There are Christmas songs on the radio, but the snow lining the median is a sick grey color. We’re ghosts and we glide down the highway, lit only by the overhead streetlights and our nostalgia. It’s late and neither of us feel like sleeping. We drive instead.
“Midnight Mass was stupid this year,” she says from the passenger seat while scanning the radio for something that isn’t bullshit.
“I don’t know. Just was.”
I don’t say anything as she looks out the window.
“Christmas feels different now,” she says.
“How would you know? It started…two and a half hours ago.”
“You know what I mean. Everything about it. Maybe because we haven’t been home this whole time.”
“You’ll get used to it. After three years, I’m pretty well adjusted.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Christmas festival at school was really neat and everything, but it was just so strange. I think I got homesickest… That’s a word, right?”
“Go with ‘most homesick,’” I say.
“…most homesick right after Thanksgiving. I mean, I’d just been home, but I felt like I was missing everything.”
“Something tells me you didn’t really. Mom and Dad don’t really have much going on without us.”
“Eh, well they’ve got…” She pauses. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Is that sad?”
“Maybe it’s because Santa’s dead,” she says after a moment.
“Why we feel like this. ‘Cuz Santa died.”
“You know Mom would sling that whole ‘The magic of Christmas is in your heart’ speech at you right now, right?”
“You think there’s anything to that?”
“I guess. I agree, we probably started feeling like this back when Santa Claus got debunked, but there’s more to it than that. I mean, even after I found out, Christmas was still special because I got to pretend for you. It was like creating the magic for you kept it alive for me.”
“Maybe it gets better when we have kids and we get to create the illusion for them.”
“Let’s not talk about that yet.”
Wham! is singing “Last Christmas” on the radio and the streetlights are casting shadows on the dashboard. We sit in silence and listen, thinking about what to do.
“Does home still feel like home to you?” she asks.
“That’s kind of a complicated — I don’t know. Why?”
“I’ve just been thinking about it lately. And I just don’t know how to feel. Like how I’m supposed to feel, I guess.”
“You’re not supposed to feel anything.”
“No, I mean… I don’t know what I mean. It’s just been weird, coming home. You know?”
“Do you know why?”
“I’ve got guesses, like everyone else, but I don’t really have any answers.”
“I mean, no one does,” she says.
“But I think it’s a rite of passage thing. Like you’re supposed to not feel at home anywhere, at least for a while. It’s funny because we’re at that point in life where nothing’s permanent. You move from dorm, back to your parents’ house, back to dorm, back to parents’ house, to apartment, to parents’ house, to apartment, and so on and so forth. You’re just in a state of constant moving and it feels like you’re always packing up your shit.”
“Great. That’s just what I wanted to hear.” She puts her feet on the dashboard. “Does it get better?”
“Some. School starts to feel like home a little bit. And coming home doesn’t feel quite so strange after a while. You just… I don’t really know how to explain it. You just get used to not being home…or not having home. Something like that.”
I merge, splitting the difference between the two highways, one heading north, one heading south. We’re suddenly on the tiny stretch of road that cuts the city, the buildings on either side of us scraping the stars above. The road rolls out in front of us, leading nowhere as it disappears into a tunnel that leads exactly where we just came from.
“Where’re we going?” she asks.
“We’re not really anywhere,” I say. It makes me sad to admit, but here in the middle of everything, it’s true. She nods again.
Michael Buble starts crooning through the speakers and she makes noise of disgust as she changes the station. She settles on Ben Folds Five’s one song about the day after Christmas. Bobbing her head to the music, she looks out the window. I merge and we’re on the highway headed north again.
The song plays on the radio. “The world is sleeping. I am numb.”
“Let’s go home,” she says.
But we both know that it isn’t.