Having devoted nearly all of my earnings this year to surviving and paying debt, the resources to fly home just weren't there. If Christmas means anything to me, it's about having a nice day with my family. Yet, for the second year in a row, I would not be doing that. The fiance and her family invited me to New Mexico, of course, but I was not feeling Christmas this year. Instead, I would stay in Los Angeles and try to find some way, any way within the law, to earn some money.
Besides all of this, the Christmas carols still remind me of Trinity Rep and its flagship production of A Christmas Carol, a life and a professional home I miss every day. They remind me of pushing a stage door through snow out onto Empire Street and the snap of cold air as I walked out into the flakes, often to walk up Federal Hill and find myself something delicious at one of the Italian markets between performances. They remind me of twinkling lights on Benefit Street and teasing my old friend Mauro and my acting teacher and other actors I had looked up to from childhood until I got be on stage with them. They are difficult for me, these songs, overfamiliar and laden with silence.
The irony is entertaining, though. When I played the Ghost of Christmas Past to Bill Damkoehler's Scrooge in 1999, I forcibly walked the miser through his past memories so he could remember where he came from, how he began the sorry path he treaded. We captured the feeling of this by riding a tandem bike from one scene to another. He trembled and swayed fearfully on the bicycle as he was dragged from one memory to another. One night, we actually fell and heard hoots of laughter in the wings.
Yet I don't like being on the bike any more than Scrooge. I can't help looking back, convinced there was a misstep somewhere but never finding it. Then I turn away in anger, load myself into the car, and drive somewhere to earn my living moving pieces of paper from one place to another, writing things on pieces of paper, and storing the paper in drawers full of other important pieces of paper. Bah humbug.
During Christmas week, the Center was closed and my hopes for temp work (extra income!) did not pan out. And yet, there was a reason for me to be in Los Angeles after all.
As Sarah arrived in New Mexico, disappointed that I had stayed behind, I got an email that a friend of mine had been in the hospital for a week. He had nearly died they night he came in and spent a week in the ICU on oxygen, antibiotics, and catheter. Mutual friends had not alerted me; the patient had asked for me after regaining consciousness. Ouch.
The day after I got the email, I found him at St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica. Sunim had been recovering very well, and enjoyed having friends around. He moved slowly, and his eyes were not focusing properly, but he smiled, laughed, and ate. And for Christmas Day, I canceled my plans to climb Kelso Dune again, adventuring in the mojave preserve, so I could spend part of that day amusing my friend while he healed.
It is good to remember, on a holiday that has become a National Consumer Holiday, that ones very presence can be a gift. When you're stuck in a bed looking like a human power strip, with cords and tubes coming out of you in all directions, listening to the whir and click of machines that are entrusted with your health, it can be a reassuring thing to look around and see friends hanging around, ragging on the president and telling in-jokes.
So this year Christmas was about friends, rather than my blood relatives. Besides Sunim, beeping and coughing in his hospital room, I raised glasses with friends old and new and walked through the neighborhoods of Los Feliz, a couple of paths in Griffith Park, to clear my head. I am not on some wild bike ride, after all; I am walking on the earth, one step, and another, and another.