Can you get a letter to Santa for me? Our lives really suck ever since my mom died and you don’t even want to know how screwed up my life is.
My dad is raising us all by himself with no help from my aunts or uncles or anyone and I feel like nobody cares about us, we’re basically all alone.
You probably won’t even read this cause you’re too busy, so whatever.
P.S. I’m only joking about Santa, I’m not a baby.
Not a good Christmas,
After I got your letter, I re-sealed your envelope, packed my bags, and drove to the Greyhound Bus station.
The man behind the counter wore a John Deere cap and had something tucked in his lower lip.
“Quick,” I said. “I need tickets to the North Pole.”
He spit into a foam cup, then laughed. “What fer? You’ll get reindeer poop on your shoes.”
“It’s an important delivery.”
“Well, dream on, pal,” he said. “The North Pole isn’t even dry land, it’s in the epicenter of the Northern Hemisphere, situated in the Arctic Ocean, amid subarctic waters that are permanently covered with constantly shifting, cavernous, and treacherous sea ice.”
“How do you know all that?”
“I graduated from Auburn.”
“I’ll take one ticket, please.”
He flipped through his big book. “Closest I can get you is North Dakota.”
So, I rode for several hours, thinking about my life. When my father died, our life was pretty screwed up, just like yours.
When money was tight, Mama took a job throwing newspapers. One Christmas, I wanted a guitar; my mother worked overtime to buy it so I could learn to play Hank Williams music.
My Greyhound arrived in Saint Louis. I switched busses at the depot. My driver’s name was Moe.
As it turns out, Moe and I had things in common. Moe was raised by a single mother, too. We became friends. We talked about our childhoods.
And when I read him your letter, he asked to go with me to the North Pole.
“Are you serious?” I said. “Why?”
“Because I’m just like that kid in the letter, my life was all screwed up, too.”
We arrived in Chicago. The temperature was twenty-six degrees and there was ice on my eyebrows. Only the clinically insane live in Chicago.
We changed buses again and boarded a Greyhound for Minneapolis.
On the ride, Moe and I met a woman named Helen. She told us she was raised by a mother who was deaf, her father abandoned her at birth.
“Our lives were totally screwed up,” Helen said. “Nobody would hire my mom because of her deafness, so my sister and I had to work to pay bills.”
We told Helen about your letter. Immediately, she wanted to come with us.
The three of us arrived in Grand Forks, the third largest city in North Dakota—which is still smaller than a Waffle House.
I asked around town for transportation to the North Pole, and found a man who owns a charter plane. His name was Dan. We hit it off.
And would you believe it? Dan takes the prize for having the most screwed up childhood ever. He was raised in a community foster home, a glorified orphanage, and was never adopted.
I showed him your letter.
“Sure, I’ll fly you to the North Pole,” said Dan. “No charge, I know what it’s like to have a messed up life. But you gotta promise me something.”
“Anything,” I said.
“Watch out for the reindeer poop.”
The four of us flew several hours. My new friends happened to be good Christmas carol singers—except Moe, who had a voice that sounded like a cross between a diesel engine and Eleanor Roosevelt.
We all got to know each other. We laughed a lot. We talked about your letter.
The plane landed in a little town called Kugluktuk. This place is a patch of frozen Canadian mud. The airport was a shack on the shore of the Coronation Gulf—which connects to the Arctic Ocean.
The airport was run by an old man with a white mustache who spoke with a Nordic accent.
“So, you vant to see Santa?” he said. “Ya, I know where the old man lives, up round near Ichasen. He is good singer, I hear.”
The man’s name was Sven. And get this: Sven’s parents died when he was fourteen. Sven has no family left, not even a cousin. You want to talk screwed up? Sven’s your man.
He offered to take us to Ichasen for free.
We boarded his boat. We rode past glaciers, ice caps, and we even saw a polar bear. The bear waved at us. I waved back.
The bear had half of a penguin hanging out of his mouth—these bears aren’t anything like the Coca-Cola commercials.
We made landfall in a world of snow, trimmed in mountainous masses of white.
“Here we are!” Sven announced. “Santa lives just up the hill. Watch out for all der reindeer poop!”
We hiked to a place that looked like a ski lodge. We saw smoke coming from a chimney.
And it happened.
We found Santa, seated behind a big desk. He was nothing like the pictures. He was bone skinny. He wore a large cowboy hat, ostrich skin boots, and he was playing a guitar.
“Are you him?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said.
“THEE real Santa Claus?”
“Yeah, but the whole world calls me Hank.”
I handed him your letter. He read it to himself. Then he thought long and hard, closing his eyes.
“How about it Santa?” I asked. “Can you help him? Can you help the kid not feel so alone?”
Santa rubbed his beard. “That’s the wrong question to ask, son. The REAL question is: is this boy alone, like he thinks?”
He tucked the letter in his pocket, winked, and said, “I’ve got a special surprise in store for this boy.”
Then Santa played a few bars of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” like a man with his beard on fire.
That’s when it hit me.
I looked at my new friends, and I thought of all the people I’ve known with sad childhoods, hard lives, and pathetic holidays. People like you. Like me. We all hurt the same. We all laugh the same. Our tears are made of the same saltwater.
For most my life I thought I was alone just like you. But the joke was on me. On this Greyhound bus trip of “life” I have made precious friends who know exactly what it means to be screwed up.
I was never alone. Not even for a second. And neither are you.
I have the reindeer poop on my boots to prove it.