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Christmas Soliloquy on Sixth Avenue

Christmas nineteen eighty four is when Santa stopped coming to our house. A month before, I had a violent revelation in the hallways of my school, San Ignacio de Loyola, located in the southern city of Concepción. That afternoon I was arguing with my classmate about the existence of Santa Claus. He was saying it was all lies, and I was arguing that Santa was real, that I had even seen him fly over my house last Christmas and heard the sound of sleigh bells and his “Ho! Ho! Ho!” cry. We were in religious education class, drawing baby Jesus in the manger, not realizing how loud we were, until the teacher shouted “You two, out!” I was very annoyed. My animals in the manger were turning out very well, and I mean so well that surely this year my drawing would be picked as the best in the class. In the second-floor hall, we continued our argument until my classmate, tired of the whole thing, decided to cut the discussion short by calling me a “cowardly little girl”; only little girls believed in Santa Claus. Actually it’s not an insult but in those days and at that age it was an outrage that could be resolved in one way only: fighting. I didn’t want to but he insisted, spat on his finger and touched my ear. There was no turning back. As he was getting ready to repeat the humiliating maneuver on my other ear, I punched him in the face so he would learn, by the cruelty of my fists, who Escalona was; unfortunately he dodged my punch, and I lost any hope of turning back. He hit me with a right hook, a left blow and then a mass of punches that I tried to avoid by bringing up a useless guard until he knocked me down and I began to cry, laying on the floor. All this commotion led to classroom doors opening and little mocking heads started peeping into the hallway. Now the whole school would know. Soon the superintendent of the floor appeared followed by the school director, a tall, thin priest with a colonel’s gaze. We had to stay in the school office until our parents arrived to sign the two-day expulsion notice. At home, my father hit me with a belt and told me that if I lost another fight, he better not know about it. I went to bed very sore, humiliated and cried myself to sleep. From this point on Christmas was never the same. The magic vanished. This was one of those violent changes that eventually haul in adulthood.

Now, almost thirty years later, I live in New York City. I am walking with my young daughter along Sixth Avenue around Radio City Music Hall, Fox News and the NBC Studios. Breathing in the aroma of the wet pavement mixing with the smoke from the carts serving falafel, tacos, churrascos, quesadillas and lamb over rice, I feel connected to the world and we find ourselves in a different city from the one we left only a few blocks away. I tell my daughter, “Look at those lights! Look at that tree!” And she obliges, looks and smiles at me as if to say, “Yes, Daddy. I see it, I see it.” We explore a wealthy lobby to discover a precious Christmas tree that surely must have been decorated during the secret hours of dawn by Versace, Giorgio Armani or Ralph Lauren. Who knows. We are comfortable taking photos as there are few tourists due to the virus thing. Some photos we take in front of the giant spheres between 49th and 50th Streets, others from under the monumental nutcrackers flanking the doors of the UBS Building, as if they were the sentinels of an enchanted palace; and then we see the Christmas lights in front of the McGraw-Hill Building; all of it gigantic, all of it ostentatious, as if the immensity of the skyscrapers were not enough to demonstrate the greatness of a city that is imposing by antonomasia. We walk through a city reflected in the shiny dampness of its streets, fragments of lights caught by surprise, a gravitating city where only yesterday it was Halloween, and then Thanksgiving, and then Hanukkah and then Christmas and then New Year’s, and then, and then, and then my daughter pulls on my hand impatiently.

“Yes, of course, my love”, I tell her.

We went to mail her little letter in Santa’s mailbox at Macy’s, and I recovered in the year two thousand twenty something lost on Christmas nineteen eighty four.

Manhattan, December 15th 2020

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