I was 12 years old on December 24th 1978. My mom and I had just finished putting up our tree, which was a little late this year as my dad was overseas for his job. He worked for the Government doing some hush-hush secretive thing which he never spoke about, nor did I ask for that matter. I figured if it was something he wanted me to know, then he would have told me. We would never really know when he would come home but before leaving he would always say to me “Calvin, you are the man of the house when I’m gone. It’s up to you to make sure you take care of your mom and do as she asks.” to which I would dutifully reply “Yes sir! I’m your guy, you can count on me.” and he could too. I was like that as a child, responsible and wise beyond my years (or so I thought). He would then ruffle my hair and kiss my mom, putting his arms around her holding her tight. Sometimes it made me uncomfortable how long they would stay in their embrace, it was like my mother just couldn’t allow herself to let him go. This routine took place every time he would leave, but each time he would return my mom would also come back from the doldrums she was in when he was gone. My mother was always concerned when he left on his work trips, even though she tried her best to conceal it from me; but it came out in other ways, as she would get moody and tended to get angry at the most minor infraction. Thankfully that would only last a day or two before things would return to normal. We had received a call from Dad late the night before where he said “It looks as though I am going to be able to get away and be home for Christmas, but more than likely I won’t arrive until late in the day on the 24th so go ahead and decorate the Christmas tree without me” The news of my father returning home lit up my mother’s eyes, instantly brightening her somber mood. It was good to see her smile a real smile and not the fake one she would wear just for me.
We finished up the decorations and I was pouring some hot water from the whistling kettle to make us some yummy hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows, just the way my mom liked it. I remember when the doorbell rang to the front door, seeing my mother jump instinctively and eyeing the door excitedly before getting up from her chair where she was admiring our handiwork. She flung open the door to reveal a man dressed in a military uniform along with two other well dressed civilians. My mother sank to her knees before any of the men could open their mouths to speak. Quickly putting down the steaming mugs I ran to her side to help her in any way I could. The military man had grabbed her arms as she dropped to stop her from falling over completely. She began to sob uncontrollably in large heaving gasps. I was confused and frightened as to what this all meant. One of the well dressed civilians stepped in to help my mother to the couch. The military man knelt down to one knee, looking me in the eyes. “You must be Cal?” Finding my voice I shakily replied “Yes sir I..I am, can I ask what’s happened?” looking at my mother sobbing in the living room. His eyes lowered to the floor and I could tell by the wrinkling of his brow and set of his jaw that he was trying to find the right words to tell me something. But I already knew from the look on his. I knew…my dad was gone.
We had the funeral the following week. It was nice I guess, as funerals go, I had only been to my Grandmothers before but I was so little then, that I really don’t remember it much. There were so many people there, people I didn’t recognize. Some were in uniforms of one kind or another. Some were sobbing along with us but others stood there stoically, with their hands balled into fists placed tightly at their side. I was sad, angry and more than a little lost. I understood that my dad was gone and never coming back. What I was most upset about was that I never got to say goodbye! My Aunt Doris came to stay with us to help around the house; but I think she was mainly there to take care of my mom, who rarely ventured out of her darkened bedroom. For the most part I was left on my own through this ordeal. This was fine with me because truthfully the last thing I wanted was to be fussed over like a little kid. I know my mom loves me, but I also knew that she was never very strong. She would come around sooner or later.
Spring begun to take hold of the world again. The sun shone brighter reaching its warm tendrils to those below as if all of life seemed to be waking from its long cold winters slumber. I watched some neighborhood kids playing on the field next to our house, but I didn’t feel like joining them. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything; just sitting and thinking. My thoughts always returned to my dad, how he smelled of Old Spice and paint. He loved to paint, when he had time to sit down for it, that is. He was really good at it and I hoped I had inherited his talent for art. It was my favorite class in school and he used to complement how life-like my drawings were. I had an area in my room that housed my collection of art books and sketch pads. Out of a sense of nostalgia I decided to go and check out my dad’s studio in the corner of our basement. I stood looking at his lonely easel with a fresh canvas resting on it; his brushes and paints waiting for the next inspiration. I sat in his chair staring at his bookshelf. I ran my fingers over the spines of the books, reliving the days when I would sit and watch him create his beautiful works. My eyes settled upon a book with a very old binding that was tattered and browned with age. I reached for it and received an electric shock when my fingers grazed the cover, making me jump instinctively.
I tentatively pulled the book off the shelf and opened it with a slow deliberate motion as I was a bit afraid of ripping it. I couldn’t understand the words as they were in some foreign language, seeming to be written with symbols rather than letters. I cautiously flipped through the pages until one particular symbol caught my eye. I had seen it before…but where? Then it came to me! Just before Christmas I had seen a box in my parents bedroom that had that exact symbol on it! An excitement came over me just then and I bolted up the stairs and into my parents bedroom. The shades were drawn shut as they usually were so I threw them open to start my hunt for the box. After a few minutes of searching, I came across it! I felt a little guilty for rummaging through my mom’s room but the excitement of finding the box replaced that feeling.
It was an ornate wooden box with a ribbon wrapped around it. The tag had my name on it! It read “To Calvin, Love Dad” Tears rolled from my eyes as I sat on the floor staring at this present that was never given. It had an electrified air about it, I felt like something big was about to happen! Unhinging the four clasps on the lid, I eased it off slowly, methodically. A small wisp of dust shimmered out of the box as I opened it. A small object was wrapped in an old frayed piece of cloth. On top of it laid a folded piece of paper. I took out the note and read it aloud “Merry Christmas my son. This belonged to someone from the past who had been reported to wield a great power! I know that you and your mother always wonder what I do when I am gone on my work trips. I still cannot tell you, but this is something I had recently come across in my travels. This is very special and unique and MUST be handled with extreme care. For it too holds a unique power within. This world does not believe in magic anymore Calvin, trust me when I tell you it does indeed exist! Use it with care and only for something you truly want.” I stopped reading and stared at the package within. My heart beat like the thunder of some great storm and it felt like it was going to pound its way out of my chest!
Cautiously, I unwrapped the little bundle inside. It appeared to be a white oblong rock of some kind. I held it up to the sunlight that was streaming through the window to get a better look at it. It felt heavy in my hand, heavier than it looked like it should be, and there was what appeared to be a glitter-like substance coating it, creating a multi-colored prism on the walls and the ceiling when the sunlight struck it. It was an amazing show of light! I lifted the note again reading further. “This piece of chalk was rumored to have once belonged to Xochipilli, the Aztec God of beauty, flowers, dance, song and art. It is said to be imbued with a gift from the heavens, to bring to life that which it has drawn. Xochipilli used this to create some of the most beautiful flowers that ever sprang from the Earth as well as music that filled the skies with celestial song. It is not something to be taken lightly. Cal, you must not use this for evil. If you do it will turn on you and become something more than you can handle, according to the legends. I love you and Merry Christmas my son. Dad”
I could feel the piece of chalk actually vibrating softly in my hand, or maybe it was just my nerves, but either way I felt an overwhelming urge to draw something…but what? I knew there was more to this gift than just some old piece of chalk. I stood, gathering the box and its contents, and head down the hall to my own bedroom. I shut the door behind me not taking my eyes off this dusty piece of soft rock. I flopped down on my bed, laid back holding this mysterious object above me, turning it this way and that in my hand. I was enamored with this odd gift from my dad and couldn’t stop thinking what I could do with it, if the “legends” were true. I gently placed the chalk in the center of the cloth wrapping, folding the edges around it carefully and laid it back inside the box, clicking the clasps back into place. I set it on the stand beside my bed keeping hold of the note my dad had written to me. Laying my head onto my pillow, I re-read the letter over and over analyzing each stroke of pen of my dads words.
I don’t remember falling asleep but I must have because when I opened my eyes it was dark outside and my blankets had been pulled up around me. I rolled over to face the box to find that it was open, with the chalk laying beside my pillow. There was a luminescent pulse to it that I hadn’t noticed before, I could swear there was a noise coming from it. A sound like a whisper, so soft and quiet that I had to move my ear closer to it to know if I was going crazy or not? “Calvin” it whispered. I leapt off the bed, my heart beating fast and hard! I stared at it, afraid to get closer. Over and over it was speaking my name! “How can this be?” I exclaimed! I moved closer, gathering my courage as I went. I reached out to touch it and the aura around it began to brighten, illuminating my bedroom in a soft bluish light. I swallowed hard and took hold of the glowing piece of chalk. The light grew in intensity and colors, they began to swirl around me, engulfing me in its brilliance.
I couldn’t gather my thoughts and lost track of any sense of time when the whisper became an ethereal disembodied voice, deep and commanding in tenor, “Calvin” it spoke again. “I belong to you now, I am a part of you as you are of me!” ” it continued “I know your desires, I know your needs. You seek that which was taken from you!” It paused, seeming to await my response. It took me a moment or two to come to my senses and stammered “Can you…can you bring me my father back?” “No child, nothing can do that. But I can allow you to send a message to the beyond” Tears welled in my eyes as I said “Yes…yes please!” a said softly. “As you wish little one, but you must clear your mind.” It instructed “Think of your father, believe in him, believe in yourself, believe…in me!”
I closed my eyes as it asked. I could see my dad in my mind, how tall he was, his soft blue eyes, his short salt and peppered hair, it was all there, in my mind like some vivid photograph! The image became brighter and clearer as it formed in my imagination. I could feel him, his presence, his scent. I don’t know how long I was standing like that. When I opened my eyes I was facing my bedroom wall, the piece of chalk in my hand, smaller than before not much more than a sliver of it left. The wall was covered in chalk markings! Swirling and coalescing like they were alive. They looked like shimmering clouds floating back and forth, moving and undulating in and out. I felt like I could reach into it and touch the clouds. A small figure appeared, small at first as if it was at some great distance away, growing in size like it was coming closer and closer. The image was fuzzy at first, but the closer it got the sharper the details came into focus. My heart pounded inside my chest. I could hear my breathing becoming loud and rapid. My father was walking towards me from inside the clouds! I called out to him, “Dad!” He smiled at me and seemed to be speaking but I couldn’t hear the words. He reached out his hand towards me, his gaze softening as he looked down to me. I reached for him but my hand only touched the cold hard wall between us.
Dad pointed his finger to his mouth shaking his head then to his ear, where he nodded his head. I understood what he meant by that-he could hear me, but I couldn’t hear him. He smiled at me and knelt on one knee. I too got on my knees in front of him. “I miss you dad! Are you…okay?” He nodded, holding his hands over his heart with a smile. “What happened? Why couldn’t you make it home?” I asked. Looking down towards the floor, his eyes looked wistful. Pointing to his heart and shaking his head lightly. “Your heart?” I inquired. He nodded again. “I understand Dad. We miss you, Mom misses you!” I suddenly stood thinking I needed to go and get her, but Dad stood as well shaking his head sadly. He looked over his shoulder to something behind him. Turning back to me, he pointed at the watch he wore on his wrist. “Please don’t go!” I cried. He tilted his head and gave me that smile of his. The same smile he wore when I would wake from a bad dream to find him holding me in the night, comforting me, reassuring me that everything was okay.
He held his hand flat against his side of the wall and I followed his lead placing mine against his. The wall felt warmer where we touched. “I love you” he mouthed. ‘I love you too Dad!” I replied. Tears streamed down my cheeks as we looked into each other’s faces, studying them. “Goodbye Dad” I said softly. He nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from mine. He smiled one last time and turned to walk back the way he came. I stood there with my hand against the wall, not wanting to drop it. I watched him walk away into the swirling mists. He stopped. Turning back to me he raised his hand, waved to me, and then he was gone. I dropped back to the floor, sobbing into my hands. Tired and weary, with no more tears to shed, I rose and walked back to my bed. I sat on the edge and realized that my heart didn’t feel as heavy as it had been these past few months. I laid back and pulled the covers up around my neck. I closed my eyes, still clutching the chalk in my hand as I drifted off into the kind of sleep only those that have peace in their hearts can achieve.
I awoke the next morning to the sunlight shining upon my face, feeling happy and full of hope. My thoughts returned to last nights events. I noticed I wasn’t holding the sliver of chalk anymore and pulled my covers off the bed searching for it. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked for the box on my nightstand and it too was gone! Distraught, I tore apart my bedroom in a hectic frenzy trying to find it. My mom opened the door looking at me quizzically. “Lose something?” she asked. “The box and the chalk are gone!” I shouted as I continued my frantic search. “What box?” she asked me. I stopped and turned to face her. “The box dad gave me for Christmas!” I snapped. Her eyes narrowed on me “What are you talking about?” she replied in that tone that told me that I had spoken too harshly. Softening, I said “Last night I opened the box I found in your room-the one Dad left for me for Christmas?” She looked at me as if I was crazy. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?” She looked around the room and said “Clean this up Cal, then come down for breakfast, I’m making pancakes and bacon.” She turned and walked out of my room and down the stairs.
I stood there wondering if maybe I had imagined it all. Did I just dream of something that I had been wanting so badly? Calming down and thinking that she must be right, that it was all just a vivid dream. I started to clean my room and put things back in order. When I finished making my bed and began to walk out the door for breakfast, I glanced at the surface where I was so sure that I had seen my dad. I noticed something part way up the wall. It was a small, faded hand-print exactly where I put my hand against my dads. Looking closer I could just make out the symbol in the center on the palm. It HAD happened, it WAS real! Out loud, to no one in particular I said “I got to say my goodbye after all.” As I placed my hand against the mark on the wall a smile crossed my lips and my heart-felt overflowing with joy, the first time in a very…very long time. With one last glance back I walked out of my room and headed for the kitchen thinking,”Things are going to get better. Today…is a good day.”
Stay safe, stay warm and be kind to each other.