That year my room-mate Francois was a med school drop out who was studying pharmacology, both academically and personally. He had drugs for waking up, falling asleep, calming down and perking up. Still it never occurred to me that he was depressed until a week before Christmas when he shut down the Champlain bridge by threatening to jump. The next day his dad came to pack up his things and within a few hours it seemed like every trace of my room-mate and his marvelous medicine supply were gone.
I don’t know why Francois was sad but I knew why I was. I was twenty-three and newly divorced, publicly humiliated both by my unfounded belief in happy endings and my unfaithful husband. My friends and family had sympathy in small amounts, equivalent I realized, to their initial enthusiasm when I’d gotten married three years before.
That Christmas Eve I had dinner and opened presents at my father and stepmother’s house. I thought it was blasphemy but in her family, presents were opened on Christmas Eve. My gifts were mostly the kind you’d give to an invalid or a teenager: pink flannel pajamas and bubble bath. After the presents were opened my father offered to drive me home. I was stunned. Although I hadn’t packed to sleep over I had assumed they would invite me to stay. I don’t remember what we talked about on the ride home but it was books probably, because that’s what it always was.
The frozen composure that had gotten me through the ride home fell apart completely once I was in the door. It was not even nine o’clock and I had half a bottle of white wine, a pack of cigarettes and no strategy to get me through the next few days. Most of my friends were out of town and I was already crying too hard to go out to a bar.
I walked through the apartment, to Francois’ room. Empty. I looked in the medicine cabinet. Empty. I could hear the sound of my own crying in my ears, frantic, childlike. Please help me, I thought but I didn’t know if i was talking to God or Francois or just to myself. I went back to Francois’ room looked under his bed, looked through his drawers. Nothing. I pushed his mattress off the bed, as much in rage as in hope and there I found a small brown envelope with four blue pills inside.
I don’t know what I took that night. Something that made me feel far outside myself as I watched It’s a Wonderful Life. And as I lay there I could see, from my great distance, what would stay with me for a long time: that although I was young and lost, lonely and a little stupid, I was also a girl who could recognize a Christmas miracle when it came her way.
(written as part of my writing group’s 500 word Worst Christmas challenge)