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I looked on top of my brother's dresser to see if he left his gift for Dad up there. I mean, he was a 13, so he must be used to this whole holiday pressure thing by now. He probably had a great gift idea.

I slid my hands over the surface of the dresser, knocking school papers and a pack of gum and some baseball cards to the ground. And then I saw the gift: two certificates for free car washes that he printed off the computer at Dad's work. And they were nice. He didn't just hand draw those suckers; they had clipart. But there was no way I could rip off that gift.

Everyone knew he was a way better car washer than I was. A real pro. I mean, he washed and waxed. There was no way I could compete with that.

Leave it up to my brother to come up with practical and efficient gift like that.

I thought about walking down the hallway to my sister's room and asking her what she had in store for Dad, but then I thought better of it. She still lived in the bubble. Protected by a shell of affirmation and arts and crafts.

My sister, God bless her soul, would probably hold up her gluey macaroni card and smile wide, showing the gap left where her front tooth had fallen out a week ago. I could see her long brown hair and wide hazel eyes that resembled mine. I could see the brightness and glow in her eyes as she showed me the card she was so very proud of. She had no idea how finite that blissful ignorance was. In only three short years, she too would be finding out what Christmas was all about.

I walked to the center of the room with my hands on top of my head. I ran my fingers through my messy brown hair until my scalp itched. I arched my back and looked up into the fan and light above me, watching the blades circle endlessly and I felt a lump sitting in the pit of my stomach.

Later that night, I lay on my back looking up at the white popcorn ceiling. A fast-paced pitter patter raced in my chest, squeezing my insides and making me feel out of breath. I could hear the faint chaotic chortle of my brother's snore below me.

Normally, I had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve because of the excitement over all of the cool toys I was going to get to open.

But this feeling was not joy. This heavy, knotted mess in my chest was failure and disappointment and screwing up. I was 10 and I couldn't even manage to find my Dad a decent gift.

Images of smiles and laughs and fake smiles and cookies and trees and family filled my head and I couldn't think of a gift. I tried to think but the memories and fears and insecurities crept in and out. My head felt like a lava lamp. Ideas and emotions and thoughts flowed amorphously in and out and around it.

I rolled my head to the side and the mess inside rolled with it. I shook my head from side to side on the pillow and felt woozy and words continued to bounce around and my tongue felt dry and I closed my eyes tight until stars and streams of color and light painted the inside of my eyelids.

Swimming through a watery maze in an abandoned warehouse. Water keeps rising and cannot find the way out. Swimming through the maze. Swimming to the bottom. Cannot breathe anymore. Heart beating fast in my chest and can't open my eyes and darkness pours in. Face down in the pillow.


Blobs of faint blue light and blurry shapes floated in front of my face. My eyes slowly focused on the pieces of my room. I was sitting straight up in my bed, a little slanted to the right. I could see the white wall in front of me just past the end of my bed and the Derek Jeter poster tacked up just to the left of it.

A throbbing heat pulsated from the left side of my head. I rubbed the space with my left hand and felt a sting every time fingers moved my hair.

The faint chortle.

Iridescent cold light leaked in through the blinds and the window and lit up a portion of the room.  

As I began to regain my bearings a flood of thoughts flowed through my head: Christmas, presents, no present, shit, presents, failure, Dad, damn it, shit.

I looked down at the black digital clock on my brother's dresser and the red numbers read 6:30. As the youngest kid, my sister would be up soon, jumping from room to room to terrorize us awake in order to kick off the present opening portion of our day. I remembered my short-lived stint as the youngest. I remembered how fun it was to crawl out of bed and waddle into my brother's room and hit him on the face. And then, together, we would run into our parent's bedroom and jump on their bed.

The heat in my chest dissipated for a moment and an airy feeling replaced it. I closed my eyes and remembered.

And then it hit me.

Instead of giving my Dad another tie or pen or worthless piece of crap on Christmas, I could give him a memory. I could make sure that this was a Christmas he would never forget.

I mean people love A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation and junk like that, right?

People love memories.

Sure, we all like to ravage through wrapped up boxes like a humanoid paper shredder and open up a baseball glove or a television or one of those talking parrots from the toy store. But, more than that, we love to remember doing it.

And if people like to remember mundane stuff like opening presents, then I am sure Dad would love his own, high-production genuine Christmas memory courtesy of yours truly. I am talking Macy's Day parade, Super Bowl, Berlin Wall type orchestration here.

I am going to make a freaken’ memory.

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