Christmas Eve, 1986

Christmas Eve 1986 I was a freshman in college. I lived in a downtown apartment with my roommate Bill, his boyfriend Mark, and various other people who found themselves needing a place to stay.

We had a Christmas Tree decorated in ornaments rejected by Bill’s parents, ornaments made out of Legos, and garlands of cigarette packs. At some point in late November we had switched from Merit Ultra-Lights to Ritz by YSL recognizing how much more-Christmas like the green and gold box of the Ritz were than the soft blue packs of the Merits. The Merits were easier to string, but the Ritz added a touch of glamor. At the top of the tree, instead of an angel was a strangely colorized picture of me as a toddler. It was my first, and second to last Christmas tree and I loved it. We also had a nativity scene made from empty bottles of poppers.

We had planned a Christmas Eve dinner just for our family. I don’t remember most of the menu, but I know I made a cauliflower gratin with Gruyere cheese, the recipe came from Elle magazine. Our friend Danny (not to be confused with my husband) was living with us at the time and I went out around seven to pick him up from his video store job. It was a beautiful, snowy Christmas Eve and Danny and I decided to drive through Cherokee Park.

Somewhere in the park we were flagged down by a distressed girl about our age. She was carrying a brown paper bag. When we stopped the car she told us that her father had just had a heart attack and she needed help getting to him. I asked if she wanted a ride to the hospital and she said, “No, can you take me to my friends’ apartment, he’ll take me.” So we drove through the park. It was 1986, Danny and I had both just turned 18 and everyone we knew was at some level estranged from their parents. It made perfect sense to us that this girl needed our help, and it was Christmas Eve, how could we say no?

At this point I’d only been driving for about a year, it was snowing, Cherokee Park is confusing, and I’ve always had a lousy sense of direction. I felt like her directions were taking us in circles, but I wasn’t sure. Finally we arrived in front of an apartment building. Without getting out of the car she announced that her friend’s car wasn’t there. Could we take her to another friend’s instead. So, we made our way to an apartment on Bardstown Road, again following a bizarre set of directions known only to her.

Again, the friend was obviously not home, and so could we take her to her parents’ house. We drove through a typical subdivision, me asking for an address, her insisting she would just tell me when to stop. As you might suspect, we stopped in front of a house with no lights, and no cars in the driveway.

At this point, even Danny, a boy who has never said no to an adventure or a chance for drama, was losing patience. He told me later that he had turned around and peaked in the backseat and that her brown paper bag was filled with newspapers, and that there was an odor wafting off of her every time he turned around.

I announced that she could either get out of the car here, or we would take her to the hospital. She wanted to go to the hospital, and so we drove to Baptist East. When we got there she announced that she did not see her parents’ car and that they must be at a different hospital. I told her she needed to go in and check and see if he was there, and when she eventually left my car, we drove away.

We went home to our Christmas Dinner and Midnight Mass and the story became one more of those odd “remember whens” that you have with old friends.

I never saw the girl again, or figured out an answer for her odd behavior. But, a few years later I was at a party and told someone the story. He told me that not only had the exact same thing happened to him, but he had been at a fiction-reading, and someone read a story with the same situation, a situation he admitted was based in reality.

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