This wasn’t a typical Christmas for Anna. This would be her very first Christmas as a family, the three of them. She picked out the perfect tree on a crisp and clear December evening. It was the exact size and shape she had been looking to buy for over a week. You would think bringing along her son, Andrew, she would have just settled on one. She tried not to have her ten-month-old out in the cold any longer than necessary. But no, not this year. This year, everything had to be extra special.
She purchased a dozen holiday candles, placing eleven of them around the living room and one on the mantel. Every night after all is said and done and Andrew is sound asleep in his crib, Anna would light eleven of them. She had a special plan for the very last one above the fireplace. She would make herself a cup of chamomile tea, throw her long, thick brown hair up into a bun, change into her pajamas, and listen to her and Jack’s favorite CD, Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits.
Anna felt as if she had been planning this Christmas well before the superstores began building their holiday displays in late October. She knew that if she planned accordingly, the time would fly by until Christmas Eve arrived. She made sure to keep herself busy, adding a new holiday decoration to their home each week. Anna had never been a good cook, but she certainly felt like a good baker. You couldn’t even count how many holiday cookies and treats she made each week and mailed off to friends and family around the world. She even went as far as creating most of the holiday decorations in their home. From picture frames, to wreathes, to blankets and pillows.
She used every spare minute to design her home for this very special upcoming night. A month before Christmas Eve, she began organizing for the big day. She picked out her outfit and Andrew’s outfit, what she would make for dinner and dessert, and Christmas morning breakfast. The more she organized and planned, the happier she was. She would catch herself smiling as she would sew or see herself in the mirror, staring back with her bold, blue eyes, thinking, “any day now”.
It was two days before Christmas Eve and she had not gotten more than four hours of sleep each night for the past week, not just because Andrew would awake every once in a while, but because she would wake up with butterflies in her stomach and her hands shaking with anticipation. In forty-eight hours, Anna would be experiencing one of the most important moments of her life.
She awoke the next morning, literally jumping out of bed. Normally, Andrew was the first to wake up as Anna would hear him down the hallway. She knew that tomorrow was the day. As she finished bathing and dressing her son for the day, she looked into his deep, sparking brown eyes, softly whispering, “you look just like him”. For a moment, the two of them smiled at one another, both feeling each other’s emotions. Andrew more-or-less confused and Anna feeling her heart beat out of her chest. Andrew then stumbled to his feet, making his way to his bedroom to play.
She missed Jack so much. More than anything she missed his touch. Jack always had a way of calming her down during difficult times just by the way he would gently caress her cheek with his rough, yet soft hand. He always knew how to look at her, too. She stood about a foot shorter than him so any time they would hug, Anna comfortably fit right below his chin. He would hug her tight and as they let go of one another, he would pull her right back in, look at her with his dark, strong brown eyes and say, “I love you now and always”. She missed hearing those words every day. She couldn’t even tell you the last time she heard his voice.
As the last hours of the evening came to an end, she knew this would be the last night she would ever have to go without hearing Jack’s laugh or seeing his smile ever again. Andrew had a difficult time falling asleep. It’s as if he knew Daddy would be home in the morning. Anna sensed it, too. Along with Andrew’s restlessness came Anna’s. She kept telling herself, “Just fall asleep already, you’re going to look horrible in the morning”. She finally had to make her way to the medicine cabinet in their master bathroom to take a sleep aid. Twenty minutes later, she finally dozed off.
Anna’s sleep aid worked so well she actually awoke refreshed and energized. Instead of jumping out of bed with excitement, she turned over to Jack’s side of the bed and smiled. She rubbed his pillow, hugged his sweater she slept with every night, and said to herself, “my husband comes home today”. Surprisingly enough, Andrew was still sleeping. This was a good thing, as she was able to get in the shower and dress herself just in time, as Andrew woke up minutes later. She cooked an extra special breakfast for the two of them. Anna was so excited about heading to the airport in an hour, she couldn’t stomach her food. Her son, on the other hand, ate as if he hadn’t eaten in two days.
On a typical day, Anna would normally allow Andrew to freely explore their home as she hand-washed the dishes, but not today. As much as she despised their dishwasher (she was very old-fashioned), she knew the faster they were washed, the sooner the two of them could leave. Afterward, she bathed and dressed Andrew in the outfit she picked out four weeks ago, packed up his diaper bag, and they were headed for the car. Just as Anna reached for the door handle, she took a quick glimpse of herself in the mirror hanging near the front door. Butterflies consumed her stomach and a huge grin came across her face as she looked at her son in her arms and said, “are you ready?”
The drive to the Chicago airport was a forty-five minute drive, but with anticipation building up inside of her, it felt more like five hours. As they arrived and made their way through security, Anna noticed the time on her wrist watch. Jack’s flight wouldn’t be in for another hour. Thankfully, she had packed a few toys for Andrew to play with. As Andrew was busy playing with his toy cars and trucks on the floor in front of her, Anna thought it would be a good time to check herself over. She wanted to look absolutely perfect for Jack. She had dressed in his favorite colors on her and styled her hair exactly the way she knew he liked. She wore loose curls over her shoulders, a light blue wispy, button-down shirt, and a dark blue pair of jeans which Jack bought her two years ago. She checked over her makeup with her compact, touching up her lipstick, and fixing any stray hairs that may have gotten misplaced. Right as she was about the close up her compact, she heard over the speaker system say, “flight 367 has arrived on time”. Her stomach flipped and Andrew could sense something exciting was about to happen.
She quickly packed up her son’s toys, gathered Andrew in her arms, and headed for the exit ramp. She wasn’t the only one expecting a loved one to walk off of the plane. Anna looked around and observed several other military spouses eagerly awaiting their other half’s arrival. She couldn’t bare a moment longer. She had been waiting for this Christmas Eve for over a year. She just wanted to see him already. Andrew seemed confused and could feel his mother’s anxiousness.
Finally, the moment had come. As Anna peered through the other soldiers in uniform exiting, she saw him. There he was, her husband. The love of her life. The father of her son. Her best friend. Jack spotted her and Andrew immediately. Standing at 6’2”, he dropped his two bags, and quickly walked toward his family. He had been longing for this moment that seemed as if it took centuries to get to. Anna had tears in her eyes. She felt her whole body become weak, but she knew she wanted to keep Andrew in her arms. The only people Anna and Jack saw in the whole airport was the three of them. As Jack came face-to-face with Andrew and his wife, he grabbed his wife’s face and gave her the most meaningful kiss since the day the two of them said, “I do”. Everything was right again in their world and for the first time, they were together as a family. As Anna handed Andrew off to his father, she finally got to say the words she had been patiently waiting to say for ten months.
“Jack, meet your son, Andrew”.
Andrew looked at his father for the very first time in person. He had only ever seen pictures of him in their home. Anna would point to pictures and try to explain to him that the man he is looking at is his father. Jack and Anna had been afraid Andrew wouldn’t know how to react to meeting him for the first time. As Jack held his son in his arms, something magnificent happened. Andrew leaned into him and rested his head on Jack’s shoulder, as if saying, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you, Daddy”.
Jack kissed Andrew on the forehead and sighed in relief. He then leaned in to Anna and kissed her nose. Anna couldn‘t stop looking at the two of them. She finally had her family all together. This is how it was meant to be. She felt complete for the very first time in her life.
The three of them exited the airport together and journeyed home. Anna prepared Jack’s favorite meal, roast beef, sweet potatoes, and green beans. Together, the three of them enjoyed their first meal at their dining room table. After dinner, they all made their way to the living room, as Jack started up the fireplace and Andrew played with his toys by the tree. Anna showed Jack the dozen candles she placed around the living room. She walked him over to the mantel, revealing the one candle in which she had yet to light.
Jack asked, “why haven’t you lit this one yet?” Anna smiled and whispered, “you’ve been gone for eleven months. That’s eleven months without me and ten months without your son. I saved this candle as a representation of our very last month apart and very first month together as a family. Please, do the honor of lighting it, sweetheart.”
Jack smiled at his wife, thinking to himself, “how did I get this lucky to have married my best friend and the mother of my son?”
He reached for the lighter sitting next to the candle and lit it for the first time. Anna felt a weight lift from her chest. The wait was over. The long year leading up to this moment had happened. She had her husband back and Andrew had his father. That night, the three of them fell asleep on the living room floor, in front of their fireplace, curled up in the blankets and pillows Anna had made.