Middle School

Winning the heart of a cat and memories of the stalking squirrel

I went to meet my new feline companion the other day. After moving into this new apartment, I set a goal for myself to befriend my new roommate’s cat. The cat, named Chloe, esteemed with the long fifteen years she has achieved, approached me. Her wizened, stoic face looked up at me.

This is my chance, I thought. I can become part of your world. I can show you that I belong.

I stuck out my hand, my fingers lingering in front of her nose.

Chloe, however, is no curious puppy. Nay, not even a lazy pug. She did not like this foreign object.

She looked me in my eyes, furious. She pawed my hand away, her disgust thick in a raspy hiss.

I was fortunate that she had been declawed some time ago, but I was stunned. Here I was, thinking I was making considerable progress. But no, she just wanted a reason to hate me and I gave it to her.

Fortunately, this was not the worst attack I have suffered. The greatest feat I dealt with was when I was in Alaska on a summer family trip during my middle school years.

The day felt brisk – we had spent the day hiking in Juneau. We were finishing up our tour of the nature with sifting for gold. There was a gift shop next to our sifting station. After the reenactment activities, the rest of my family went inside the shop. I lingered outside and looked up at the sky, brilliantly blue and clear.

I did not realize, however, that my presence severely pissed off a local rodent resident.

I looked down to my right and saw the squirrel that still haunts my nightmares. On its hind legs, its bulging and black eyes looked into mine and it started walking towards me.

I took a step back, but the squirrel’s intentions were cruel and understood perfectly. I started to back away faster, but it gained momentum. I began to feel a numb dread, my chest weighing heavily. I started to run to the gift shop door. It ran as well, gaining ground.

Fortunately, I reached inside before the rabies-filled stalker put its grubby paws on me.

Shaken up and beginning to tear up, I grabbed my dad and told him of the horrors of the rogue squirrel. Of course, my brother and sister walked by and thought this was oh so funny, but they didn’t have to endure the horrors I did.

When we left, I walked closely behind my dad, watching the bushes intently for the evil squirrel. Thankfully, I was spared another horrific interaction. To this day, however, I speed up a little when I see one of those damned creatures on the sidewalk.

Now when I see Chloe, I feel grateful that it was merely a soft punch of stuffed-animal-like creature rather than a disgusting rat-thing. I nod to her as she remains curled on the couch, the legend herself bathing in sunlight.

I will respect you, cat. I think to her. And maybe one day you will respect me.

Claus and Effect

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I actually wrote this story when I was a senior in high school. In the spirit of the season, I felt it fitting to publish.


 

I believed in Santa Claus until I was in eighth grade.

It was easy at first. Oh, sure! I felt content amongst other believers at elementary school. Whenever the holiday season came, we made homemade ornaments in class such as felt reindeer traced out from our hands. Also, away from my classmates, there was the joy of seeing Santa with my family! During the annual Christmas Walk in my town, we would wait outside with only a meager cup of complementary hot chocolate from the concession stand to keep us warm in the below freezing temperatures. Why? To be in the presence of the one and only Santa Claus, of course!

“Oh my gosh… we always have to wait sooooo long!” I moaned just as we were approaching Santa’s tent. That December during my third grade was particularly frosty.

“I want the LEGO Eiffel tower… and I want the red Bionicle…” Grant, my younger brother by three years, said, listing off his first picks of the year.

As we entered the tent, Santa smiled at us warmly.

“Merry Christmas, kids! Have you been good this year?”

“Yeaaah!” Lucy, Grant’s twin, chirped as we climbed on top of Santa’s knees. “Santa, can I have some more horsies?”

“You mean the little toy ones, right?” Santa replied with a smirk.

“Yeah… but a real one would be nice, too!”

Santa chuckled his famous laugh. “Ho, ho, ho! Alright then! Now, you my boy,” he said, turning his direction towards Grant, “What would you like?” Grant then sat up straight on his lap and talked with the utmost dignity.

“Santa, I want a lot of things.”

“Okay then!” Santa said, mildly surprised at his bluntness.

“Well, I want a LEGO Eiffel tower, and I want Bionicles, and I want Super Mario Smash Brothers-”

“Santa will see what he can do!” Santa said, before my brother got any further with his endless Christmas list. Santa then looked at me.

“And what would you like?”

I blushed. “Well,” I said in a small, quiet voice, “I… I would like Nellie, the new American Girl doll.”

“How nice! Santa would see to it!”

And with his promise, I beamed into Mom’s camera as we took our picture with him. I was thinking about Nellie, my soon-to-be new doll!

By fifth and sixth grade it was a bit more difficult. People talked about their parents putting presents under the tree as Santa – “Lalalalala! I can’t hear you!” I said. Every time my friends would allude to the truth, I would plug my ears in defiance. Some said that I was in denial. I said that I was determined to not give up. I would tell my friends (my “nonbeliever” friends) that my cousins had actually seen him. Lucy first told me about this infamous incident.

“Claire, did you know that Matthew and Christian caught Santa on video??”

“No way!” I said, flabbergasted. Did Lucy really mean it? I could feel my eyes bulging out of their sockets. Did they really see him?

“Yeah, they did!” Lucy quipped, seeming to answer my thoughts. “They tried to stay up all night, but they fell asleep. But when they looked back at the camera the next day, they found that a black glove went across the screen!”

I gasped so loudly that I felt that I had sucked all of the air out of the room. “That’s proof of Santa!!!”

“I know!!!” Lucy said, jumping up and down from her excitement.

By early December of my eighth grade, however, I was one of the few. I proudly wore my “I still believe in Santa Claus” shirt even though it was starting to get a little short. I was in the midst of writing my list for him that was as extensive as ever. I had pushed any notion of doubt of his existence to the side. He was real, I kept saying to myself, they just don’t believe.

Still, there were nights when I lay awake, deep in thought. How could a jolly, red-suited man really live at the North Pole? There isn’t any land at the North Pole… and how could a man manufacture toys for every kid in the world?

I stopped myself. I had to believe.

As I started to relax, I filled my head with convictions: I mean, even Mom believes in Santa. She has that nightgown of the Mary Englebright cartoon with Santa saying “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Mom says she believes!

A couple weeks before my insomnia attacks started, I asked Mom if she really, truly believed in Santa. It’s not like a big deal or anything, I told myself right before I asked her, even when I knew that my heart was beating a little faster. I just want Mom’s opinion on the matter.

“Hey mom,” I said, my head down, eyes scaling the wood paneling of our kitchen floor.

“Yes?”

“Do…well, you believe in Santa, right? Do… do you?”

She puckered her lips and tilted her head up for a moment, deep in thought. As she was thinking, I focused on the foggy window behind her, my stomach churning from anticipation.

“I do believe,” Mom said after awhile. “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.”

Remembering Mom’s words on those cold, question-filled nights, I could then drift into sweet, sugar-plum-fairy-filled sleep.

But fate had a different plan for me. My Titanic of forced ignorance was drifting into an iceberg and Santa was going down with the ship.

It was a typical school day. Well, at least for the holiday season. Things were winding down for winter break and a festive spirit was taking over. I was sitting in class, doing a Christmas-themed activity: answering questions on a children’s book about Santa. Whilst reading, my teacher strolled to my table.

“Good afternoon, Claire!”

I looked up from my book. “Hello!”

“It’s a nice little book isn’t it?”

I nodded, a merry grin sprawled across my face.

“It is.”

“The pictures are so lavish. And the story is absolutely charming.”

“Yes! I also like how Santa can’t go to every house so he gets the parents to do it.”

“Yes, it’s very sweet,” she said, smiling. “It’s a good book to show to the kids when they find out that there’s no Santa Claus.” And with that completely earth-shattering remark, she was onto the next table.

A bomb had been dropped. The nice, red-suited man was a lie.

I looked around the room, my face numb. No one else seemed to be in quite as big of a shock as I was. They were still reading the book, that nice, stupid, little book, without any misgivings or anxiety attacks. WHY? I thought. WHY ARE THEY ALL OK?!?! SHE JUST SAID THAT SANTA WASN’T REAL!!!!

I could hardly contain my blubbering bouts of sobbing until the end of the day. After I was let off the bus, I ran home. Mom was standing outside of the car in the driveway, unaware of my turmoil. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“MOMMEE,” I screamed, barely coherent, “SANTAISNTREAAAL!!”

“Claire! What! What are you talking about?” Mom asked, her eyebrows creased with worry.

I buried my red, snotty face into her jacket. “Santa’s not real,” I whimpered.

“Awww, sweetheart!” Mom said as she gave me a hug. I could feel her start to chuckle as her chest bounced up and down. Through my tears, I guess I had to laugh, too. Here I was, emotional, little Claire, crying about how there isn’t a Santa Claus at age thirteen.

Through the rest of the season, though, I felt naked when doing the annual celebratory acts such as lighting the advent candles or putting up ornaments on the tree. I watched my brother and sister talk about how they were going to write out their lists perfectly so that Santa would be able to determine which items on their lists they wanted the most. I would smile and nod, and then run to the other room crying.

Even while crying, though, I had to come to terms with the truth. I was kidding myself. I knew all along that he wasn’t real. Ever since I found that price tag on the CD case in my stocking a few years back. Ever since I recognized my parent’s handwriting in the letters from Santa. Ever since I realized that when my parents made us close our bedroom doors to bring down their presents to the tree, it took them an awful long time before my father’s heavy steps and Mom’s delicate pattering drifted downstairs…

But I loved Santa. Santa made me feel like a kid.

I don’t want to grow up. Not yet, I thought as my brother joyfully perused the Bionicles. After winter break started, my family and I made the traditional trip to Chicago. We always went to the same places: the stores at Water Tower Place, Virgin, Borders; now we were in the LEGO store, the shelves lined with glossy plastic casings of a bunch of itty bitty bricks that gave my brother great pleasure.

“Remember, I want these, Mom!” Grant excitedly pointed to the newest edition of the Toas. “But I already have this one. Tell Santa I don’t want that one.” The happy sparkle in his eye was enough to make me go crazy with jealousy. I want to be a kid again!

Eventually, Christmas Eve was upon us. Throughout the day I morosely thought about how my siblings would eventually learn the truth about Santa as well. Before going to the evening service at church, though, things changed. We had a candlelit dinner. Lucy and I had our hair meticulously curled and full of hair spray. Grant and Dad sat at the wooden dining table with smooth suit jackets and brilliantly festive ties. Mom had on shiny Christmas jewelry and shoes that went clomp, clomp, clomp, as she walked across the hardwood floor. In hushed tones, we asked each other for some more ham and mashed potatoes. Amongst the calm atmosphere, Lucy and Grant were anticipating for when we could get ready for Santa. Just as I was about to looked away sullenly and try to think of something else, my parents stole my attention.

“I found the Santa plate. We can put the sugar cookies on it, you know, the ones that Grant likes,” Mom said.

“We’re going to have to put out the oats quickly, it’s pretty cold out,” Dad chimed in.

My ears were ringing. Mom and Dad were excited, too! I wonder why, I thought, delving into the mashed potatoes, but it became clear to me as I remembered Christmas Eve past: The fastidiously handwritten notes to Santa. The warm milk in my hand as I set the glass on the table. The tingle of bitter cold as I place the small plate of dried oatmeal on the glittering snow. With each memory, my mashed potatoes seemed to get sweeter by the mouthful.

“Claire, are you excited to set out oats for Rudolph?” Lucy asked.

I looked up from my plate and smiled. “Yes, yes I am.”


 

On Christmas day, Grant was the first one up. He’s always been the first one up. He was downstairs and bounding across the floorboards, and I’m pretty sure it was the sound of his mammoth feet that aroused my parents from their brief slumber. They tried to sleep in as much as they could and said things like, “Oh, it’s too early to open presents,” or, “Not until I have my coffee.” Try as they might, they had to release us. My bursting brother, with my sister and I not too far behind him, rushed down stairs.

Tree aglow, the misty windows housed a celebration of pure joy. My brother’s eyes popped at seeing the bounty under the tree, and my sister’s squeals rose in pitch as she looked at our overflowing stockings. All the while, my siblings praised Santa Claus.

The oats outside were half eaten and we saw that there were hoof prints in the light snow! That’s the one thing I’ve never asked my parents about. The hoof prints outside our back door. I think I’ll leave that mystery alone.

We found that Santa drank half of his glass. Part of a cookie with little crumbles nestled on his special plate. We read the note, (it was Dad’s handwriting), and it was saying how good we all were that year. Dad turned on the Christmas music in the CD player and the kids were officially allowed to open all their gifts. After each stocking unveiling and gift unwrapping, I would glance over to Mom and Dad. Then I would smile and say, “Thanks, Santa.”