By: Amrita Valan
Christmas came. But wearing a mask this year.
The mask came on too late for Patrick Lee.
He succumbed at fall, on All Hallows Eve actually.
Pigheadedly insisting masks don’t stop the virus till the virus stopped him at last.
But he was succeeded by a son and for Tommy Lee’s sake we took down the Christmas tree from the loft.
It was a synthetic one! The best fit in our tiny flat.
On the winter solstice we took it down and decorated it.
It looked like a bland and deceptive green beard.
Like it was waiting to don the mask of bells and candy canes to assume an air of forced cheer.
Cakes baked puddings churned out. Glazed heart shaped cookies, (Patrick’s favourite) and potatoes mashed stuffed with mincemeat.
An apple pie, a pot roast.
The wrappings carefully discarded, every item soaked in water cleaned. Kitchen countertop sanitized.
This Christmas I feared for my sanity.
The smell of alcohol on my palms made me reel and choke back mad laughter.
I caught the spirit of Christmas on my palms, the Holy Ghost hath me indeed in his arms.
Other such mad lines festooned my co morbid COVID enriched mind.
But Tommy Lee chortled and gurgled as he was only five. He thought daddy was out on “Bizniss”. Like we told him.
Sure he is, my baby. Death dealers run profitable firms.
He is inoculated now from all fatal viruses and bacteria.
Corona martyred and sainted him with a coronet.
From far away faint whispers of carols sung at St. Patrick’s Church came floating by…
“Patrick Lee”, I whispered…
“Why aren’t you with us, my love?.”
The moon hung low, a radiant gold disc outside our windowpane. It seemed to throb, to pulsate with a strange energy, a coded missive of lovely longing.
The doorbell rang. Courier delivery of placed orders.
New shoes, clothes for Tommy Lee, a toy gun and a board game.
We had hand picked them on Amazon together, added it to the wish cart, just before Halloween and now looking at them scooped a hollow in my chest, that physically bent me over with pain.
I set about disinfecting the gifts so Tommy Lee could touch them.
Another round of sanitizing and disposing of wrappings with carefully gloved hands.
Presents placed under the tree.
Tommy Lee turned to look at the board game.
It was a game called Jumanji like the movie. Where a move of your dice would take you to exotic places, heaven, hell or in between. Of course in your imagination. I forget the mom and pop store we got it from, not one of the regular behemoth toy store chains.
I wanted my boy to remember his last gift from daddy. Soon after dinner I asked casually, “Shall we play son?” Tommy Lee bobbed his head up and down in assent , eyes gleaming with pure joy.
I rolled the dice and landed in a marshy swampland called Nkwandra. To come out I would need a two from the dice. Tommy Lee rolled the dice and got five. His figurine was locked in Elysium or paradise.
I was sinking, drowning, disappearing in a quagmire of grief, there was no coming out, it required the strength of two.
Baby gurgled in a world where the sun shone bright and oblivious to loss or loneliness.
And turn after turn I failed to get the required two, while my boy travelled all over the board, till he got stuck in a patch of green. I read the legend; it said Equivocia, land of deception and masks, and to come out he would need triple twos or a six. Tall order!
He didn’t know it, but his ordeal had begun. He would have to hide behind masks for the rest of his early childhood to spare his mother’s feelings.
Just then, I came unstuck at last getting a two. I was free to travel.
But the next move of the dice landed me in Arboreal, the jungle maze, where one had to stay for an year, or in board game time give up six moves.
I wandered in the jungle of my mind, lost, utterly lonely, a tribal bereft of her headman. It would be another six years before I could stretch out my hand and be held by another.
But by then my baby would have become a little boy, solemn and serious, a little needy, starved for touch, greedy in the eyes for a little joy.
Finally the game got over.
Tommy Lee won.
He came out of the land of masks, and taught me to take off mine.
We cried genuine tears of joy that we didn’t have to grieve anymore. We could celebrate Patrick instead.
I was out of the jungles at last.
Fast forward to Christmas 2024, also my wedding day, with Patrick Lee’s childhood friend Gordon, who had been the best man at my first wedding.
Today, he still is. The best man, the best step daddy and my best friend.
We commemorate so much together.
Patrick’s life, and the year it ended. 2020, when things fell apart, and made us move back inside ourselves to recoup losses.
Now both Gordon and I are grey-haired, wearing glasses, in the year 2036.
We celebrate Tommy Lee’s journey to adulthood,
He is 21 and we are at his graduation ceremony.
On our way back home, talking nineteen to a dozen about key nostalgic moments, I reminded Tommy Lee of our last move on the board game, that lonely Christmas evening of 2020.
How we had both reached the same square, but he had beat me by just one move. Entering the land of Alethea, before me. Thank God he did! The joy of victory in his baby eyes simply cancelled out the morass of grief I was in. I had no business, I had realised to wallow there.
If we were to survive I had to enter Alethea with him.
I had childishly placed my figurine into the land of Alethea grinning Impishly!
“Mama! You’re Cheating!” Tommy Lee chortled.
Yes, my boy. Cheating grief. And facing truth, where we mother and son, got to drink that strange serum called truth that gives us courage again.
It had required a three and a one of the dice for you to enter.
It took me another three and a half month.
A three and a one, was also the date for Halloween, the day Patrick left us all behind to enter his personal Alethea in the realm of higher vibrations.
Truth is, grief brings us back to great joy through great misery. Through our tears we see what we had was beautiful.
And death can’t take it away.