Please Note: This is Part 2 of the final story in The Happy Squire: Christmas stories to encourage & inspire. You don’t need to read it to understand this one. I make sure to summarize the important parts.
Another Note: This sequel was inspired by my Mom’s comment about the first story not ending in a very cheerful way thus proving honesty (in a nice way) is the best policy. Without her sharing, this story would likely never have been written. Hopefully this ending follows more of that Christmas optimism most people look for… although it takes awhile to get there. This is a longer story for me, but it gives some great lessons before reaching a happy ending.
It had been six months since Scott left his family for another woman. When he was living with his family, Scott and his wife, Eleanor, would have such explosive fights their son, Rik, would hide under his bed scared and alone until one day a visitor showed up and changed everything. That visitor was a gnome named Gnick. Gnomes have been very good at hiding the fact that they are Santa’s eyes and ears in the world for who’s been naughty or nice, so you’ll want to be nice to gnomes for goodness sake. Even though they are Santa’s informants, they’ve never received the fame of reindeer and elves because they’ve actually tried to hide their role in order to prevent people faking it when they’re around. At one point, people were close to figuring out they weren’t just ceramic figures in gardens, and that’s when they started pushing the idea of Elf on the Shelf. Gnick, however, had been tired of seeing children grow up and be mean people because their parents were mean people. One fateful day, his anger at Rik’s parents selfishness for not noticing Rik hiding under the bed left Gnick willing to risk going against the gnome code in order to help him. At first, Gnick didn’t do anything too drastic; he simply waited under the bed in order to be there for Rik when he hid from his parents’ fighting. Soon Gnick took this a step further and became a mysterious voice of wisdom that helped his mom see how she wasn’t the innocent victim in her conflict that she wanted to believe she was and that her son needed her. Even though Eleanor was reluctant at first, Gnick ended up teaching her how to have self control and be nice to her struggling husband. It’s never easy being nice to someone who has been as hurtful as she felt Scott had been, but she managed to be nice to him under Gnick’s guidance. Gnick had promised that after a month of being patient and kind, Scott would trust her more and, in turn, be a better husband for her. This seemed to be working, until at the end of the month, instead of Scott confessing his renewed love for her, he confessed that he was seeing another woman. In his panic and confusion, he left the house and instead of returning home to talk about it and face the repercussions for his actions, he went to be with the other woman. Scott had actually planned on leaving Eleanor weeks before, but her being so nice made him second guess what he was planning; being nice has a way of making it harder for the other person to leave a marriage – big surprise (yes, this writer likes sarcasm). Unfortunately, Scott had found himself too entrenched with this other woman to turn back to his wife… or so he thought.
To make matters worse, Scott loved his son, but his new partner had three kids of her own and she wasn’t very keen on sharing. With his new partner making it almost impossible for him to have time to see Rik, his visits became fewer and fewer despite his desire to see him actually increasing. That meant that not only did Scott have to deal with the guilt of leaving his wife when she had become such a good person, he had to wrestle with the knowledge he was abandoning his son. To make matters worse, like many people who are embarrassed by their bad choices, Scott had a hard time even calling or messaging Rik because every time he saw Rik’s name, it reinforced his guilt for leaving and the incredible sense of loss he felt. Guilt, shame, and regret, although proper emotions to feel at a time like this, further pushed Scott to hide.
Meanwhile, since the night Scott left, Rik and his mom had become all the closer. Their bond had greatly improved after Gnick helped Eleanor see how scared and hurt Rik was, and she was able to start to help him feel like more of priority over her anger and spitefulness. For seven months now, they had been growing more connected and as their relationship grew, their strength as individuals also grew. Despite Eleanor losing her husband and having the first month be filled with heavy grieving and struggling with the betrayal, she was steadily pushing herself to become a better person. (Women have a tendency to be quicker to recover because they’re more likely to actually face their pain rather than hide from it like men tend to do.) She missed Scott, but the break from the fighting and her intense struggle to be nice to him every day was very appreciated. (Being nice to those you live with is hard.) Sometimes space can be very helpful. On top of that, with Gnick’s guidance, she joined several women’s groups where she made friends that added to her self confidence and healing. Between having a life and feeling a greater connection with her son and other women, Eleanor found a greater sense of contentment than she had previously known. She started to feel like the person she had wanted to be. Gnick may have been wrong when he told her that if she was nice, she could save the marriage, but he was right when he said she would be proud of herself if she was nice and despite his leaving continued to be nice. She may have originally thought Gnick was nuts for suggesting she be nice to her “enemy,” but it really was the best way to live because she could always hold her head high which was better than having self pity.
Rik had also been doing a lot better. Not only had it been seven months since the last time he had hid under the bed, he was doing better at school. He had made some new friends and he joined a few school teams that gave him something to practice when he was at home looking for something to do. He was much happier seeing his mom happy, and she was happier seeing him happy, which created this wonderful circle of increasing happiness and healing… at least there was happiness a lot of the time now. There were still some terrible moments as Rik really missed his dad.
Scott had never really been the most involved dad, but like most young kids, Rik still had a special place in his heart for his dad, especially because he was so young. Even though Scott worked a lot, which limited his time at home, Rik still had some special memories like going to the Santa Claus parade together. It was always cold and often drizzly, but it was worth it because it made the hot chocolate they had after taste that much better. When people disappear from our lives, our brains either flood us with the good memories or the bad ones. In Rik’s case, he only remembered the good, which made his dad’s absence all the harder to bear. Overall, Rik was happier now that he felt so connected to his mom, but it still felt like part of him was missing. It was the same thing for Eleanor; part of her felt like it was missing with Scott not there.
With Scott’s increasing distance over the six months since he left, Rik couldn’t help but feel moments of intense pain no matter how close his mom was to him. If there was a visit with his dad, it included the new girlfriend and she was never very nice to him, especially if she had brought her own kids with her. Rik had always wanted siblings, but when they were all together, there was strong favoritism to the girlfriend’s kids and Scott allowed it. If there was any attempt by Scott to be close to his son, it was met with harsh criticism from his girlfriend that caused him to shrink back and be distant again. Even if Rik understood that Scott was too scared to say no to his girlfriend, it still felt like Scott didn’t care enough about him. Fear is never a good excuse for not protecting your child. Every visit with his dad left Rik crying himself to sleep at night and every cancellation did the same.
Whenever Scott disappointed Rik or Rik couldn’t escape feeling overwhelmed by the sense of rejection, Eleanor and Rik would both take turns pounding the punching bag Gnick the gnome had encouraged her to hang up in the basement. Gnick had taught her the importance of physically venting out your emotions and not bottling them up, and Eleanor was glad to have a practical tool to use to help herself and her son deal with the hurt in a practical way.
Initially when Scott left, Gnick’s role as a comforter had been very important. In fact, without a second thought, Gnick retired from his role as a Santa informant in order to focus on helping them. He was also avoiding the repercussions for breaking the gnome code of connecting with people, but that was more the bonus to helping Eleanor and Rik whom he had grown quite attached. They were the closest thing he had ever had to a family of his own. That was partly because of his job on the road and partly because he had never found the right partner. Because he had never really found love himself, he was a bit of a hopeless romantic and he wanted people in relationships to appreciate what they had because he knew well how lonely life can be.
Gnick had never outright revealed himself to Eleanor and Rik as he never talked to them directly. With Rik, he showed up at needed times and with Eleanor, he was just a voice since remained hidden. Maybe it was Gnick’s training or maybe he was afraid of being that vulnerable, but he always kept a little distance between him and the family. He was part of the family, but he felt that he would never really be more than the help, so why set himself up to feel rejection one day.
Gnick’s role as a comforter for Eleanor and Rik had been becoming less necessary over the last six months, which was both wonderful and sad for Gnick. He couldn’t be prouder of seeing their growth, but he also liked to feel like he had a role in the family. It was like how Mary Poppins or Nanny Mcphee eventually left the families they helped because their job was done. In this case, however, Gnick was simply needed less because he had taught Eleanor and Rik how to deal with their hurt properly. That being said, the hurt that Scott could give Rik was pretty intense. Gnick wasn’t needed as often, but when he was, he was needed in a serious way. As much as Gnick liked to be useful, he hated these moments more than not being needed. There were a few moments where Rik was so devastated by his dad, no amount of punching anything could help. All Gnick could really do was show up wherever Rik went to cry and be beside him with his sack of Smarties.
Like the time Gnick was so angry that he broke the gnome rules to help Rik, one moment pushed Gnick to do something drastic for Scott. It was near the end of the summer and Scott was supposed to have his annual boys’ camping weekend with Rik, but at the last minute, Scott canceled and made up some lame excuse that didn’t make a lot of sense. After pounding the punching bag and telling his mom he was fine, Rik went to his bed and cried himself to sleep. He actually cried himself to sleep every night for the next week. In front of his mom, Rik could act like he was fine and sometimes he really was because he was distracted from the pain he felt from the rejection. Eleanor had an idea that something was wrong, and she made sure Rik punched the punching bag with her every day, but there was still a sense of sadness that was too strong to erase. Every night Gnick was waiting beside Rik’s bed to give him some comfort, but overall, Gnick felt incredibly helpless in this situation because he was. When someone is in such grief, there really isn’t much to do besides being there.
After a week of seeing Rik in such pain, Gnick had a flood of anger overtake his normal self controlled self. It took a lot to get a gnome angry; it took even more to get Gnick angry because he was so old and he understood things so well, but this was one of those times it was so personal it would be impossible for him not to be angry. It would actually be wrong for him not to be angry. Gnick needed to do something drastic, and his anger led him to Scott’s new place.
When Gnick got to where Scott was staying with his new partner, it was a nice house that was full of pictures of her and her kids with nothing about Scott. Even the decor was nothing like what Scott was used to or would have chosen. Watching Scott interact with the family, he looked like a scared little boy trying not to get in trouble. He reminded Gnick of Harry Potter with the Dursley’s except he was a grown man acting like the weak outcast. Scott’s girlfriend talked to him like a child and her children talked to him like he was in the way. Gnick went into the house angry, but now felt sorry for him – his life was terrible. At the same time, Gnick was still angry because Scott was choosing to put up with this. Why would he do that?
Gnick ended up returning home to be with Rik that night at bedtime, but once he was asleep, Gnick left to return to Scott’s, but this time it was to stay. Gnick felt bad leaving Rik, but he knew he had to in order to make things better for the family. Afraid of Rik feeling abandoned, he left a note for him to find in the morning: “Even when it feels like I’m not there, I’m working for your good.”
That night, Gnick found Scott in the garage drinking by himself in that way you drink when you’re trying to forget everything. While Scott was slouched in a beat up recliner, he suddenly heard a voice speaking: “Is this really what you want your life to be?” Scott looked at the beer in his hand like he thought the can was talking to him when the voice added, “You’re not hearing voices in your head or from the booze. I’m a real voice.” Scott started scanning the room looking for who was talking. There was a cat, but his mouth wasn’t moving… obviously. The voice continued, “I’m not your imagination. I’m here to help.” It’s hard to say whether Scott was too tipsy to react or if he was that miserable that he wanted there to be an intruder who would hurt him, but there was little reaction.
“Let me guess, tonight I’ll be visited by three ghosts,” scoffed Scott.
“No, you’re being visited by a gnome,” Gnick replied with a laugh.
“A what?” Scott asked.
“A gnome. I’m going to make you a better man,” Gnick assured him.
“You know what, either kill me or leave me alone,” Scott uttered in a defeated way.
“I don’t hurt people,” Gnick corrected.
“Then I guess you need to leave because there’s no helping me,” Scott quipped taking a gulp.
“Wow, you’re really good at that,” shared Gnick.
“At what?” Scott asked confused.
“At feeling sorry for yourself,” Gnick observed.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself,” Scott tried to deny without sounding like he didn’t believe it either.
“Yes, you do,” Gnick corrected him. “You don’t think you deserve any better, so you’re accepting this garbage life you have like you can’t do anything about it while moping about it.”
Not really sure what to say, Scott protested, “Leave me alone.”
“There’s little chance of that happening,” Gnick laughed.
“Go away!” yelled Scott.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Gnick said cheerfully and then made a noise like he had closed a door leaving while staying nearby to observe Scott.
Scott started to panic not really sure what had just happened. He was afraid that it wasn’t over… or he was losing his mind. Not sure what to do, he started guzzling cans of beer like a man guzzling water after crossing a desert without a water bottle.
The next morning, Scott woke up after having passed out drinking to find a note that stated, “The conversation last night wasn’t a dream. I’m going to help you.” On the note was a cute picture of a smiling gnome waving like a friend. Confused and upset, Scott scrunched the paper and threw it in the recycling bin as he got up for the day pretending the note was a joke from his girlfriend. Unfortunately for Scott, that wasn’t going to stop what was about to happen.
That entire day, everywhere Scott went, there was some type of gnome or gnome picture. There was one on the soap in the shower. There was a toy gnome that fell into his breakfast bowl like a prize from the cereal box. There was one hanging from his mirror in the car. When he got to work, he thought he was safe until a man in a giant gnome costume showed up with gnome cookies for everyone at the office. There was even a gnome screen saver on his work computer. Scott thought he was losing his mind. Throughout the day he started getting more and more dishevelled like Bill Murray in Scrooged when he’s in the restaurant and he thinks people are on fire. (If you don’t know that reference, you should really watch that movie.)
When Scott got home, he told his girlfriend he thought he had the flu and before he could offer to leave, his girlfriend covered her face and yelled at him to go to the garage and be away from the family; she didn’t want her kids getting sick. She didn’t even offer to make him soup or something light for dinner.
Inside the garage, Scott immediately darted to the beer fridge that now had a lock on it. On that lock was, of course, a gnome that had a note stuck to him saying, “Not tonight.” In a panic, Scott grabbed bolt cutters and cut off the lock; he ripped open the fridge and instead of seeing his beer, there was a gnome holding a sign that said, “I told you ‘Not tonight.’” In a rage, Scott grabbed the gnome and threw it across the room and it smashed on the wall as he screamed, “What do you want from me?”
Scott waited to hear the voice from the night before reply… but there was just silence. Bug-eyed, Scott looked around the room and not far from his feet was another gnome. Scott went to grab it when he noticed it had a sign: “Try the bat,” and there was an arrow pointing to a baseball bat beside him. Scott grabbed it and swung it at the gnome, smashing it into pieces. Before he could feel good about it, he saw another gnome behind that one… and another… and another… and another. The room was full of ceramic gnomes. Scott lost his mind at a whole new level than he’d ever experienced before, and he started swinging in a rage and smashing every gnome he could see. After several minutes of gnome smashing, there didn’t appear to be any left, Scott put down the bat panting after his rage fueled Godzilla like attack. As he panted and he started to breathe, he could feel his heart rate dropping to a normal level and he slouched into his chair.
Suddenly, from behind a box, a little gnome walked out to be seen. Scott stared at him like he was seeing a ghost. He was too tired to grab the bat and too scared to care. “I bet that felt good.”
Not sure how to react, Scott simply said, “Why are you doing this?”
“Because your wife and son deserve better than what you’ve given them,” replied Gnick with a firm but caring tone.
“What are you talking about? I don’t live with them anymore,” Scott asked confused.
“Exactly,” Gnick affirmed.
“It’s too late for me. I made my choice,” Scott sadly confessed.
“Or you’re finally ready to make the right choice,” Gnick pointed out.
Scott caulked his head, “What do you mean?”
Gnick smiled. “The choice where you return to your family.”
“What?” Scott quipped confused. “They’d never want me back.”
“Not like this – at least they should’t – but there’s hope if you were more of the person you could be,” Gnick affirmed. “The problem is you’re a hider. You were talking to another woman to hide, you left your wife to hide, you’re not talking to your son to hide, and now you’re drinking to hide from all the damage your other hiding has caused. When are you going to grow some courage and stop letting your fear keep you down?”
“I’m not afraid?” defended Scott.
“Oh, yeah? Call your son right now and tell him you’ll take him out this weekend,” challenged Gnick.
“Well, that’s different,” justified Scott in a less than convincing way.
“It’s okay to admit you’re afraid. Fear is a healthy emotion,” taught Gnick. “Having fear doesn’t mean you’re not a man; not facing your fears does.”
“But I’m not afraid!” bellowed Scott in a higher than usual pitch and with eye brows pointing up, which are both signs of fear.
“Even now you’re afraid,” corrected Gnick. “You’re either afraid of conflict or your girlfriend because she owns you.”
“She doesn’t own me,” Scott protested. “I like… uh… doing things… to make her… less mad.”
“Let me guess,” Gnick started, “you started talking to her at work or she was an old high school connection you happened to message one day on social media and you started chatting. It was very innocent at first, but you were looking for some sense of female approval and warmth and she offered it. Soon you found yourself messaging her more and more and every time you saw she messaged you back, your heart skipped. It was exciting and the one positive in your otherwise miserable day. Because of her own situation, recently single with kids, she was very understanding of your situation and you bonded in your complaining about her ex and your soon-to-be ex. Every fight you had with your partner was terrible on one level, but then wonderful fodder for conversation with this new girl and you really felt cared for by her, which fueled your defeated ego. Eventually, you reached a point where this other girl wasn’t satisfied with just being a “friend” you chatted with all day; she wanted more. This was too deep a relationship to have a one night stand and that’s not the kind of guy you are. At the same time, you were torn because you didn’t want to leave your family, but you were so ‘in love’ with this new girl, you didn’t want to lose her. Because of her persistence and increasing threats, you found yourself being forced into this terrible situation of having to choose her or your wife. To make matters worse, your wife was now being nice and for the month of her being nice, you kept feeling worse and worse with yourself for being in this situation until you snapped and left rather than deal with the fact you were having an emotional affair. Add in the fact, that by being nice, your wife removed the main conversation piece you had with the new woman. Suddenly, you weren’t having the same ‘deep’ connecting conversations, which scared you that maybe this new girl wasn’t as perfect as you thought, but your guilt drove you to running away from the improving situation because you would have to face the fact you had been cheating.”
“How did you know all that?” Scott asked quite bewildered.
“People aren’t that complicated. The other option was you were done with your marriage, and you were looking for any woman who would take you and be an excuse for you to leave. I didn’t guess that, however, because you’re more of a pushover than a schemer, and your current situation proves the new girl has all the power while you’re pretty pathetic.”
Scott was at a loss for words.
“Guys are simple. They can’t be alone whereas women are much more independent; hence, your wife is still single while you left for another woman,” Gnick pointed out as a matter of fact rather than a jab. “Guys almost never break up… unless the woman is so crazy he can’t handle her anymore, but that’s like admitting defeat, so guys will typically just suffer a nasty woman. That being said, other guys will do a trade in like a car. Sometimes they trade in because they’re tired of the old ‘car,’ but that’s rare. They’re more likely to trade in because a new car keeps pressuring them to trade in the old one for them. That’s you. I bet you would never have left your wife if that was an option; you would’ve just had this other woman on the side, but she wouldn’t have it, so she pushed you to leave, which is why you’re so miserable now and trying to stuff down your emotions by drinking like a coward.”
Scott looked at the beer in his hand and the overflowing recycling bins beside him. “That’s not why I drink,” he protested. “I like the taste.”
“Sure, tell yourself that,” assured Gnick. “I’m pretty sure if you were drinking something without alcohol, you would be drinking a lot less than you do.”
Scott looked like a deer in the headlights not sure what to say until he stammered, “There are other reasons.”
“Like how you’re drinking because you hate this new relationship?” Gnick quipped.
“What?” Scott looked scared at the idea that the truth was noticeable.
“When you started talking to this other woman, she was the escape from your miserable world, but now she’s part of that miserable world. She’s no longer the escape, and to make matters worse, her kids are her main priority and you’re an afterthought. She’s probably also very pushy and makes you do things you don’t want to do. She basically treats you like a child under her control and if she hasn’t yet, soon she’ll complain that you’re just another kid in the house and she’ll build resentment toward you even though she’s a major reason you are acting so weak. The other reason you’ll be weak is because in your head you tell yourself you can’t afford to lose her as well as your wife because then what was all this for? You have to justify leaving your wife for this new life, so you’re trapped. Add in the fact that if you try to discipline her kids, she’ll rip you apart. You essentially have as much value as a mediocre pet like a hermit crab.”
“How do you know this?” Scott asked.
“Moms can have a hard time letting the biological father discipline the kids because they’re so protective of their kids,” Gnick noted. “The step dad figure doesn’t have a chance to discipline unless she’s a little on the weak side, but if she was weak, she wouldn’t have pushed you to leave your wife.”
“What do you mean?” questioned Scott.
“To be the kind of woman who goes for a married man,” Gnick began, “you have to be aggressive with putting your own needs first. She tells herself it’s to help the guy, but it’s really just she wants what she wants, and she likes feeling like the good girl. Add in the fact that she was pushing you to leave your wife and she’s a particularly pushy and selfish person.”
“She’s not selfish,” Scott protested.
Gnick smiled, “What do you call someone who pursues what they want at the expense of the lives of others?” Scott was speechless. “She may have been a good listening ear at the beginning, but a good person doesn’t emotionally invest in a married man. Being the other woman, that’s pretty low.”
“It doesn’t matter. This is the life I chose,” Scott whined.
“So now you’re being selfish,” Gnick pointed out.
“I’m not being selfish,” denied Scott. “I’m living the life I don’t want to live!”
“You’re being selfish because you’re choosing to suffer when you can make things right for your family,” Gnick corrected.
“Eleanor won’t take me back,” Scott complained.
“Whether she does or doesn’t, she deserves the choice. You can’t make that for her,” noted Gnick.
Scott paused. “I never thought of it like that before.”
“Even more important, you need to prove that you care about your son,” remarked Gnick.
“Of course I care about him, but how can I try to reconnect with him when I’ve been so absent?” asked Scott with hope in his voice.
“Because he deserves the chance to reconnect with you… or tell you off,” smiled Gnick. “He’s not a teenager yet, so you have a good chance he’ll be open to letting you back into his life. It might not be right away, but you need to do something to prove that you love him.”
“I do love him,” Scott affirmed.
“Really?” questioned Gnick.
“Yeah,” reassured Scott a bit surprised to be questioned.
“Then you suck at love,” Gnick stated very matter-of-factly.
Scott paused confused. Having learned the gnome was very straightforward and not insulting, he confessed, “I guess I do.”
“Fortunately, there’s hope,” Gnick announced.
“So what do I have to do?” Scott asked.
“When we screw up as bad as you, we need to do something spectacular to show how sorry we are,” claimed Gnick.
“Are you talking about penance?” asked Scott.
“Look at you knowing your Catholic terms. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” affirmed Gnick. “Christmas is in four months, so that works perfectly.”
“What am I supposed to do for four months?” asked Scott a bit intimidated.
Gnick coyly smiled, “Become a real man.”
“What?” asked Scott surprised.
“You need to prove you’ve changed if you want Eleanor to take you back,” Gnick blatantly shared. “If she takes you back without you proving you’re different, she’s a giant pushover who’s setting herself up for more hurt, especially when there’s a chance you’ll return to this other woman who has been your addiction.”
“So what does being a real man look like?” asked Scott sounding ready to try.
“First, you need to be single,” claimed Gnick.
Scott seemed to panic, “Why do I need to do that?”
“For the next four months you need to be single and have zero contact with this new woman,” expressed Gnick.
“You want me to break up with her? How?” asked Scott like he was being told to do the impossible.
“You will quietly move all of your stuff out and leave notes to her kids apologizing for not being a better man and role model, and then when you’re out of the house with everything, you will text her that it’s over,” stated Gnick.
“You want me to break up over text? She’ll be furious!” Scott protested.
“Absolutely; she should be furious. That’s the point,” affirmed Gnick. “Here are the reasons you need to text. One, you’re spineless, so if you try to break up in person she’ll say no and you’ll obey her. Two, she’s your drug and you need to get over rehab style – zero connection. Three, and most important, you need to text her because she’ll be so furious at you, she’d never let you back. That way even if you have a brain disappearing moment like we both know you’re capable of having she wouldn’t want anything to do with you.” Scott looked like he got it, but was still hesitant. “Then, as soon as you text her, you need delete and block all contact info you have of her to be safe.”
“That seems pretty extreme,” complained Scott.
“But it’s the right way for you,” Gnick told him. “After cutting ties with her, you’re going to join a cooking class, a running group, a men’s group at a church, and then you’ll join AA.”
“Whoa, what?” questioned Scott.
“All of these things will give you something else to do besides drink and over think about your mistakes. They’ll also help you connect with people and maybe make some friends,” continued Gnick. “On a practical level, the cooking class is so you can impress Eleanor with a new skill and exercise will help you get some feelings out… and hopefully make you look better – beer has a lot of calories. The church group will help you meet some older men who can give you some guidance on how to be a man while AA is needed for you to deal with what’s causing you to drink.”
“You’re serious about all of this?” Scott asked in disbelief.
“Oh, and the other thing you need to do is send child support for the last six months to Eleanor and start texting Rik every day to say hi and good night,” Gnick added.
“I get the money thing; I wanted to send some before, but my girlfriend wouldn’t let me… that sounds really bad. I’ll do the money thing, no problem. Messaging Rik, however… no… I can’t,” Scott protested. “Every time I see his name on my phone I feel all this guilt and shame.”
“And shouldn’t you be feeling that?” pointed out Gnick.
“But… uh… I don’t want to,” Scott admitted.
“You wouldn’t have to if you had been living your life properly,” Gnick told him. “You feel guilt because you’ve been living your life wrong. You shouldn’t hide from it, but use it as fuel for becoming a better person.”
Scott was starting to calm down a little. “What if he doesn’t respond?”
“Did I say anything about conversations?” questioned Gnick.
“No,” sighed Scott.
“You’re not doing this for you; you’re doing it for him. You’ve been absent and he needs to rebuild his trust that you’ll be there in the future, so he needs to see the consistency over these four months of you wishing him a good day and a good night even if he writes nothing back,” Gnick encouraged.
Scott looked at the ground. “You are asking a lot of me.”
“Or am I asking you to be a decent dad and it seems like a lot because you’ve been living so terribly?” asked Gnick as gently as you can ask a question like that.
Scott was a bit taken aback. “You’re pretty straightforward.”
“I like to see it as honest,” shared Gnick. “Things are going to be hard at first, but in the long run, it’ll make your life so much better. People are drawn to what’s easy in the moment, but that never leaves us feeling good. Sure, watching more TV is appealing when it starts, but after binging a show, you feel lousy – because you should. Meanwhile, if you force yourself to exercise, in the long run you’ll feel a lot better.” Scott was listening intently as what Gnick said made a lot of sense. “You might think you have depression, but you feel exactly the way you should be feeling for the life you’ve been living. Sure, medications can numb some of the pain you feel, but until you start to live your life the way you should, you’re going to feel like garbage. Our bodies are smart. If you live like garbage, you’ll feel like garbage. Your body is trying to tell you to change.”
“It’s that simple?” asked Scott with hope in his voice.
“Yeah, life isn’t that complicated,” noted Gnick. “Live properly and life is better. It’s not necessarily easy in the moment, but in the long run it’s the only way to experience life for all it’s worth.”
“For someone who is supposed to be supportive, you are surprisingly blunt,” pointed out Scott.
“I was no different with your wife,” replied Gnick. “Why do you think she changed?”
“Wait, are you the reason she suddenly became so nice?” asked Scott surprised.
“She did the work, but I gave her the guidance, which is exactly what I’m doing for you. Trust me, she was just as hesitant. The big difference is she had anger whereas you have self loathing. You also have a lot more work to do because you’ve dug yourself quite the hole. Fortunately, we have four months to turn your life around and prove that you can be the husband and father your family deserves, so let’s start packing your stuff and get out of here.”
“But where will I go?” asked Scott.
Gnick shrugged, “Do you have family or a cheap hotel near your work?”
“This is really going to be a long four months,” confessed Scott.
“It’ll be hard at times, but it’s a lot better living with purpose than drowning your emotions with alcohol,” reassured Gnick.
“I guess we’ll see,” uttered Scott with a lack of enthusiasm.
“The first step is to break the tentacles your girlfriend has over you, so let’s do this,” Gnick cheered.
Christmas Eve, Ameila and Rik were making pancakes for dinner when there was a phone call. Eleanor answered and the strange voice said, “Put your coat and boots on and go outside,” and then hung up. Scared at the strangeness of the call, Eleanor quickly obeyed, and the two of them ran out the door after getting their coat and boots on. As soon as they were outside, Eleanor and Rik saw an older man in a red sports jacket and a whistle in his mouth standing at attention in the middle of their lawn – that was strange. When they stopped on the front porch to stare at this unusual figure, he blew his whistle, turned and started marching off the lawn. When he got to the middle of the road, he then blew his whistle twice and started walking down the middle of the street like he was leading a parade… because he was. Eleanor and Rik looked at each other confused, and then a little way up the street, a small seven piece brass band standing in a line in the middle of the street started playing Christmas music walking like a marching band who had never been trained how to march and didn’t care because they weren’t really a marching band. They were wearing Salvation Army uniforms and they played beautifully with the brass sounds echoing throughout the neighborhood. As they sauntered up the street, from behind them, a group of runners holding poles with ribbons flying off the tops of them were running up the street and passed the musicians who were going at a much slower pace. While this was happening, everyone who was home on the street, came outside to see what was going on. After the runners with streamers went by they turned the corner of the block and disappeared. From behind them two runners carrying a banner saying “Merry Christmas,” jogged past. Next, kids on roller blades with dogs on leashes covered in winter coats with glows sticks attached to them rolled up the street. Some dogs pulled the kids while other kids were trying to drag a distracted dog.
When the “sauntering” band reached a certain spot past the house, they turned around and played in place as the kids with dogs passed them. The last two kids, instead of holding dogs, were holding a sign that said, “Love Someone…” When the path was clear of roller bladers, a car slowly drove up the street. On top of the car was a twelve foot inflatable snowman attached to a battery generator inside the car to keep it inflated. The driver in the car had a string attached to the one snowman hand and as he pulled it, it looked like the snowman was waving. Right behind him was another car that had three smaller inflatable snowmen on the roof. With what looked like a red and white candy-cane pole with a flag on top that was covered by a sign reading, “Who Misses You Terribly.”
As the two cars drove by, the runners with streamers ran up the street and past Eleanor and Rik again. This time the banner the two runners had said, “I’m so…” and as they ran past a stream of cars followed. Some were decorated and others were plain, but all of them had a simple sign on the side of the car that said, “So…” Seven cars ended up driving by and coming up from behind the cars were the runners again carrying what looked like giant lollypops instead of the ribbons like last time. On the face of the circle at the top of the stick were sad faces. Behind the lollipop runners, were the two runners with a banner. This time is said, “Sorry!” As the banner runners passed the house, the brass band turned and started walking away as they finished their song. People on the street were clapping for the band when the song, “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” started playing from a loud speaker on a pickup truck slowly rolling up the street. On the back of the truck, holding to a handle on the roof, a guy Eleanor and Rik didn’t know was singing. After a few minutes, they realized someone had changed the words to, “Baby, please let me come home.” The extra syllable was a little awkward, but it still worked like the theme song from Love Actually.
The driver of the truck stopped at the house just past Eleanor’s, so they could still hear the music, but it started to be faded out, and switched to Michael Buble’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” At that point, two of the cars with the “So” on them from earlier had turned around to have their lights aimed at the next truck coming up the street. This time the vehicle was a pickup pulling a roofer dump trailer. The truck was decorated to look like clouds with three rows of two reindeer spread across the roof and bed of the truck (they couldn’t fit all eight) to make it look like they were flying and pulling the trailer behind them. The trailer was decorated to look like Santa’s sleigh. The person dressed as Santa (the real Santa was obviously busy since it was Christmas Eve) was in the sleigh waving at everyone on the street watching the parade. Santa’s sleigh stopped in front of Eleanor’s house. At that point, a runner ran in front with a sign that read, “It’s really him,” with a second runner with a sign that read, “Santa’s assistant!” After the truck was parked and the runners ran past, the music switched to the Love Actually soundtrack when Jamie (played by Collin Firth) goes to the restaurant to ask out Aurelia (played by… someone I’ve never seen in anything else). As the music played, Santa stood up, turned, and started opening his sack of toys that was behind his chair. This sack was quite large, but Santa pulled out a small box that was about a foot in all directions. He motioned for someone to come forward, so Eleanor sent Rik. When he got there, Santa handed him the package. Rik ran back to his mom and together they opened it. Inside was a familiar gnome holding a sack filled with Smarties and a sign reading, “I promised I was working for your good.” After a short moment to admire the present, fireworks exploded above Santa who was now standing in front of his sleigh. When he had Eleanor and Rik’s attention (fireworks will do that), from the back of the sleigh there was a small explosion of smoke and light like a magic trick. As the smoke cleared, it revealed that the sack was gone. Standing in its place, dressed in a suit and holding flowers in one hand and a mic in another was Scott.
“Last winter,” began Scott into the microphone for everyone on the street to hear, “I was looking for a solution to the pain I was feeling, and I picked the worst possible option – another woman. I was a classic fool, and I didn’t realize it until I found myself trapped. I ended up leaving you and my son for a life I never wanted, but I didn’t know how to stop the destructive path I was on. The problem was, without meaning to be, I was a coward.
At that point, one of the runners dashed by with a sign that read, “And a jerk!”
“I was ashamed of what I had done and what I was doing. The only answer I felt capable of doing was to drink myself numb every night because I desperately wanted to come back, but I didn’t know how. I also knew you deserved better. Fortunately, everything turned around when I found my own… therapy gnome.”
People on the streets listening to Scott looked at each other confused – therapy gnome?
“With his help, these last four months I’ve been in AA, which met at a Salvation Army Church… that should explain a few things about tonight. I’ve been attending cooking classes and I joined a running club.” As Scott said that, a runner sprinted past with another sign that read “We’re pretty awesome.”
“That should explain a few other things.” Scott smiled with a glimpse of pride. “So for the last four months, I’ve been in therapy to deal with my bottle-up-explosive anger problem; I’ve been exercising; I’ve been sober; I’ve started hobbies and made friends as I tried to develop a life and drive to help me be stronger and avoid being a fool ever again. Most importantly, I’ve been single. That other woman was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, and leaving her was one of the best things I’ve done. Leaving her was like a giant weight that was infecting my soul being taken off my back. You both deserve someone special in your life, and I’ve spent the last four months learning how to be the man I should be for you. So on this Christmas Eve, I’ve come to you in the best way I could think of to say, ‘I’m so, so, so, so, so, so sorry,’ and to ask if you’ll let me join you tonight.” After a short pause, Scott added, “I brought some food I made… it’s pretty good.”
In that classic Hollywood pause moment, Eleanor looked down at her son and then at the gnome he had given them. As Scott held his breath and a small bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, Eleanor pulled the gnome out of the box and then slowly started walking toward Scott holding Rik’s hand. After a few steps, Rik burst into a sprint to his dad with Eleanor starting to jog a few steps behind him.
Within seconds, the family was hugging in the kind of way people at airports hug who haven’t seen a loved one in a long time. Quietly, so only Scott and Rik could hear, Eleanor whispered, “You had me at therapist gnome,” which made Scott laugh.
For Gnick, he never thought he would ever feel like he fully belonged to a family, but in that moment, when he was included in the hug, everything he had ever hoped for felt real… and it was glorious. It felt like he had gone from the help to an equal member of the family.
As the family of four hugged, the singer on the truck to the side started singing “All You Need is Love,” and the Salvation Army band started playing along. The people who had gathered on the streets were cheering and joined in on the song. The runners started running in a circle around the group with their original ribbons flying. Dogs barked and cars honked, and after a few minutes for the family to enjoy their hug, “Santa” started letting off more fireworks – he’s the kind of friend you want around for special occasions.
It was the perfect Christmas Eve, especially after such a difficult year. The family was congratulated by everyone who was there as they sang Christmas carols and enjoyed some hot chocolate provided by “Santa” – he really is the friend you want around. Tears were shed, hugs were shared by all, it was a night that reminded people the greatest thing about Christmas is sharing love because that night couldn’t have happened without the collective love of friends.
As everyone started to return home, Scott followed his wife, son, and gnome into the house to reconnect to the family he should never have left. Fortunately, despite his mistakes of leaving and staying away, he ended up learning the lessons that would help him be the man his family needed and help him stick around. As Scott learned, change is always a single choice away.