The Christmas I Don’t Remember

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Illustration by Mimi Mangrum Numer

It was December, seven years ago, and something had gone afoul with the epidural they’d just jammed into my wife’s spine, causing her right leg to swell and take on the form of a yule log.

“Your leg looks pregnant,” I said.

“Maybe it is,” Lauren said, moaning.

After five years of fatherhood, I was finally waking up to the wonder of it all. They say mothers become mothers in a cosmic instant, while us fathers become fathers after long seasons of staring at these strange pygmies who have invaded our home and consciousness. But those days were over. I felt like a boy jolted awake in class, ready to be the father I’d always hoped to be to all three of my daughters: Pygmy 1 (four), Pygmy 2 (two), and Pygmy 3 (zero).

It was going to be the best Christmas ever.

The problem is, Savannah loves to tease you with yuletide glory, but rarely gives it: All month, it’s like Christmas town, a glittering city where people as pretty as paid actors shop in a real downtown and bathe in vats of pumpkin spice chai, and then December 25 arrives and you spend the big day swatting sand gnats on the stoop, drinking ice water. I wanted the storybook Christmas, with snow and a crackling fire in a historic manse surrounded by swaddled infant babes and adults caroling in Nordic sweaters.

I wanted the storybook Christmas, with snow and a crackling fire in a historic manse surrounded by swaddled infant babes and adults caroling in Nordic sweaters.

It could happen, I remember thinking, as my wife screamed on the other side of the room. After all, we had a brigade of family coming to town, lodging at a rental on Liberty Street with five stories and a fireplace where our Christmas might unfold in the festal grandeur of kith and kin.

I don’t remember what time the baby was born. But she was born, I remember that.

A few days later, Operation Classic Christmas was in full effect when Pygmy 1 rolled off her bed and broke her arm. Which arm, I cannot say. But I remember watching the child open gifts with her teeth, which made my wife cry.

Pygmy 3 was our easiest baby yet, but newborns are little fleshy tornadoes of screaming, even the good ones. The screaming tornado baby and the fractured radius made Christmas Day slightly less magical than one would’ve hoped, but it was fine–all was merry and bright-ish, as I recall.

I don’t recall much. I put away my share of nog.

The next day, I remember marveling that nothing had happened to Pygmy 2, at which point she stood up and vomited all over the furniture, which my wife would now have to burn in the yard while chanting prayers to St. Lysol, patron saint of disinfectants.

“I hope we don’t get it,” Lauren said.

“We won’t,” I remember saying.

I don’t remember who vomited first, my wife or me, but I remember Lauren packaging the little newborn in swaddling clothes at 2:00 AM and depositing her on the porch in a car seat. Saddest thing you ever saw. Someone came over to fetch the baby. Who, I don’t remember.

I shall not relate the gore of what befell our bodies over the next 36 hours, because I do not recall much of it, save the memory of my wife depositing the contents of her stomach into the bathtub while I heaved like a calving glacier into the toilet and The Andy Williams Christmas Album wafted gaily through the house. It would be New Year’s Day before any of us were on speaking terms with the plumbing, or with food. I have not spoken to eggnog since.

I am happy to remember so little from that holiday.

And yet, a memory remains, from Christmas Eve, before everything went south. We had enjoyed a delicious meal downtown and were about to drive home and make ready for Santa. To everyone’s surprise, the air had turned cold. My wife climbed into the truck while I buckled the children, shrouded in fleece, into their automotive mangers. Lauren was so tired, so destroyed by the demands of love, that she didn’t even attempt to help. I was happy to be the one to do the thing. Certain moments make you feel like a father, when your shoulders bear the happy weight of this ancient duty: All my people, for one sparkling moment, corralled and content. A bell-jingling carriage clopped past the car. It was almost like Christmas town.

And then, it began to snow.

It did. In Savannah. You remember.

I don’t remember what anybody got from Santa that year, nor do I remember if we watched Charlie Brown deride the crass commercialism of our gestures, but I remember the girls squealing in delight and climbing out of the truck, to witness this gift from the heavens. Our breath came alive, and lights twinkled with greater glory as we gazed into the black sky at the wonder that came falling on us like stars. Yes, I remember that.