I've always enjoyed keeping my room dark. On occasion a beam of sunlight would penetrate my blinds if they had been moved for one reason or another. It's not that I have anything against daylight but the burst of sunshine brought the spots on the carpet and dust in the air to life. Julianna would have never stood for that. She always made sure I cleaned and picked up after myself.
I heard a very loud knock on my door. It didn't surprise me. It was my very determined neighbor who uses the Holidays as an excuse to drive me crazy. “Old guy... hey OLD GUY! It's me again. I'm having friends over tomorrow to celebrate the new year. You're invited but I know you wont show up. Hell, I'd be surprised if you even answered the door. I know I've said this the past three years but THIS is the absolute last time I will bother you on New Years Eve. I just figured you might, ahhh ya know what, never mind!” she said. She was acting like a child who was being forced by her mother to be nice to the uncle no one cared for. “Later Scrooge,” She mumbled from the other side of the door. “I heard that,” I replied. It's not the first time I overheard people walking up and down the hallways at night comparing me to pre-ghost Ebeneezer.
I invited my neighbor in and offered her a seat. She reluctantly sat down and was obviously in some form of shock. “Look man, if you plan on murdering me or something my boyfriend knows I'm here,” She told me. I had seen her boyfriend on occasion in passing. He was always on his phone and never really paid her any attention. If I did happen to murder her I honestly don't believe he'd even notice, at least for a few days. “Your days are mixed up,” I said as I was trying to keep a cough under control while my eyes watered a bit. “You don't sound too good,” My neighbor mentioned. She seemed confused by my statement. I went on to explain how tomorrow is not New Years Day at all, it's actually December 32nd, the last day of Christmas. Her eyes opened very wide as she began to rise from the old west cowhide club chair to make a speedy exit. Before walking out the door she stopped to look back at me. My hand was covering my face as I was clutching my side coughing uncontrollably with my mouth shut. “You! Sit down and I'll get you a glass of water while you explain to me how tomorrow isn't January first,” She said in a demanding voice while storming toward my tiny kitchen. I thanked her for the glass of water and began to tell my story.
The year was 1971. I had just returned from Vietnam in the middle of December. I was in my twenties, stronger, healthy, and arguably better looking. I was happy to be home for many reasons but none compared to Julianna. I was going to ask her to marry me. We met a week before I had shipped out. I bet we wrote each other a thousand letters while I was gone and she was finishing college. We got to know each other through the mail. Each note uncovered something new. Each sentence and every letter was the beginning of our love story.
We were married in December. Neither of our families had much money so it was a small ceremony in a little church just outside of Clarksville. Her dad was the preacher so we got a pretty great deal. I forgot to mention both of our birthdays were in December and I proposed to her the day before Christmas the previous year. Seeing as how this was a very special month we decided one day of Christmas just wasn't enough. Our first December as a married couple was the beginning of a very special tradition.
Each year the tree was up before midnight on November 30th. December first we celebrated Christmas, December second we celebrated Christmas, December third we celebrated Christmas, and this went on all the way through the 31st. We exchanged gifts each day, nothing too extravagant. It was mostly handmade cards and sometimes a new pair of shoes or something. One year I did manage to save up and get her a new ring for our ten year anniversary on Christmas the 13th. She went all out and made me my favorite, Rum Cake for Christmas the 14th. Our life together was special. Our life together was perfect.
Around the time the 70's were coming to an end we found out children weren't going to be possible. It was pretty devastating news for the both of us but we managed. The 80's were a struggle because I messed my back up pretty badly at work and had to change career directions. We had talked about adoption before our income shrunk. The 90's happened and we finally decided children just weren't meant to be. It probably took us a solid twenty years to let that dream go but we were at peace with it. Through all of the struggles, the tragedies, the blindsides life tends to throw we always managed to keep our Christmas tradition strong. We celebrated Christmas for 31 days straight each year for over 30 years.
In 2005 we found out Julianna was sick, really sick. We spent most of that year in and out of hospitals, mostly in. November the doctor told me my wife would not make it through December. This simply meant we had to make adjustments. We lost the house over the course of her illness but it didn't matter. I managed to get a Christmas tree up in her room by midnight, November 30th. It was quite small but a beautiful tree. Her smile lit up the room when she woke and saw it. On Christmas 1st we exchanged gifts, on Christmas 2nd we exchanged gifts, and on Christmas 3rd we exchanged gifts. Early in December she managed to glue, cut, and paint some of the most beautiful presents I have ever seen. The cards I gave her weren't near as detailed or colorful but were made with just as much love. By the middle of the month her Christmas gifts were hugs at first then soft kisses before she nodded off each day. Eventually her gifts became a tired little smile she was able to force before all of the medication sent her to sleep.
A staff member came into the room to reassure me, my Julianna was not in any pain. I ignored him because we were in the middle of celebrating Christmas 31st. The ring I had given her for our anniversary so many years ago had fallen off of her finger because she had lost so much weight. I wrapped some yarn around the ring and slid it back on her hand. This was my simple gift to her this Christmas. She held my hand in return. Knowing she would not make it through the night I gave her a final kiss and said goodbye before falling asleep with her hand in mine.
I guess I must have turned over in my chair during the night. I woke up early the next morning refusing to open my eyes because I was content in the dark imagining my wife next to me forcing a tired smile in my direction. I had finally worked up enough nerve to peek at her next to me in the bed. She was still breathing. My stubborn wife had managed to live longer than anyone had expected. Right then and there I decided this must be December 32nd. My wife decided to give me the most amazing, awesome gift anyone could ever receive. She gave me the gift of an extra day. I laid beside her and talked about our life together. The memories flooded in and and each moment, each Christmas was alive again. I wanted her to know I did not take her final gift for granted. I wanted her to know I never took a single Christmas or a single day with her for granted, ever. I looked at her and saw the beautiful woman I had met almost 40 years ago. I could see her hazel eyes full of joy, her perfect little crooked smile that was sometimes a mask whenever I did something stupid. I could smell her favorite perfume while I ran my finger over the bridge of her nose. We talked into the night. She passed late that evening.
That's why December 32nd is the most important day of the year. My young neighbors eyes were full of tears. She hugged my neck and left the room. I sat in my old chair that night holding my wife's ring. I needed to feel close to her. Once again memories flooded in and I was able to sleep on this special Christmas eve.
First thing in the morning on December 32nd a very loud knock shook my apartment. My neighbor began speaking through the door, “I broke up with my boyfriend last night. I told him your story. All he had to say is that is was silly to waste all of that time and effort every year. I kicked him out because I want what you had! I want that kind of love. I have a gift for you. It's Christmas the 32nd and I want to clean your apartment for you. Hey old guy... OLD GUY!” She continued to talk but I never responded. I had passed sometime in my sleep that night. I spent over one thousand Christmases with Julianna and that still wasn't enough. I was ready to hold her hand again.