“They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.” — The First Noel
The I-95 corridor in the Northeast is not the most scenic part of America. All you need to confirm this is another viewing of the opening credits to “The Sopranos.” But it’s that theme music I hear when I drive north from Logan Airport in Boston to my hometown in Maine; the pounding bass and northeastern urban industry mingling in my head. New England is sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but it’s always home. It’s never more like home to me than in the winter, that brutal season covered by hard, unforgiving glitter.
For a while, it was too hard for me to visit Boston. It was the city that held my first choice college, the city that I had always thought I would live in after college; it’s where many of my closest friends live now and my family lives just hours away. To me, Boston is simply another fig on Plath’s fabled tree. I knew that because of where we would have to live for his job, to be with Tom meant shutting the door on that life. To have the life I wanted with the man I love, I took the figs I wanted with both hands and dug in. There are no regrets. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about that life, a winter’s life in a brittle gray land lit by a fragile sun. It comes up less often than it did, and I’ve grown up a little more and know that it wouldn’t be the best fit for us. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it or long for it still.
This year, after three years away, I made my way back home for Christmas. The short version of the story is that we decided to surprise my Maine relatives with a last-minute, out-of-the-blue trip home. We are practical people with money, almost to a fault, but spending the cash on this trip felt different. We felt the push to go back and finally a voice rang out in my head: “If you leap, the net will appear. The money will take care of itself. Go. Go home. Go.”
We did; when Tom saw how driven I was he put aside his qualms and immediately worked out a budget and a plan so we wouldn’t have to dip too deeply. It meant giving up the last trip around the islands we had planned, a significantly cheaper venture; he gave it up without a word of complaint. We cashed in my United coupons, we shuffled around flyer miles to pay for the rental car. And damned if that net didn’t appear; it did. Within 48 hours, an old client I had given up on contacted me and promptly paid the last of the money owed to me, a figure that covered the tickets plus another $900. Leap, and the net will appear.
Save for my parents and Tom’s dad so they could arrange to come up from Florida to see us, we told no one. Not my sister, not my cousins, no one at all. When we walked through the door on Christmas Eve, into a warm house already filling with the customary throng of people, my Nana saw us without actually seeing us. Then the look of recognition transformed her face and she dropped a banker’s box full of Moe’s Italian Sandwiches on the floor. My grandfather cried. Later they said that in their years on Earth, there were only a few times that they had been totally taken by surprise like that. I was kind of proud.
There was lobster for Christmas dinner.
For the first time, we saw our beautiful nephew’s face on Christmas day.
For the first time, Maggie saw snow…and went sledding.
And for the first time since my wedding day, four Decembers ago on the coast of Maine, I saw the sun rising over my home.
The holidays are for magic…and surprises. We had those and more.
Leap…and the net will appear.