Like the gifts stacked in our living room, disguised beneath ribbons and wrapping paper, my secret remains hidden.
In the kitchen our table nearly sags with plenty. A ham decorated with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries, an array of side dishes, baskets of rolls, towers of bread, a three-tiered tray layered with homemade cookies, fudge, and divinity. I want to stuff myself with all of it.
My father is tipsy when he arrives. He considers it his duty to spread Yuletide cheer among his employees before sending them home to enjoy the holiday. Now he's handing out drinks to our guests-- scalding Tom and Jerrys served with a ladle from a polka-dotted bowl, highballs in tall narrow glasses. Ice cubes tinkle like sleigh bells; steam rises from cups like breath made visible. We stuff ourselves, get giddy on sugar, and then find our places in the living room. Gifts are handed out. One by one at first, and then the whole operation snowballs into Christmas-y chaos until there’s a pile of wrapping paper as tall as my little brothers.
This is my last Christmas before I go off to college. My parents give me a portable sewing machine so compact it looks like a toy, a Webster’s collegiate dictionary, and a thesaurus. Santa surprises me with a popcorn popper, a new bathrobe, and new pajamas so I can look presentable in dormitory hallways. None of us has any idea what college life will be like, but we assume these are the things I will need.
College. Will I really give my baby to strangers and go off to start a new life? Or should I imagine myself married, posing in front of next year's tree with a baby cuddled in my arms?
After we’ve done the dishes my boyfriend comes over, and we present each other with cassette tape recorders and packages of tapes. Our colleges will be three hundred miles apart, and he has the idea it will be more interesting to send each other tapes instead of letters. I toy with the idea of recording a tape for him that tells him I’m pregnant.
(I never work up the nerve.)
At midnight we attend Mass. The late night and the ham and the candy have made me queasy. Morning sickness can attack anytime if I eat the wrong thing or smell something strong. I still have a dose or two of the green medicine, but I’m saving it for school. The good thing is that I’ve lost several pounds, and my Christmas dress, a double-breasted navy knit with gold buttons, looks great. The bad thing is that when the incense rises and swirls toward me, I think I’m going to faint. Luckily, we’re seated off one of the side aisles near an exit, and occasionally an icy gust sends fresh air through the crack between the heavy double doors and saves me.
During Mass I pray to the Virgin Mary. I pray to God. I pray to Saint Catherine. I took Catherine as my confirmation name because it’s my mother’s middle name and because I like Catherine’s story. She was a virgin and a martyr, and when she was put to death milk flowed from her veins instead of blood.