When I was a senior in high school, I auditioned for and got a solo in the annual Christmas show presented by the chorus. I sang “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and did a tap dance number with Rudolph, or as much as a tap number as can be faked in sneakers or a reindeer suit. That year, one of my best friends, Kip, played Rudolph and we had so much fun with the song. He and I had always been in the same classes since fourth grade and even though we were polarized in terms of interests and temperament, we spoke the same language. I reminded him of when our assignments were due and he got me to loosen up, but most of all, we made each other laugh. Being friends since the fourth grade gave us plenty of fun times and being Rudolph & Girl was another one for the books. Somewhere, there’s a picture of the two of us from that performance, and I really wish I had a copy.
Kip’s birthday fell on Christmas Eve and one of our rituals was that he would tease me about how I’d never given him a gift for his birthday or Christmas. He knew that on the day before we got out of school for winter break, I’d hand him a candy cane taped to a Christmas card and say with a healthy dose of attitude, “Happy Birthday. Merry Christmas. Happy, now?” Kip would punch me, I would roll my eyes, and everything was how it should have been.
Just a few days after my twentieth birthday, I got a phone call at college with news that Kip had committed suicide. I boarded a train to go back home, where I wept silently during the funeral, and his parents cried when they hugged me. All I could think of was that however badly I was feeling, it must be so much worse for them. I ached with the knowledge that they were trying to comfort me. The anniversary of that week is still raw for me.
This morning, after reading a particularly poignant blog post, I sighed to myself, eyebrows furrowed. In response to my husband’s questioning eyes, I said slowly, “Yesterday was the first Christmas Eve that I didn’t remember that it was Kip’s birthday. In maybe fifteen years. And that makes me a little sad.” I hope I’m not on the path to forgetting, that the anniversary will go by and it’ll be just a regular day. I’m grasping at the memory, kicking myself for not remembering last night and having a quiet moment to reflect on it.
But the memory stings today when it's clear that not all of the tears are spent.