I remember sneaking into the living room to watch the fire escape on Christmas Eve. Growing up in New York City meant that the tradition of Santa coming down a chimney didn’t exist for us, instead my parents told me he climbed into our living room through the fire escape: “kinda like a burglar, but a nice burglar who only eats the cookies you set out and places a ton of presents under the tree!”
I must have been young because I still held out hope that the big fat man would wind his way down the rickety fire escape and magically shove his huge bag of toys into our cramped living room, and do all of this without making huge clanging sounds that would wake up the neighbors.
…And I wanted to be there to see it.
My parents put my sister and I to bed and I lay awake (for what felt like hours) until I snuck down my bunk bed and out my bedroom door, trying to be as stealthy as Santa (if you’re gonna catch him, you better be a mean-fucking ninja). I remember stealing past my already asleep sister and silently cursing her. How can you fall asleep on Christmas Eve so damn quickly?! My kid sister could go into a REM cycle before her hear hit the pillow. She had (and still has) a gift for sleep.
The apartment I grew up in was a 750 sq. ft. 2 bedroom on Manhattan’s upper-upper West side, only a few blocks down from Columbia University. My parents’ shared a room right next to my sister and I, and to sneak past that bedroom door was difficult. The living room was only a few short steps away from the bedrooms, but at the time, the pre-World War 1 building provided a healthy amount of creaky wooden floors that squeaked and creaked under any pressure (even our cat, Nermal, would make small sounds as she stalked the night).
So, instead of walking, I hurdled myself into the living room, springing for the sofa and tumbling into the pillows over the arm of the couch like a rabbit running from prey. I figured that if I was REALLY fast, the squeaky floors wouldn’t be able to give me away. I lay in the dark with the iridescent glow of the christmas tree lighting the shadows of the room before I noticed that, down the small hall, the kitchen light was on. I saw my mother, her back to me, leaning over a project that was splayed out on the kitchen table. She looked like she must have been rolling small balls of clay. I watched her, mesmerized. Was she also waiting for Santa? I held my breath so she wouldn’t chance to hear me, but the activity she was doing looked like so much fun, I almost wanted to get up and join her. Was she making jewelry? After each ball was carefully rolled, I watcher her add details to them: a nose, a hat, an eye, a mustache; each little bead becoming a head as she formed a small village of personalities that populated the table she was working on. From my vantage point I still couldn’t see too many details, but I was riveted.
I remember my eyes getting droopy as the cushions began to eat me. Oh, they were so comfy, their siren songs singing comfort and rest. The fear of being caught out of bed made me mindful of the sin I was committing in being on the couch in the first place. Santa hadn’t come either. When I snapped back to the task at hand I half expected the tree to be bursting with shiny gifts, but no such luck. Just the small shakes and rattles of my Mom’s hands working their way through the bead-faces. I pondered what to do next. I remember a kid telling me that if anyone actually saw Santa, or that if he knew you were up, he’d pass over your house and not leave anything. A cold fear twisted in my small gut. I wanted the Barbie Mobile Home so bad, and if that guy didn’t leave it for me because I was trying to CIA-his-ass then I don’t know what I would do. Might as well stop being a kid and offer up my allowance as my portion of the mortgage because I was the only kid on the planet to witness Saint Nick (and therefore, am not allowed childhood anymore).
I snuck back to my bed. Less worried about being caught heading back to bed.
The next morning, when I pulled the necklace of hand made bead-personalities out of my stocking, I realized with awe, that I had, indeed, witnessed Santa.
December 24, 2012 at 8:19 am by Natalie Allen