It was senior year of college and we were bracing for a beautiful white Christmas. I was far from home and couldn’t afford to make it back for the holidays this year, so I thought I’d just grin and bear it with a TV dinner and a rented movie. I was nonetheless in a festive mood, enjoying all of the lovely decorations around town, full of the joyous spirit that comes with the season. My roommate Dave’s family lived nearby and he invited me at the last moment to join them because “it broke his mom’s heart” to think of someone alone for the holidays. This seemed like a much better plan than the one I had in store, so I appreciatively took him, and his mom, up on this generous offer.
It had already begun to snow in a light sprinkling of powder, as we left the dorm to his house. It accumulated a good couple of inches by the time we arrived, his neighborhood now covered in a soft, white blanket. We pulled into the driveway of the Colonial style home Dave had lived in since childhood, and I was welcomed at the front door like one of the family. A warm, cozy fire was ablaze in the fireplace, with a huge ornamented tree decorating the other side of the living room, rooted by an abundance of colorfully wrapped presents underneath. It was just like one of those perfect scenes you’d come across on a holiday card or made-for-TV special.
The festivities began as my friend cracked open a couple of cold beers for us to kick back and relax, as the home began filling with aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom lived in the area. This was so much unlike my family, which spanned the coasts from New York, to California and Florida. All of Dave’s family lived nearby in an extended interwoven kinship that instead of spanning the country, spanned four generations. It felt particularly wonderful to be included in this special slice of Americana.
Dave and I shared a couple of more beers and then moved on to egg nog, along with other members of the family. It seemed that drinking was part of their holiday tradition. This suited me just fine, because back on campus, I was never one to shy away from a party or excuse to get hammered. It was a way to escape from all the stress, and an ever present part of college life. Liquor helped grease the wheels of my social life, every single weekend. In fact, sometimes the “weekend” lasted all week, but I didn’t have a problem. I was just like every other college kid – wasn’t I?
The celebration continued on into dinner, which was scrumptious and included over-flowing bottles of wine. Things began to get hazy, as I kept up, continuing to drink more than my share. However, everyone else was drinking too. I wasn’t embarrassing myself – was I? I used Dave as my marker. He seemed about the same, so I kept on going even as I spilled a glass of Cabernet across the table, making a mess. Accidents happen.
The family all retired into the living room, where we had some after dinner drinks, awaiting desert. Dave’s mom brought out a massive, rectangular cake, adorned with images of snowmen, Evergreen trees, and all the rest you would expect, with “Merry Christmas” written in red and green icing across a coating of white background. I got up and stumbled a bit, offering to help, and tripped over my own two feet. The next few seconds are forever recorded in my memory, in slow motion, as the final thoughts to cross my mind before I blacked out. I began to fall, headlong in the direction of the cake. I stuck out my arms to somehow brace for impact and avoid the inevitable, but it was already too late for that. My face slammed into the pillowy angel food cake, which then went flying onto the floor, splattering into an oozing mess.
The next morning, Dave’s parents couldn’t have been any nicer or more kind, actually helping me nurse my hangover. Interestingly enough, it would still take me over a decade before I came to terms with my alcoholism. I knew I had a problem, I just wasn’t ready to address it. However, this pivotal event sticks out for me during the holidays as a dramatic reminder of the many reasons I need to stay sober. Years later, Dave sent me pictures of my face covered in Christmas cake, from the night of the fall. I pin them up annually, at this time of year, as a symbol of the dangers and embarrassment that came with my alcoholism. It serves as a solid reminder that I can never turn back.