The Christmas Wallet (A Christmas Memoir)
By Melissa Kuch
I remember crying on the Long Island Railroad. It was 11am during the Christmas season in 2005 and I was bawling into my phone to my boyfriend Mike who had run out of jury duty to take my call. I had just been fired from my horrible job on the 56th floor of the Empire State Building after being told key catch phrases such as “I think I am from royalty” and that I am “belligerent”. I was not belligerent… it wasn’t my fault I worked for a sadistic workaholic lunatic whose sole purpose in life was to make my life miserable! I continued to sob into the phone, thinking it was the end of the world. Mike kept reassuring me that everything would be ok, reminding me that I hated that job and couldn’t wait to leave it. I nodded in between sniffs agreeing with him but internally I was struggling with the beaten ego. I had been fired! Me – A Magna Cum Laude student, 3.75 GPA who had everything going for her after graduation – had been fired after six months of working in the real world.
The following day came and I woke up in my parent’s house in Hicksville, Long Island realizing I had to find a job and Christmas was around the corner. The concept of buying presents and being cheerful were the last things on my mind, but I somehow struggled out of my bed and began the job search. I had to deal with the frustration of updating my resume, calling employers, making interview appointments and dealing with waiting on hold to apply for unemployment benefits. Since I had been making a measly salary at my job I wasn’t expecting much from unemployment, but anything was better than nothing.
I ended up taking my old job at Macy’s as a floater during the holiday season. My former employees were so happy to have me back, especially since they didn’t have to re-train me like the other floating staffers. I spent most of the day mad at myself and forced to smile at customers with too much money to waste. I felt like a failure but sucked it up and did the best job I could and met some interesting people. While working, I thought of some great ideas for stories as I listened to the Christmas music play over and over and over again ad nauseam until I wanted to pull my eardrums out of their sockets. When floating in the Men’s department, I enjoyed looking at the men’s jackets and hoping for further holiday discounts so that the price could be right so that I could get Mike the first Christmas present of our relationship. I had my heart set on getting him a new wool black coat since the one he wore was falling apart.
That weekend I went to my friend’s birthday party and was face to face with fellow college alumni, many who had already landed their dream jobs or were employed in good companies. It was agonizing and degrading to have to admit that I was fired and that I was looking for a job. I remember that I couldn’t wait for that night to end as we all gathered in Tequila Sunrise on Bell Boulevard in Queens. Everyone was happy, but I couldn’t help feeling such a loss of pride and I started to doubt who I was and what I wanted with my life. The feeling of failure snuck up on me again and again after each phone call that was never returned, or still not hearing a call back from a prospective employer even after a second interview. I guess I wanted everything handed to me on a silver platter, but that’s not the way life works. Some things you need to work for, other things you are blessed with but all things are in God’s hands.
It was Christmas Eve. I was still overcoming my depression and it was on at full force with the fear and anxiety of having to face my entire family the following day for Christmas. I continued battling with the unemployment benefits office and still had not received my check. Thanks to Macy’s, I was still able to make my monthly bill payments with some leftover, but the fear of the coming year was overwhelming and not having a job lined up was making me nervous. My family and I went to the cemetery that morning to plant a flower and put a wreath down for my grandparents who had passed away many years earlier. We sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas and said a prayer. The leaves had all fallen around the tombstone that was sunken into the earth with the names barely visible. But we still remembered their legacy. It was myself, my parents, my older sister Erin and my younger sister Cassandra. We then went to church where I said a prayer, not knowing who or what I was praying to. The homily escapes me now but the beauty of the lights twinkling in the church come to mind and are still as vivid as ever. We then went back home and I remember I cried. I cried so hard as all the feelings of emptiness and helplessness engulfed my soul and I felt so alone. Just then my younger sister Cassandra came into my room and I yelled at her to get out. But she didn’t leave. She instead handed me a carebear, a stuffed animal that I always wanted when I was a kid.
She handed him to me and said, “Here is your Christmas present early to cheer you up.”
I hugged her so hard and smiled as my younger sister comforted me in her arms.
The following morning was Christmas and I was fast asleep since I am not an early morning person at all. However I was awoken with a start as Cassandra was shaking me.
“Melissa there is someone at the door,” she said with fear in her voice.
I looked hurriedly at the clock and it read 8AM.
“A guy has been knocking for ten minutes. I don’t know who he is.”
I groggily got out of bed and threw on my robe; my frizzy brown hair disheveled as I ran down the stairs with Cassandra at my heels.
I called out in a loud voice, “Who is it?”
A man’s voice yelled back, “Does a Cassandra Kuch live here?”
My sister’s eyes grew wide and I was immediately confused and bewildered. “Why do you want to know?” I yelled back.
The man cleared his throat and said, “I have her wallet.”
Cassandra unfastened the lock with her fingers and threw open the door. There was a young man holding a wallet in his hands; the pink wallet that was undeniably Cassandra’s. I was speechless and couldn’t believe what was happening before my eyes. She opened the wallet and sure enough it was hers. I think we mumbled a thank you to the young man; I was too in shock to say anything else.
“Cassandra,” I asked when I was able to speak again, “did you know you lost it?”
She shook her head, her face as white as a ghost. When I turned back toward the door, the young man was gone. We closed the door shaking, not sure how to comprehend the event that just transpired on our street that Christmas morning. My dad would later say that it was a guardian angel. My mom said it might have been a young man who lost someone and found the wallet at the cemetery. All I knew was I couldn’t believe that someone would come out of their way to return a wallet on Christmas day to ease our worries. And I didn’t even ask him his name. I just hope, whoever he is, knows how thankful we are for what he did for us that Christmas morning.
Christmas happened as it always did with fun-filled merriment and carols around the fire. I was so excited when Mike opened his present to reveal the black wool coat that I was able to buy for him with the money I was able to save. A sense of pride and love filled my heart as he held me in his arms and that kiss that Christmas day is something I will always remember.
Before I knew it, it was New Years Eve. Cassandra and I were busy watching a movie together while munching on the goodies from one of those Harry & David gourmet baskets. My Dad had come home early and I recall that we were just laughing and enjoying being with each other. I knew at that moment that everything was going to be ok because we had each other.
Life is unpredictable and maybe in a past lifetime I was born from royalty, and maybe at times I am belligerent…but maybe I just was not meant to work at the top of the Empire State Building. Whatever the reason, I will always remember that Christmas of 2005 as being the Christmas that changed my life. The year 2006 became a year where I found a job that I actually enjoyed and it created a new career path for me that I never would have imagined. That year I also stopped being afraid to follow my heart, strengthening my love for Mike and realizing what truly is important. For in life, there will be highs and lows, and sometimes you hit rock bottom. But if you do, remember there are people in this world who will be there in ways you would never expect – like a young man who would return a wallet on a freezing, snowing morning on Christmas day.