Christmas Eve, the night we hope all may be home, yet even on holidays there are those who wander and roam. But on this night of nights, even those with nowhere to go, find their own kind of special and new home.
Light snow began to fall from the sky and coat the world with a soft diamond dust. Akira drifted through the city as if caught in the wind, looking for someone to trust. What had happened that evening last month at thanksgiving dinner had not gone as planned, for the news of bisexuality did not get met with applause or uproar, but instead was rather bland.
“How could you come to us with this today?” His father asked, “a holiday no less to learn you are gay?”
“No, no” Akira answered, “I’m not ‘gay’ I’m bi, my attraction to girls has not gone away,
I have chosen Ken to be committed too, I am well decided and not confused.”
“I don’t understand” his mother shouted in remorse, “how can this be? He was not abused.”
And like the snow falling
Akira drifted through the city with a strong sense of pondering, with each step he went further and further (and further and further) wandering. What oh what could be done for the next morning, he had been too ashamed to look at his phone, knowing full well Ken had been texting and calling and trying, since none should be alone on Christmas, the holiday of joy and peace and warmth and love.
But Akira could not face his lover knowing they had nowhere, so he shoved him away, as was customary for poor defense mechanisms from the unrelenting pain.
In this night, there was a darkness that could not be dispersed by any amount of Christmas lights. The urge that had been once thought dealt with beckoned like an unwelcome warden—he had once been imprisoned by addiction, but the chains were a familiar feeling. Years ago, when he was younger and ignorant of the damage his body could take, he eased his pain with opiates, in particular heroin. He had a “friend” who dealed the drug for cheap. The foolish mentality of invincibility was sold as a commodity, and Akira once believed that he wouldn’t end up like other heroin users. There would be no way he could become one of the stories one hears about on the news.
He had yet to tell Ken about his past with drugs—for he feared too greatly that this would earn him contempt from his lover. What harm, Akira thought, could one shot do? What bad…what bad. What wrong, what harm? The idea of coping with pain felt too much of a labor, and in the moment of weakness, memory had dropped the far too real consequences of just shooting up “one more time.”
For at our lowest, our demons try to convince us what we know to be wrong is right. Addiction is not a choice, sobriety is a process—addiction doesn’t take a day off on holiday, and sobriety doesn’t get to be put on hold for any occasion. Life becomes a balancing act—a fight between the urges to fall and the progress to continue forward.
The snow began to pick up, Akira had forgotten the scarf and gloves Ken had recently purchased for him. Akira began looking and judging people who walked by—wondering if any were dealers. A tear caught itself in his eyes, when he thought what Ken would think if he saw him in this state. His feet stopped moving forward, and he looked blankly up at the snow falling down, unable to tell if the snow brought salvation or mockery.
“Akira!” A familiar voice called out from behind. “What the hell are you doing out standing in the snow! Come on inside you’ll catch a cold ya dumbass!” He turned around and saw the face of his close friend Sayoko Sakura, a bartender whom he bused for about 3 years ago.
He walked to the stoop of her bar and gave her a hug. The exchanged quick greetings and went inside. The bar felt warm and had dim lights accompanied with a Christmas tree in the corner. There weren’t many people around, and he wasn’t sure if the bar was still open. There were four people sitting at a table next to a grand piano. They were full of mirth and drinking hot chocolate and tea together. Sayoko motioned to Akira to take a seat by the bar. She poured hot chocolate from a thermos into a mug for him.
“Come on, drink up! Even though sober night is usually on Friday’s here, Christmas eve and Christmas are always sober nights and days.”
Akira looked at Sayoko with pain in his eyes, “I almost fucked up,” He said. “I felt too overconfident and at Thanksgiving they told me not to come home for Christmas. I can deal with that pain, but they said they never wanted to see Ken again. I couldn’t bring him into my family—he, who already has no family. I failed him, and I don’t know what to do with myself.” Akira paused, looked over his shoulder, and quietly leaned in closer to Sayoko, “I was having urges to…shoot up again.”
“Well, I’m glad I found you tonight, we won’t let that happen.” Sayoko gave a short and concerned glance to one of the women sitting at the table. She nodded and said something quietly to the other people sitting.
Before I say anything else, I have one question for you: Did you tell Ken
Any of this? Don’t let your pain push away someone who loves you, and whom you love back.
He shouldn’t be alone tonight either.”
Akira gazed out the window and watched the snowfall like frozen tears—tears with so much to heal, but with fear to be thawed. Akira took his phone out from his pocket and called Ken, “Can you please come to Sayoko’s bar. My car got caught in the snow, and I have nowhere else to go.” Without hesitation or question, Ken responded a simple “yes” on the other line.
“You tell him about your past when you’re ready,” Sayoko said warmly.
The other patrons approached Akira, there were four in the bar that night: Martha O’Brian, Marquise Manor, Linda Levi (Sayoko’s fiance), and Paul Dubar.
They all gathered ‘round and gave congratulations to Akira–he didn’t give in.
“We may be strangers tonight, but we will welcome you and your boyfriend, we’ll let you stay here in the morn if you’d both like to partake in our Christmas. It’s nothing big, just the five us. Sayoko makes her famous Christmas breakfast, and we all exchange gifts—we do a white elephant so there will be something for you and your boyfriend as well. Tonight, we strangers can become friends.” Linda extended her hand, Akira gave it a shake.
Marquise walked over to the piano, a man of few words, but with expression that came to life when his hands graced the keys. He began playing Christmas carols with jazz inspiration.
Paul shook Akira’s hand and said “I’ve been spending Christmas with Sayoko and Linda for years now. When I got out of rehab my family wanted nothing to do with me. Not everyone gets support from who they expect to receive it from. When Sayoko told me to stay here one Christmas eve, I looked at her funny and said ‘you own a bar! I can’t step foot in there. But she smiled and told me that she wouldn’t let me near a single bottle of alcohol. She threw out everything she had that night and told me that I needed a place to stay warm and get support. I’ll never forget that.”
“Sayoko laughed hardily. “A bar can be a place where community grows, that’s what I’ve achieved. The people are more important than the booze. I decided to start weekly sober nights, so folks could still come and see their friends, or have a place to go.”
Martha approached Akira and gave him a hug, “You’re safe here hun, you don’t need to go into the details of your past here, but I can tell from your eyes that you’ve been through a lot. All of us here have.
“I don’t understand,” Akira said. “I’m just some random punk. I don’t deserve this kindness.”
Sayoko frowned. “Everyone deserves kindness. Especially on this night. When society tells you that you must be with family on the holidays, it’s hard when you don’t fit that mold.”
“You’re a friend of Sayoko’s, so you’re a friend of ours.” Martha said gently. “You need a place to go. You can stay here.”
While still playing, Marquise rose his head and said “Everyone deserves compassion, if I can’t extent that to a stranger, then how can I hope to ever make new friends? I’ve struggled, and I can’t stand by when I see someone else is struggling. To not act when you can change someone’s day or night for the better, I couldn’t live with myself.”
“We’re all trying to be sober in here,” Sayoko said, “doesn’t matter how old or young, when the journey begins there’s no going back. If you feel comfortable you can talk about things with any of us. But, for now, just drink some hot chocolate. I’ll make you some tomato bisque on the house, warm you up.”