Toby's Christmas Wish
Enshrouded in dark, the little boy lay in his bed and stared with wide eyes. Phosphorescent stars and planets glowed in a green hue on the ceiling. He remembered when he and his dad had put them up two years ago – back when his dad was happier; back when eight year-old Toby could walk.
Toby glanced at the outline of the crutches leaning against the dresser beside his bed. They glowed in the moonlight, which gave them a discomforting, haunting appearance. He hated them. The mere sight was a constant reminder of the accident in which his spinal cord was damaged, resulting in his condition.
His stare returned to the stars, as artificial as his ability to walk unassisted, and he hoped he’d fall asleep soon. Sometimes he’d count the stars and fall asleep. Other times, he paused on a star and his imagination would take him to a place where little boys could play tag, swim, run, and do everything that boys with working legs loved to do.
But the slightest noise – even a creak from the house – could frighten such nascent dreams away, and reality would remind him of his condition. What about tonight, he thought. It was the night of Christmas Eve. And the Santa, who had visited him in last night’s dream, had told him anything was possible on Christmas – you just had to believe.
But the Santa at school said otherwise. The Santa he stood in line for said he needed to wish for something tangible, something Santa or his parents could get him for Christmas. He remembered that Santa too well because he couldn’t shake the feeling the man left him with.
What’s your name little boy?
And what would you like for Christmas? Minecraft? A game? A ball?
I want to walk again.
To that request, the School Santa had no reply. But the Santa in last night’s dream said something different.
Toby, what is it you want for Christmas?
I want to walk again.
Santa took a few seconds before replying. Santa brings things to children. He doesn’t take away something they
Toby didn’t understand. But I can’t walk.
Santa leaned in close. So close, Toby could count the hairs in his beard and see the sincerity in his moist eyes.
Christmas is a day for miracles. Just have faith.
The words kept replaying in Toby’s head as he fell asleep.
Hours later, he was awakened by the sound of sleigh bells. But when he opened his eyes in the dark, he questioned his heightened senses. He concentrated on listening for the bells, but heard nothing. Without thinking, he sat up and put his feet on the hardwood floor. It was cold. His mom had removed the rug in his room to prevent slipping. He stood up and walked over to the door. But when he reached for the doorknob, he remembered he’d forgotten his crutches. In his legs, his felt a tingling which was unfamiliar. He screamed as he grabbed onto the door handle. He couldn’t believe he’d actually walked. Seconds later, he was pushed over by the door as his dad opened it.
Light blinded him when his dad hit the light switch.
“Toby, what are you doing? Are you okay?” His dad saw the crutches propped against the dresser next to the bed. “Why did you crawl to the door?” The boy’s mom walked in.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I - I walked.”
His dad peered at him, still half asleep. “Toby, we both know that’s not possible.” He knelt down and picked the boy up. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“Let’s get you back to bed.”
He set Toby in the bed and watched through tired eyes as his mom tucked him in. She kissed him on the forehead. “Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll see what Santa left for you.”
“I already know,” Toby said.
“Santa said I could walk if I believed.”
She closed her eyes and gently shook her head. “I’m afraid the world doesn’t work that way.”
“But Santa does.”
His mom kissed him again. “Goodnight, Pumpkin.”
His dad left the room and she followed, turning the light out.
Toby stared toward the closed door. Then his head turned and his eyes traveled from star to glowing star on the ceiling. He focused on one of the big stars straight above and soon was fast asleep.
When Toby’s eyes opened, it was still night. The clock indicated 1:38 AM. Without thinking, Toby sat up and plopped his feet on the floor. He stood and walked a few feet. He leaned against the dresser, still standing. His legs felt weak, like they could barely support his small frame. I can do this. I can walk. I know I can. He yelled for his parents.
Seconds later the door opened and the light came on. His dad saw him leaning against the dresser. “What are you doing?”
“Look, I can walk.”
“No, you can’t.” The instant Toby heard the words, he believed what his dad was saying, and he felt his legs weakened. “You’re leaning against the dresser.”
The logic of his dad’s words hit him and he collapsed.
His dad rushed over. “Son, why are you doing this tonight?”
Tears ran down the boy’s face. “Santa said I could walk if I just believed. Won’t you help me?”
“I’m going to help you back to bed and that’ll be enough of this nonsense for the night, you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” Toby whimpered.
His mom came in and tucked him back into bed. She sat on the bed to reach the sheets on the far side.
“Mom,” Toby whispered, “can we go sit by the Christmas tree?”
“Let’s wait until morning.”
“I want to see the lights. They’ll help me fall asleep.”
“Okay,” his mom said, finding no logic in the request. She was weary, but the joy of spending time with her son on Christmas Eve was greater than her desire for rest. She twisted to face her husband. “Let’s go sit by the tree for a few minutes.” She got up. “You grab Toby. I’ll go plug the lights in.”
His dad sighed. His mom walked past him, and he came over and picked up the boy. Moments later, they entered the family room, lit only by the multicolored lights on the tree. Sparkling ornaments matched the twinkle in Toby’s eyes. He sat between his parents on the couch. His dad looked at him and said, “I remember when I was your age, growing up in this house. It was about that time I dreamt Santa was going to bring me a toy Chinook – a model of the one my dad flew in ‘Nam.”
“A Chinook?” Toby asked.
“A helicopter with twin rotors.”
“Oh, those are cool.”
“Yeah.” His dad sighed. “We never did find that present.” He pursed his lips tight. “I remember searching all around the tree.” His head shook. “Never did find that little chopper. I had imagined it wrapped in the comics section of the paper because that’s what we used to wrap gifts.” He gently placed his hands over Toby’s ears and whispered to his wife, “That’s why we can’t have him believing in things that don’t exist.” That Christmas long past, his dad had lost his faith and belief in Santa. These parts of him were missing and lay hidden with a small toy helicopter lost decades ago.
Toby knew his grandpa had never returned from Vietnam. MIA, they said. He thought of his dad’s story, and soon the boy’s eyes glazed over as the lights on the tree hypnotized him. He fell asleep and dreamed of a gift that was greater than just a toy helicopter.
His dad carried the sleeping boy back to bed. After his parents left, Toby woke up. He stared at the glowing stars above and pictured Santa’s sleigh pulled by the reindeer traveling from star to star and dropping off presents. Santa can do anything, but he won’t bring me something I already have. Glowing with confidence, the boy sat up, plopped his feet on the floor and stood in silence.
Then he remembered the dream he had from when he fell asleep in front of the tree. Santa had shown him something new, something lost from when his dad was his age.
He walked across the room and quietly opened the door. He walked down the hall and into the family room. He plugged in the lights to the Christmas tree and sat, Indian-style, in front of it and fixated on the multicolored lights. They reminded him of when his parents were sitting in the hospital with him last Christmas. The lights were out in the room, but a small lit tree was on the table at the end of the hospital bed. His parents held each other and wished for something the doctors said was impossible. Through unrehearsed sobs, Toby didn’t hear his mom whisper to his dad, the lights on the monitors – they’re the same colors as the Christmas lights. Even though his parents saw the lights, they couldn’t see the hope that came with them. They couldn’t look past their injured son, who lay in the hospital bed.
Now, it was a year later, and Toby knew what to look for. He slid the heater vent behind the Christmas tree aside and reached into the duct until he felt a small box. He pulled it out and studied it beneath the twinkling lights. The small box was dusty and wrapped in old, unfamiliar comics. He thought of his dad’s Chinook story and smiled as he placed the gift in front of the other presents beneath the tree.
The next morning Toby’s dad would unwrap an unforgotten box, which held more than just a toy, and Toby would show his parents something greater than anything they bought on his Christmas list. He stared at the ornaments reflecting the lights until he fell asleep.