A Christmas Angel
“I never said I hated Christmas. Christmas is great! I just…don’t feel much like celebrating this year…that’s all. Yes, that’s all. Well, that’s not my problem! Would you stop? Ok? Just give it up already. No, no I don’t. Good. Fine. Goodbye. Bye!”
Sona snapped her cell phone with a frustrated expression. And you knew she was frustrated too, because she scrunched her nose and she always scrunched her nose when she was frustrated. She really didn’t hate Christmas. Who could hate Christmas? She was no Scrooge. Although the friend she’d been talking to on the phone begged to differ. Simply because Sona wasn’t celebrating this year. She really didn’t feel like it. No tree. No lights. No parties. No eggnog. No presents.
What’s the point anymore? I have nothing to be happy about…
She sighed and started down the sidewalk again. Funny thing—she couldn’t talk on the phone and walk at the same time. She stopped again to pull her phone back out. She stared down at the picture of her boyfriend. He smiled back at her with those sparkling eyes and tousled hair that she had loved so much. She looked around her, at the couples walking hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm. Christmas Eve was supposed to be a sort of “Lover’s Day”. What do you do if the only one you could ever love was dead? Her boyfriend, the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, had been killed in a car accident on Christmas Eve last year. She shook her head and snapped the phone closed. She didn’t want to look at it now, she’d call later.
But what if later is too late? She reasoned with herself, and again stopped to open the phone and dial.
“Oh, Sona, sweetie, how are you?”
How am I?! What kind of crazy question is that? “I’m fine… Ye-Jin?”
There was a sigh at the other end of the phone. “She’s…missing you.” Her mother tried to sound hopeful, but there was nothing hopeful about the situation.
Last month, Sona missed a call. A very important cal that a colleague of hers had answered for er. Her friends pulled into a room alone afterwards and told her it was her family. Although Sona’s family lived in America, there was nothing unordinary about them calling her just to check in on her and say hi.
“It’s about your sister.” Her friend looked and sound worried, which triggered something inside her.
Her sister was the most important person in the world to her. What could possibly wrong?
“She’s been admitted into Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital.” Her friend told her.
Just the word “hospital” flipped a switch in Sona’s heart. Then she squinted. She wasn’t a expert on American things, but she was pretty sure…
“Isn’t Saint Jude’s a cancer treatment hospital for kids?”
Her friend just nodded. Sona’s whole, dangerously tilting world turn over that day. Neither she nor her family had enough money to send her to America, and no amount of hoping or wishing and missing or asking “Santa Claus” would change that. And borrowing money was always out of the question.
Sona quickly finished her conversation with her mom and kept walking. It was late and dark and there weren’t many people walking around. Sona shoved her hands in her pockets and stared at her reflection in the rain-wet sidewalk. She stopped across from the Christmas display in the median across the street from her. She looked at the sparkling tinsel and twinkling lights. Every year, the same display, but every year, kids came to see it light up and dazzle them. But this time something was different. Sona tilted her head. The Santa dummy in the big red sleigh was different this year. Had the old one finally been retired? She looked both ways and then crossed the street to get a better look. Then a look of surprise crossed her face. There was a real person in the sleigh! She stopped in her tracks and stared. It was like a dream… An angelic face nestled under a Santa hat and a starry blanket. The lines of that Christmas poem popped in her head about “dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads”. But this was just an ordinary boy. She shook her fantasies out of her head and walked up to the sleigh. He looked perfect even up close… She reached out to wake him gently. With a twitch of his eyelids and a shake of his head, the Santa Angel awoke. He rubbed his eyes like a little boy and looked at her, which for some reason made her heart jump. His eyes sparkled just like… She glanced down and pressed her lips together.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” She asked. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be sleeping here.”
She glanced over at the other side of the sleigh where the real Santa dummy was lying in the snow and so did he. But he didn’t say anything, just looked around confused, and then looked to her as if she had an answer for his unasked question.
“Who are you?” She questioned.
“I…I don’t…I can’t…”
“Don’t you know who you are?” She said.
He shook his head and mumbled. “No.” Then he rubbed his head.
What has this boy been through?
He looked so innocent, she believed him.
“How did you get here?” She tried. “Shouldn’t you be home right now?”
He shrugged. “I don’t…remember.”
Sona looked at him sympathetically, then reached her hand out to help him out of the sleigh.
“Well, come on, you can’t stay here.”
He hopped out and asked when she didn’t let go of his hand, “Where are we going?”
“To my apartment. You can’t very well sleep outside on Christmas Eve, now can you?”
What the heck am I saying???
“I guess…” He looked down at his hand in hers and smiled.
Sona’s breath caught in her throat. He even had the smile of an angel…
“You’re really nice.” He told her. “Thank you.”
She quickly pulled her hand out of his, and looked away, murmuring, “Thanks…no problem…”
She was still questioning herself when the turn of a key opened her apartment door and she usher the angel boy inside.
“So you don’t know your name, you don’t know where you’re from, and you don’t know how you got here?” He shook his head. “Do you at least remember what happened to you?”
He rubbed his head again and shot his eyes upwards as if he could see the top of his head by doing so.
“I think I hit my head or something…then I got lost and I was cold and tired, so…since I was dressed as Santa anyway, I figured I’d be safe in the sleigh. No one noticed me till you came along.”
Sona nodded. “Right.”
She looked him up and down. What was someone like him doing dressed at Santa anyway. She motioned to her couch.
“Go ahead, make yourself at home. Are you hungry?”
He sat and hesitated, then looked up at her with boyish eyes and nodded.
“Alright, I’ll see what I have. You just rest. Who knows, you could have a concussion or something.”
He touched his head as if that thought scared him.
In the kitchen, Sona continued questioning herself.
What if he’s a crook? What if he steals your money and takes off? What if he has some problem, like drinking or drugs or something? What if he…tries to do something to me?
She closed the refrigerator and turned to the stove.
And what if he’s a lost boy who somehow hurt himself and can’t remember how to get home on Christmas Eve? What if you kick him out and he starves or freezes or gets arrested or something?
Something her gut told her to trust this boy, but then she was afraid that was just because he was sweet and attractive.
“I remember!” She heard him shout in the living room.
She ran out to see him standing up with his finger in the air.
“What?” She demanded. “What do you remember?”
“My name.” He announced proudly with a happy smile. “It’s Taemin.”
Sona’s shoulders drooped. She was hoping it’d be something more important—not that a person’s name isn’t important.
“Oh, well, nice to meet you, Taemin. My name is Sona.”
She held her hand out and he shook it softly and they bowed to each other.
“Nice to meet you.” He returned.
“Sit.” She told him. “The food is done.”
She went back to the kitchen and came out with two bowls of kimchi noodles and two pairs of plain chopsticks. She set one bowl in front of the boy and handed him the chopsticks. He smiled and bowed his head to her.
“Thank you very much.”
She sat across from him in a chair and watched him eat hungrily. He stopped to look up at her embarrassedly. She grinned.
“It’s ok, go ahead, eat up.”
He chewed and swallowed, then said. “It’s very good.”
“Thanks.” She stuck her chopsticks in her noodles in order to appear occupied. Then she looked up again, curiously. “Why don’t you take that Santa suit off? You look small enough; I probably have a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt you could wear if you want.”
He reached up to adjust his hat, brushed his hand across the white fur on his coat, and glanced at the boots he’d left at the door. Then he shook his head.
“No, I like it. I think it’s…festive.”
“That it is.” She went back to her food.
She had to admit, though, he did look pretty cute dress as a beardless Santa… She jumped when she realized she was staring at him…and he was staring right back with a meaningful look in his eyes. She chuckled.
“What’s funny?” He wanted to know.
“Just thinking…it would be funny if you thought you were really Santa Claus.”
He laughed with her. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not him. But…I think there was an important reason why I’m replicating him…”
He looked like his head hurt from thinking so much and Sona felt sorry for him.
“You can sleep there for tonight.” She nodded at the couch. “Tomorrow we’ll figure out how to get you home.”
He looked down at the couch and then back up at her. “Are you sure? I don’t want to impose, I mean…shouldn’t you be with your family for Christmas? I don’t want to ruin your holiday.”
Sona heaved a heavy sigh and shook her head. “I have no holiday to ruin. Don’t worry, it’s not a problem.”
He cocked his head and she thought he looked extremely adorable when he did it.
“Why is that? It’s Christmas, everyone celebrates Christmas.”
Sona shook her head again, thinking. I really don’t want to get into this with a stranger right now…
But something about him pulled the honesty out of her.
“Not me. I’m not celebrating Christmas this year.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Why not? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I have no good reason too. I have no reason to be happy. If Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, then I can’t really participate.”
He had a questioning look on his face, but wisely kept silent. But that only made Sona want to share more.
“Look,” She stood up with a hint of frustration in her voice. “Are you staying here tonight or what?”
He looked up at her calmly and nodded. “Yes, I will. Thank you so much.”
She just nodded and left the room, locking herself in her bedroom.
Something was nagging on his mind the whole night, but he couldn’t tell what it was. No matter how much he tossed and turned, he couldn’t sleep, and he didn’t want to wake his gracious hostess, so he lay still, silent, and awake in the dark of the living room. Once thing he knew was that he wasn’t used to sleeping so high up from the ground. With his hands behind his head, he stared up at the ceiling, trying to figure things out in his head.
My name is definitely Lee Taemin. I was definitely trying to get home to my family for Christmas. I was definitely coming from somewhere important, where I had to be dressed up as Santa.
That was where he ran out of ‘definitely’s, and it all became ‘maybe’, ‘possibly’, ‘probably’, or ‘I just don’t know’. He sighed and looked over. What was that sound he heard? It sounded like whimpering. Did Sona own a cat or a puppy or something? She did live alone, right?
He sat up and looked around. He wasn’t imagining the sound, he was sure of that. He swung his legs over the edge of the couch and leaned forward, looking in the direction of the kitchen. Was someone crying in there? Could it be Sona? And if so, why was she crying? He remembered her sad expression when she talked about not celebrating Christmas. His heart reached out to her, even though his body was frozen to the couch.
Sona couldn’t sleep either. All she could think of was her boyfriend and her sister and how it was impossible for her to spend Christmas with either one of them. She really did want to celebrate Christmas, as much as she tried to deny it. But she couldn’t do it alone. And she couldn’t do it with this pain in her heart. When she looked over and saw that her clock read past midnight, she gave up on sleep and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water. That was when she couldn’t take it anymore and she broke down. She set the cup down on the counter with a clunk that she hoped didn’t wake Taemin. She back up against the wall adjacent to the glass balcony door, slid to the floor, and cried into her knees.
Why Christmas? Why does Christmas, which is supposed to be the best time of year, have to be the hardest for me? Why me? She pressed her hands to her mouth hard to stifle her sobs. Get a hold of yourself. What if Taemin wakes up and finds you like this?
“Sona?” Her head shot up at the quiet voice.
“Taemin!” She gasped, but didn’t move to stand up like every muscle in her body suddenly had the urge to do. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up. Go back to sleep. I’m ok.”
He shook his head and sat beside her. “You didn’t wake me up. I couldn’t sleep anyway. I think at my home, I normally sleep on a futon…”
“Oh, I’m sorry. You can take my room if you need to. I’m not sleeping tonight.”
He grinned. “You’re too kind. I don’t need to take you room. I can’t sleep either.”
Sona looked up at him. “Well, you shouldn’t stay up on account of me.”
He shook his head again. “It’s not you. Don’t worry about it.”
They sat in silence for e moment before Sona attempted to turn the conversation away from her by asking, “So why can’t you sleep?”
He sighed. “Do you know what it’s like not to even know who you are? All I know is my name. I don’t remember where I go to school, or who my parents are… What if I have siblings? What if my family is worried about me and I can’t even remember who or where they are…? And I can’t get to them for Christmas. How am I supposed to figure this out if I can’t remember anything?”
Sona looked at him for a while, then looked away. “I don’t know… At least you know there’s a family somewhere waiting for you…”
Taemin glanced at her and then glanced down and shrugged. “I guess… What about you?”
Sona looked up. “What about me? Why can’t I sleep or where is my family?” He just looked at her and waited for her to answer. Sona took a deep breath. “My family lives in America and my little sister is in Saint Jude’s Children Hospital because she has terminal cancer. And I can’t sleep because nothing in my life is right.”
Taemin continued looking at her. She sounded so moody all of the sudden. He could sense this was a touchy subject, but he couldn’t help wanting to help her.
“It must be hard living away from your family on Christmas…and worrying about your sister… I think…I think I’m an only child… And I’m pretty sure I don’t like it…I think.”
Taemin hit his head and made a sound of frustration. Sona watched him. He seemed so desperate. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to forget everything. There were times she wished she could but… To never again know the wonderful memories or the amazing people she loved… To not even have a home…
“I’m so sorry.” She said in a small voice. “You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like not to be able to remember anything. Not to be able to even make myself remember anything.”
“It’s ok. I think you’ve got it harder than me. I don’t think I have anyone I love who is very sick… But I do remember something about a hospital…” He looked off in thought.
“I can’t celebrate Christmas this year.” Sona grumbled.
She didn’t know why she decided to say it out loud, but she suddenly felt like she wanted to confess to this boy. He looked over at her with a look of shock on his face.
“How could you not celebrate Christmas? I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas…expect maybe—Wait!” He pointed his finger in the air again. “I have a dog…”
Sona giggled at his sudden outburst, which had loosened a bit of her tension.
“Is it because of your sister?” Taemin asked sympathetically.
“No… Last year my…” She stopped.
Am I seriously doing this? Telling everything to some strange Santa boy I found in a sleigh?
“You don’t have to tell me.” He said as if he had read her mind.
She shook her head. “No, I want to. I want to talk to someone about it. It’s just…hard.”
“Well, I’m a good listener.” He put out his hand over hers. “You can tell me anything.”
Sona kept her eyes down and nodded.
“Last year, on Christmas Eve, my boyfriend died. He was going to propose to me. I was going to marry him. We were going to buy a house and have kids.” Soon tears were streaming down Sona’s face again. “I love him more than any other person. I know it was a year ago, but… Christmas Eve? Why?”
Taemin was quiet for a moment, just squeezing her hand.
Then he asked, “Were you there?”
Sona nodded. “Yes. I was in the car with him. I was the “lucky one”. I don’t feel so lucky. Sometimes I wish I had died with him.”
Taemin’s head shot up. “What? No! Don’t say that! No one should want to die.” Sona didn’t respond, just looked away. “Do you know what I think?” She looked back at him. “I think those last moments he had with you in that car, were the best moments ever.” Sona looked confused. “I think just to know you were with him at the end… That you were there and you weren’t going to leave him… That you loved him enough to be with him for better or for worse…” Sona started to shake her head. “If you had the choice, would you choose to not be in that car with him?” She stopped. “Would you choose for him to crash in that car alone?”
Sona thought about it, then shook her head. “No… No I wouldn’t. I would be with him. But I would choose that he didn’t die.”
Taemin smiled and Sona saw tears twinkling in his eyes.
“You know what else I think? I think that your love is what gave his heart the strength to let go. I think it’s what keeps him watching over you from heaven. And I think it’s why he wants you to be the happiest person in the world, even without him.”
Sona buried her face in her hands and cried again. Taemin scooted closer to her, kept one hand over hers and put the other on her back.
“You see… When someone dies, they’re not gone forever. Death isn’t the end of everything. And if he loved you as much as you loved him, then there’s nothing that can truly separate your hearts, not even death. Nothing can stop love. And death doesn’t have to kill happiness.”
As she cried, Sona pictured it in her head. Her boyfriend sitting up in heaven, watching her helplessly. There was nothing he could do to say that he still loved her. There was no way to make her happy again because he couldn’t reach her from way up there. And here she was, still mourning him after a year, even though she knew he didn’t want her. It was kind of the same as Taemin’s amnesia. All she could remember was that he died. Not that he lived and loved and laughed and was an amazing guy. By choosing to be depressed and not celebrate Christmas, she was killing his memory as much as that other car had killed him a year ago on Christmas Eve night. She lifted her head to look into Taemin’s eyes. How had this strange boy dressed as Santa who could even remember where he was from or where he was headed…how did he get to her like this? How did he touch her heart and say just the words she needed to hear? How did he talk like he knew?
“Come on.” He took her hand and stood up. “Get dressed. I just remembered something I want to show you.”
Sona didn’t ask questions. She just trusted.
Taemin took her out of her apartment, down the street to catch a bus and then all the way to the hospital. Did he remember that suddenly he did have someone he loved that was sick? Did he want to show her so she knew she wasn’t the only one going through this? They went inside, and walked through the halls like they owned the place. No doctors or nurses or patients acknowledged them as they walked.
Taemin stopped as soon as they left the elevator and said, “This is why I’m dressed as Santa Claus.”
Sona didn’t understand. She looked around. There was no one there… It was the children’s ward. There were pictures of Santa and elves and reindeer and snowmen. There were little trees and lights and ornaments and presents and garland.
“I don’t understand…” Sona finally said.
“I remember now. I came here to play Santa Claus to all the kids that have to spend Christmas in the hospital. I sat in a decorated wheelchair for 6 hours and listened to the wishes of little children, knowing that all I had to give them was a small stuffed animal.”
Taemin took Sona’s hand and pulled her to the window of one room. She cupped her hands against the glass to eliminate the glare of the hallway lights. She could make out the small shape of a little boy clutching a teddy bear, and the figures of his parents asleep in nearby chairs.
“Some of them…all they wanted was to go home. All they wanted was to be well again. Some of them just wanted their family not to worry anymore.” He pulled her to an open doorway across the hall. “Do you know what she wanted?” He motioned to the girl asleep in the bed.
Sona shrugged, looking down as if she’d done something wrong.
“She asked Santa Claus for a new heart…because hers can’t work on it’s own. Every night she goes to sleep with the fear that she won’t wake up again, but maybe her heart will stop forever in the middle of the night while she’s sleeping—even with all the machines hooked up to her body.”
Then he took her to another room, opened the door, stepped inside, and then he closed it again behind them.
“Are we allowed to be in here?” Sona asked in a loud whisper.
Taemin put his finger to his mouth to silently shush her.
He leaned over and whispered into her ear, “What do you think she asked for for Christmas?”
Sona gazed down at the little girl asleep in the bed. Her face was peaceful, and in her arms was a little stuffed animal kitty. Her parents weren’t there. She was alone in the dark. Sona couldn’t imagine what a sick little girl like her would want.
“She has a brain tumor. You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at her, would you?” Sona shook her head. “All she asked for when she sat on my lap was for all the other children to get well and go home for Christmas. And there’s nothing I can do to make that wish come true. But just the fact that a little girl like her didn’t care as much about herself as she did for every other child in this hospital, shows that you can look past your problems and care about other people…maybe even be happy. You have no idea how much her face lit up when I gave her that kitten.”
Sona looked at the girl again. She had a brain tumor. She could die. And her family wasn’t there with her on Christmas Eve night. But all she asked for from Santa, was that others would be happy. She was content with only a cheap little stuffed animal cat. She was smiling now in her sleep. Sona’s eyes watered. That sounded exactly like the thing Ye-Jin would say. Her little sister would want her to be happy more than she’d want to get well.
Did I think I was the only one in the world who was hurting? Did I think I was only one who couldn’t see my family for Christmas or had lost a loved one? Did I think I was the only one with worries?
“Look at all of these children and tell me what you have to be thankful for.” Said Taemin.
Sona bit her lip, but that didn’t stop the tears.
“Everything.” She muttered. “I have a family that loves me and can afford the treatment for my sister’s cancer. I had wonderful memories with my boyfriend before he died. I have friends who care about me and a good roof over my head. I don’t have to worry about food or clothes or rent or bills because I have a good job. I have everything I need…and some things I want. I’m alive and breathing and healthy and loved and I go to great school…”
Taemin smiled and nodded. “You see, celebrating Christmas isn’t about what you don’t have, it’s about realizing the blessings you already do have and being thankful for them, even when things are hard. And no, it’s not easy, but it is possible.”
Sona nodded as well. He was right. She had more to be thankful for than a lot of other people. She thought of homeless people…starving children…women with breast cancer…men in jail with broken-down lives…families who had to deal with abuse…the whole world was full of hurt, but in the midst of it all, every year, there’s this tiny beacon of hope called “Christmas”. A light in dark places, when all other lights go out. And she wasn’t going to celebrate it… How could she not celebrate Christmas?
They left the room and she turned to Taemin. “Would you like to come to Christmas party with me?”
“That sounds wonderful, but I have a family somewhere, remember?”
“Oh, right, well first thing tomorrow morning, we’ll find them, I promise.”
He nodded. “I have no worries about that. Ready to go back?”
Sona nodded and they left the hospital to catch another bus.
Sona opened her eyes. It was…morning… She sat up. She was in her bed. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep on the bus with Taemin. Had he carried her inside? Her next thought made her laugh like a giddy little girl.
She stood up and walked out of her room. “Taemin, wake up, it’s…!” She stopped and looked around. “…Christ…mas…”
He wasn’t there. She checked the kitchen and the bathroom. He was gone. He had left, maybe in the middle of the night while she was sleeping.
Awww…he didn’t have to leave… But maybe he remembered something! Maybe he figured out where his family was.
She walked back into the living room and saw a present sitting on the couch with a note. With a confused grin, she sat and read the note. It was from Taemin.
Thank you for your hospitality, but it is time for me to go. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. A wonderful, kind girl like you shouldn’t be sad on Christmas, so please smile for me, ok? Remember all the things you have to be thankful for and know that I am praying for the health of your little sister. Stay hopeful…miracles can happen…
Sona smiled with tears in her eyes. She had only met him last night, but she knew she’d miss his angelic smile. He had opened her eyes and given her something to celebrate on Christmas. And now suddenly he was gone as thought he had only been a dream. Sona opened the little box with a bow on top and inside there was a charm bracelet with little silver angels and crystal beads with one charm that said, “Live, Laugh, Love”. Sona put the bracelet on and watched it sparkle in the sunlight that shone through her window. She ran to get her phone and called her mom.
“Hi Mom! Merry Christmas! I love you!” She smiled genuinely for the first time in a long time. “I miss you so much! How are you? Aw, well thank you! I sound different? Really? Hm… What? Seriously? The doctors said the treatment is working?! She’s getting better?! She can go home after New Years?! That’s great! I’m so happy! well, can I speak to Ye-Jin? Is she awake? Ok…”
When Ye-Jin spoke into the phone, her voice was sleepy, but delighted.
“Oh, hello Ye-Jin? How are you doing? I miss you so much!”
“I miss you too, Sona. I love you.”
“Aw, I love you too, Sweetie. Momma tells me you’re getting better. How do you feel?”
“Better, now that you called. Hearing your voice makes me feel a lot better.”
A single tear rolled down Sona’s cheek. “Oh, Ye-Jin, you’re so wonderful…”
“What did Santa bring you for Christmas?” Her little sister asked.
Sona grinned and pictured finding Taemin in the sleigh last night. She thought of how he sat with her when she cried. She remembered all the children he took her to see at the hospital. Even if he wasn’t truly Santa…
“He brought me…the will and the strength to move one…to overcome…to be happy.”
“Oh, well that’s good. He gave me a pretty doll.”
“Oh, how nice! Well, I’m glad you’re having a good Christmas.”
“I am. I definitely am now. I’m really glad you called, Sona.”
Sona wiped her tears away. “Me too.”
When she finished her phone call, Sona wondered about Taemin. It was mysterious how she had suddenly found him, he gave her the will to celebrate Christmas, and then he suddenly disappeared. She looked down at her bracelet and wondered if maybe he was angel or something. She didn’t quite believe this thought, but it made her smile. She quickly called the friend she had turned down yesterday, and explained that it was silly after all to not celebrate Christmas, and accepted her invitation to a Christmas party. She scrambled to find a dress and a grab-bag present. All day, she smiled, simply because she could.
She looked at herself in the mirror before leaving for the party and said to herself, “If I can look at myself and smile, then it’s a good day.”
All the while, from the top of a nearby city building, she was being watched. As she left her apartment in high spirits, a boy with starry eyes and a beautiful smile wished her a Merry Christmas in his heart, then spread his shinning white wings…and went home…
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