Five hundred words or less.
I tap my pencil against the empty piece of paper in front of me.
Five hundred words or less.
I probably won't make it past 50 words, anyway. It's hard to write about my family in much more than three words: divorce; loneliness; no father.
Okay, four words. But who's counting?
So "My Family" would be a bad topic to write about. Miss Kosh wouldn't be very impressed, either.
She'd probably send me to the school counselor.
I can't write about my pets either.
We don't have any since my brother's goldfish died.
No, I don't think I'll write about pets.
I look at the rest of the topics to write about: "Favorite Place to Visit," "A Family Vacation" and "An Interesting Holiday Experience."
I think I'll write about that last topic.
I could write about Christmas. My most interesting Christmas.
Miss Kosh will be fascinated.
Okay, here goes . . .
When I was little, Christmas was perfect. I'd wake up Christmas morning at about five o'clock and run into my brother's room. After waking Stephen up, we would run into our parents' room. Mom would be awake, expecting us. Dad would be snoring loudly, and Stephen and I would jump on his stomach and pull his pillow from beneath his head. He'd act surprised and angry, and he would grab one of us and start tickling! We'd scream and laugh until Mom would say, "I'm going down to see what Santa left me!" and we'd run downstairs to find a great heap of presents under our tree. That's how each Christmas generally went for my first thirteen years.
It was my thirteenth Christmas Eve and my parents were havincoffee in the kitchen, while Stephen and I were in the living room secretly shaking each gift to see what it was.
Stephen, now sixteen, picked up a small, square package anshook it.
"A watch?" he guessed.
"It's too small to be a watch," I told him. "It's a tape.'
Stephen nodded and pointed to one of my gifts. "Shake it," htold me. "If it rattles, it's paints and brushes. If not, it's a T-shirt."
I grabbed the present, but before I could shake it, I heard mmother's voice in the kitchen.
"What?" she yelled. "Are you crazy? You must be crazy to thinthat!"
I looked over at Stephen. Our eyes met, and I could clearly see what he was thinking. We both knew it was just another one of our parents' stupid fights. They had been fighting often, and it usually ended up with my father walking out and coming home later that night with a red rose and an apologetic smile.
"He won't leave!" I whispered to Stephen. "It's Christmas . . . "
But the fight's awful words ended with a slam of the car door.
I woke up the next morning at 8:00! I had never slept that late oChristmas morning. I woke Stephen up, and we went into our parents' room. I expected to see my parents in bed, a rose on my mother's bedside table. But the scene I saw was much different than I had imagined. Mom was there alone . . .
I can't go on.
I don't want to remember what I saw.
But every time I think of Christmas, I remember.
I remember the note on the kitchen table from Dad saying hwasn't coming back.
I remember his first and only postcard from Puerto Rico.
But I also remember the hurt slowly subsiding and the smiles reappearing.
And I remember life finally getting back to normal.
I still feel the hurt every now and then, but I guess that's natural.
Christmas is just two weeks away. My seventeenth Christmas.
Sometimes I dream about rushing into my parents' room anseeing Dad asleep next to Mom where he should be, but I know that dreams don't always come true.
Although it took time, I think things are going to be OK for ththree of us.
KARYN BARDES, 13, attends Good Hope Middle School in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Her favorite activity is creative writing.