmas when I got myself sick. My son Monty and I had not long made it to my parent’s house. Mama hobbled down the hall on a bad hip to meet us at the door. Hugging each other tight, we took turns kissing cheeks at least seven times. Monty came in behind me. He could expect hugs, kisses, and a quick jab in the arm for the heck of it. Turning to walk away, I followed the scent of an old man cologne through the living room. The revolving Christmas tree demanded my attention. Its lovely flashing lights and shiny tinsel brought tears to my eyes. It was good to be home.
Making my way up the hall, I screeched Daddy’s name in an annoying voice. Gruff chuckles bounced off the walls. His eyes brightened as I came into the room. “Knucklehead,” he muttered through his smile. Kissing the top of his head, I couldn’t help but notice his legs. His pajama pants pulled themselves tight to accommodate the swelling from his knees to his ankles. Once an active man, now he could hardly walk. Still, he didn’t complain. Instead, he kept smiling and said the things needed saying. We sat and talked for a while.
After our hellos, Monty and I sat down to devour the homemade soup and cornbread Mama made. It was during the Teen Titans Go Christmas special that my head started to pound. The sound of a thousand drums echoed from ear to ear. I crawled into bed and didn’t get back up. Mama and I had planned to go Christmas shopping together. I couldn’t go. Growing irritated, I pulled the covers over my head.
Cold and hot flashes plagued me. My stomach cramped like labor pains. Sour saliva filled up in my mouth, threatening vomit that never came. Tossing and turning didn’t work. Ending up in the fetal position, I sobbed and felt sorry for myself. I sent my pleas up to God. “Take this bitter cup from me.” It’s funny. We think of prayer as a magic trick. Then, when it doesn’t work, we put our faith in man.
That being said, I didn’t go to the doctor. I couldn’t afford it. Not only did I not have health insurance, but my savings account was empty. I could only look at my life and assume that I was the problem. Not going straight into college after high school was my first mistake. After that, it must have been one bad decision after another. I should have tried harder.
Oh well, at least I didn’t get sick on the ride. It was a three-hour drive from Biloxi to Canton. Then thirty more minutes to drive from the city to the rural area where my parents had lived all my life. The trip was quiet but pleasant. Neither Monty nor I are big talkers. We tend to keep to ourselves. People often mistake us for being sad, but that’s not true. We live happy lives in the depths of our minds. Still, I worry that he’ll be anti-social, shy, fail to act on his true calling. He wasn’t like other little boys. He was too much like me. Somehow, I’d made him a recluse.
The next morning was Christmas Eve. Sleep came and went at awkward times throughout the day. Whenever I awoke, I lay motionless, mentally, and physically too weak to raise my head or my hand. “It’s the flu,” I self – diagnosed. Monty reached for my hand and found it.
“You’re hot,” he said in a nonchalant tone that couldn’t hide his discomfort from me. He looked to Mama, who was standing next to the bed with a worried smirk on her soft face. “You’re her Mama,” Monty said. “You’re supposed to take care of her!”
“Monty,” I screamed, jumping out of bed, sending my head into a whirl. I laid back down. “Don’t talk to your Grandma like that!” I was wrong to yell. I should have explained to him that it wasn’t Mama’s fault. It was mine.
I put everybody out after that. No one needed to see me fragile and sick. I could smell the onions, bell pepper, and celery simmering on the stove in Cream of Chicken and broth. Next, Mama would pour it over the crumbled cornbread, stir it and bake it in the oven for dressing. The ham was no doubt being glazed with Mississippi honey. I’d made a special trip to McDade’s to get it. For the past twelve years, we’ve cooked Christmas dinner together. Yet, here I was in bed. I felt guilty, leaving Mama to do the work.
Then Daddy came in. I dare not send him out without fearing a spanking, even at my age. He scooted his long, heavy feet across the floor and sat at the edge of my bed. “How are you doing?”
“I’m not okay, Daddy,” I admitted to only him. He raised one long, crooked finger in the air.
“Ain’t no need of you being mad, Georgia. Only two things can happen to somebody who’s sick. They can get better, or they can die. That’s all you can do, and you can’t control it either way.” Like damn, Dad. I thought this to myself. It didn’t make me feel any better. So, we just sat there. The next thing I knew, I was waking up, and he was gone. He must have scooted back off to his room.
His words repeated themselves over and over again in my head. I only had two options, to get well or die, and I couldn’t control it either way. I got mad. Then I got calm. So, none of this was my fault? My son’s quiet nature, my illness, my lack of being able to help Mama; all of it was beyond my control. I drifted off to sleep again.
The next day was Christmas Day, and Monty was the first to wake. He climbed into bed beside me. Usually, I make him get in his bed. He’s ten years old. However, I let him turn his back and lay still beside me. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he said back. “It’s some presents down there.”
“It is,” I asked, surprised. The five presents under the tree were all the things he’d wanted. I forgot that Mama had gone Christmas shopping without me. Then she’d stayed up late to wrap them. The sun cut through the curtains and brought the house to life. I felt good enough to make Mama and I coffee. For Daddy and Monty, I made hot chocolate. People came to visit. Aunts, uncles, cousins all finding the time to stop by. We ate the meal Mama had sworn wouldn’t taste too good. She says that every year, and I don’t know why. It’s always good. We went to bed full and blessed, and Monty and I said our prayers. He wanted to sleep with me, and I let him.
I died sometime during the night.
Only two things can happen to someone who’s sick. They get well, or they die. I died. Mama got me a beautiful tombstone, though. It read, “Merry Christmas, Georgia Payne.”