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Little Boy Found
I love Starsk, you know? But when we first started working together, I thought this thing with him and Christmas was a little weird. I mean, a grown man getting as excited as a kid? Especially ironic when you realize that "Starsky" isn't exactly the most Protestant of names, if you get my drift.
But he loves the season. He's got this...childlike wonder about things, and there's been a lot of times when it's opened up new worlds for me. I see things differently when I see them through his eyes, because he's got this zest, this total abandonment, this joy for life that is so foreign to me. I give him a hard time about it, but when I let myself go and go with it, it's kind of a kick, in a lotta ways.
Watching him at Christmas, though...well, that's different. I can appreciate his excitement over the details...like what he'll hang on the Tomato this year, and how many stores will he have to go to before he finds the right cards for everyone, and how many extra things can he stuff into the annual box for his mother. In a way, I think he enjoys having both Christmas and Hanukkah to celebrate. More bang for his buck, so to speak. And let me tell you, he celebrates and embraces both with equal enthusiasm.
I wish I could join him on this one. But I can't. I just can't.
I know it puzzles Starsk that I have such a thing about Christmas. And it's not that I hate it. It just has a different meaning for me. Christmas in the Hutchinson household wasn't about everybody gathered around the fire singing carols...unless it was a bunch of important clients and the singers were me and my sister, trotted out to make the name look good.
Appearances. That was the name of the game with my dad; still is. And my mother? Well, she was too...hell, I don't know what...to go against him, even when it came to me and Kim. One year, when I was eight, I remember making this ornament, this construction paper reindeer that folded and slipped together so it was three-dimensional. I worked all day on that thing, and I have to admit, I couldn't wait to bring it home and show my folks so they could hang it on the tree.
But that was the year my mother had a professional come in and "do" the tree, and when I tried to add on the ornament, she about had a fit. "Oh, no, Ken," she said, in that strained voice she always got when she had to correct one of us instead of leaving it to my dad. "See? It doesn't go with the rest of the tree...why don't you put it away and we'll use it another year."
I know I was upset, and I know I showed it. I dug in my heels and insisted, my mother getting more and more flustered, until my dad intervened: "That's enough. Your mother spent a lot of time and money to decorate that tree, Ken, and she told you: your ornament doesn't fit. Stop whining about it, or go to your room."
That's how it was with my dad. Never shed a tear, never show you're hurt. Buck up and shut up, whether it's a disappointment like this or a fall off the horse. Get up, dust yourself off, that's not tears I see in your eyes, is it? Go back inside until you can compose yourself, Ken.
I used to go out to the barn when I was a kid. Used to find a lot of comfort out there when it seemed like everything else was going wrong...like losing a class election or getting a "B" on a geography test. For years, my granddad would come out after me, and tell me it'd be all right...that was just how Dad was. That sometimes his standards were too high and I shouldn't get so upset because I couldn't always meet them.
My granddad died when I was 18...yep, right around Christmas, and when I tried to take my usual sanctuary among the horses, my dad followed me. He let me know just how he felt about my crying at the hospital when granddad was sick. He was ashamed, he said, that a Hutchinson would be so indiscreet as to demonstrate his emotions in a public place.
And I? Well, I gritted my teeth and swallowed my tears and shut up. And stayed shut up until I was 23 and decided I wanted to go to the police academy in California. Then I stood up to my dad for the first time in my life...and promptly got myself thrown out of the house, and the family.
On Christmas Eve. Nice, huh?
I didn't hear from him the whole time I was at the Academy. When I graduated, they didn't come, even though I was at the top of the class...with Starsk, of course. The next time he contacted me was after Vanessa divorced me. Then he called, all right, to congratulate me on disgracing the family name again, with the first divorce in Hutchinson history.
I'm not proud of how I handled that. Let's just say the two weeks' salary it took to repair the front door and buy a new phone taught me a lesson about dealing...or rather, not dealing...with my father.
I only went back a few times after that...anniversaries, when my sister got married, and to see her two kids...boy, they're a joy; maybe between Kim and Michael they'll break out of the Hutchinson mold. But anyway, the first time I went back I found out Dad had taken my room apart completely, and turned it into a guest room.
Like they needed another one in that house.
That house so full of things and void of touch...
Shit. I've gotten off track...where was I? Oh, right. Starsk and his thing about Christmas.
I'm not sure he can understand how my life was different, and in a way, I'm glad. After everything else he went through as a kid, thank god he didn't have to have that too. It hurt at first, to hear about the holidays in the Starsky household, and how they were full of warmth and noise and wonderful chaos. I know Starsk missed his mom and his brother, back on the East Coast, and she couldn't get out here very much to see him.
But when he talks about how they'd get together for dinner, and light candles and open presents, and laugh and tell stories, and _touch_ each other...man. I can just see it shining out of his eyes, how much he loves those members of his family, how much that warmth meant to him. If I were him, I wouldn't want to let go of that joy, either.
So I try. Every year, I say I'm not gonna give in to the commercialism of Christmas, and every year, he somehow talks me out of it. Part of it is that I can't resist the look on his face when he opens his present from me and that smile just lights up.
This year, I meant it. I don't know why, maybe it was the passing years, maybe it was what happened over the course of the year, maybe it was a lot of things I'd rather not think about anymore. But I had had it, and I know I drove Starsk crazy with my constant lectures about "euphoric sentimentalism" and the Better Business Bureau. It didn't help my mood any when that little girl's father got killed two days before Christmas...Jesus. Lost and alone, trying like hell to hide it with that tough exterior, even with two thugs after her to get the diamonds her dad had stolen...how could I not respond?
And yeah, I know what they say about soft-hearted cops.
But I ended up feeling good about it, and even better after Kiko and his mother started talking about adopting Mollie/Pete. Enough to play a little trick on Starsk.
I'd watched him eye that caboose for months. He'd dropped hints big enough to trip Godzilla, and I'd actually had it stashed it in my closet since the third time he dragged me to that toy store to admire it. I gave him my usual hard time, told him I wasn't getting him anything, and this year I think he bought it. Especially when he opened his present from me to find the certificate for the tree in City Park.
It was all I could do to keep from laughing, and usually I can't keep that from him, but I somehow managed to pull it off.
He hid his disappointment pretty well, even when I told him that it was next to the horseshoe pitch. Gilding the lily, I know, but hey, a guy's gotta have some fun, huh?
We all split from Kiko's around dark. Starsk was headed over to his aunt Rosie's for the rest of the evening. I had one important errand to run, and then I decided to go home and see if I could get hold of my sister. I don't care if I never talk to my dad again, but I like hearing how the kids' Christmas went, and how they liked the finger paints I sent `em this year.
(Hey. It was Starsky's idea.)
She wasn't there, so I grabbed a beer and went out into the greenhouse, just sort of communing with the plants and enjoying the silence. The street was quiet, since it was Christmas Eve, and for once the rowdies were off doing their thing somewhere else. Though the city lights block out most of them, I could see some stars appearing. I sat out there in the dark, watching them wink into view, thinking about Starsk coming home from his aunt's.
It was a cinch. We have keys to each other's houses, and I told you, I've had that thing in my closet for weeks. It was a simple thing to tie a big red bow around it and slip it into his house while he was at Rosie's...she was in on the conspiracy, and promised to keep him there for at least a couple of hours.
I sat there, sippin' my beer, Dylan on the stereo, and I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with myself. When I thought about Starsky walking in his bedroom, flipping on the light, and seeing that caboose displayed on a pillow on his bed...
It's not often I fool him, but I think I just might have accomplished it this year.
Hold on a sec, that's my phone.
A throaty chuckle, and then his voice, "You big dope."
"Yeah, well, it was really a favor for myself, Starsk. I figured if I didn't get it, I'd be hearin' about it until _next_ Christmas."
"Whatever you say, Blintz." A pause, and I hear him yawnin' on the other end of the line.
"You sound beat. Better get to bed and sleep off all those dinners...I don't need a partner with a turkey hangover."
He chuckles again. "Yeah. See you in the mornin'." Another pause. "Hey, Hutch?"
"Merry Christmas, pal."
Okay. So maybe I can join him. Just this once.