At 3:19 a.m. on Dec. 22, I received a text that said, “We’re here!”
I had been sleeping on the couch with the doggies to try to keep the rest of the household — my parents in the basement; William, who had to work in the morning, in our bedroom — sleeping despite this late-night arrival. I looked outside and saw a sight that has happened about eight times since I moved to Kentucky: my little brother Matthew standing in the driveway.
Fitz figured it out before Tilly and let escape a warning bark that I quickly tried to shush. The three of us ran out the front door and into the dark, where Matthew and his loving wife Jennie were unloading their suitcases.
You know when you see your most favorite person in the world but then, when they’re in front of you, you kind of freeze and don’t know how to express your happiness without looking like a nerd? That was me. I ran up to Matthew and Jennie and then forced myself to stop and offer up a little wave. My voice was about two octaves too high though when I said, “I’m so happy you’re here!”
Tilly didn’t hold back though and started frantically trying to scramble up their legs as if she were trying to capture something she sensed was fleeting. Understated Fitz was also happy, wagging his little tail with all his might as he stood back observing the scene.
Matthew and Jennie hadn’t met the dogs before, so this was a great moment. We all got puppies around the same time, and Jennie has become as fierce of a dog mom as I am. Once she could actually catch her, she scooped Tilly up in her arms and squealed over Tilly’s kisses, as Matthew smiled and gave Fitz a good man-to-man pat on the head.
I ushered everyone inside and then upstairs to their bedroom. It adjoins Gabrielle’s old playroom, so I shut the dogs up there with Matthew and Jennie and quickly tiptoed downstairs to grab a bottle of wine and a box of cold pizza.
Matthew and Jennie were still on mountain time and wired after their drive from Cincinnati airport, so they were happy to stay up. I poured some wine and we started talking in the way you can only do with family: the conversation is probably disjointed, but you know each other so well, you don’t recognize it, so you can dive deep immediately into some subjects, skim others and then dive again, surfacing feeling connected and understood.
I had seen Matthew and Jennie in Winnipeg in October, but before that, not since the December before. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a magical time for Matthew because the house-building industry in Edmonton shuts down for a week and he can actually be away from his phone and computer. This results in him being relaxed in the old way, the way he was before he became president of a company and responsible for, well, everything. He was this way now as he held his glass of wine and sat in an aquamarine chair made for children, looking at a LEGO construction of the London Bridge, but not feeling obligated to remark on it.
In turn, I was relaxed in a way I so rarely feel in adulthood, the little worries that I so constantly feel for my family — for their health, for their happiness, for their safety — put to bed because everyone was now with me under one roof.
Meanwhile, Jennie deftly asked the questions that would bring her up to speed, to figure out where things stood, to prepare herself for the sound advice she would give in the coming days, never complaining that she was once again missing Christmas with her own family.
We ate some pizza even though we weren’t hungry, and we finished that bottle of wine, even though it was by now 4:45 in the morning and more breakfast than happy hour.
And then we decided it was probably time to get some sleep so we could get up the next day and eat (and then eat some more), and put together a puzzle, and have more wine, and play Sequence and walk the dogs and play tennis, things we would do day after day after day.
Along the way, I would keep remembering that their trip started in this stolen slip of time in the middle of the night, in this forgotten room where I’m writing now, and that it was at that moment that I got the best Christmas gift I could get: them.