Sometimes the best gifts don’t come wrapped in tidy packages with ribbons and bows, but this year’s gift started off that way. Mom and I sat in the living room floor on Christmas morning wrapping the last of the presents. These were small knick-knacks – things my mom had forgotten to wrap earlier. The lights from the tree were glimmering. The sun bounced off the snow, illuminating the room through the large, ceiling-to-floor windowpanes.
“I’m so glad it started snowing last week. I was hoping we would have a white Christmas.”
I was already looking out the window and did not say anything. I didn’t share her excitement for the snow. A large, single snowflake, hanging on the edge of the windowpane, caught my attention. It fluttered in the breeze, but stayed intact, as if the cold wind were somehow holding it together. A few moments later it began to lose it’s shape and melt into a small mass of white. It was still a snowflake, I guess, but it had lost its previous beauty.
“What time is Andrea getting here?” I eventually asked.
“Hold that for me.” She pointed at the ribbon she had just wrapped around the gift. “She didn’t give a time. She just said ‘in the morning.’ Can you believe how much weight she has lost? She doesn’t look healthy to me.”
Mom pulled the ribbon tight, catching my finger in the knot. I wasn’t sure what to say. Did she not realize what was going on with Andrea? Or was she just in denial?
“I hope she actually comes.” I pulled my finger out of the knot.
“Of course she will! Why wouldn’t she?”
“She didn’t make it to Thanksgiving… or show up when we were decorating the tree. And she said she would drop by last weekend.”
“Well, college can be really busy. She’s probably got a lot of studying to do for finals and such.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I looked back out the window hoping the world was as simple as mom indicated it to be. I missed my older sister, but that had started long before she moved out to attend college. Something about her changed during her senior year. Whatever it was that changed, I lost the Andrea that I knew.
We were never your normal brother and sister anyway. Sure we fought from time to time, but for the most part we had always gotten along. Andrea was, in some ways, another best friend. When she started driving, she would take me along with her- the mall, movies, school activities. When one of us had a project due for school, we did it together. We even both sang in the church choir that one year – more as a joke than anything else. But it was fun.
That Andrea doesn’t exist any more. Now all I hear from her are empty promises about us getting together for lunch or visits that never happen. I’ve finally quit leaving messages on her phone.
I hope Mom is right, that the rumors I heard at school are not true. “Your sister’s a crackhead.” The words stung. I almost punched the guy who said it. Fortunately, the possible truth of what he was saying punched me first.
I wasn’t sure whether to say anything to Mom and Dad or not. I tried to get in touch with Andrea, but she never answers the door at her apartment. I was hoping to talk to her at Thanksgiving, but she didn’t show.
I’m not sure how many gifts we wrapped sitting by the tree that morning. The calm was soon interrupted by a phone call, confusion and a chaotic rush to the emergency room.
It’s probably the worst Christmas I can remember. Watching Mom and Dad hear the news that Andrea had overdosed. Seeing Andrea’s unconscious body hooked up to all those machines. Wondering if I were about to lose Andrea for a second time. Wondering if I could have done something to stop it.
But today the doctor says she’s going to be fine. He says she was lucky.
Our presents are still sitting under the tree. Mom and Dad are back in the room with Andrea and the doctor. I’m sitting here staring out the window of the waiting room, watching the snow. Yesterday was messy. But if this experience can get Andrea into treatment – can get my sister back – then this would be the best Christmas present ever.