The first Christmas I remember, I must have been 7. My parents asked me to write down what I wanted so they could mail it to Santa. It is a standard custom.
It’s possible I had been given this opportunity in years past; if I had, whatever I asked for must have been reasonable, or at least forgettable because it takes up no space in my memory. But that year was different. The question left me euphoric: What do I want?
Santa was a magical creature, after all, and I had learned by that age that magical creatures were capable of great, seemingly impossible things. A witch could wiggle her nose and a room would begin to clean itself. Lost a tooth? Put it under your pillow and a fairy will come, take it away, and reward you with a quarter. Recite your prayers every night and the Lord will keep you safe; curse, and risk condemnation. Our world is weighted with words and rituals and the perceived, intrinsic magic they possess.
Asking Santa for something was akin to making three wishes upon rubbing a lamp and releasing a genie. You could really ask for anything.
I decided to ask for wings. You know, so I could fly.
I was surprised, in fact, that no one had thought of this before. How was I the first? Maybe my parents were right—I was very smart.
I handed over my wishlist proudly and dreamed of my impending gift. I had always tried to be good, whatever that word really means, and so I generally obeyed my parents, said thank you and I’m sorry, was polite at restaurants and dinner parties, and could sit quietly for hours drawing and making up stories. But after The Wish was submitted, I was religious in my conviction to be good and true. I wanted Santa to know what it meant to me, that I took the responsibility seriously, that I was grateful and, hopefully, deserving.
There were moments I worried about the logistics of the wings. How would they affix to my back? I hoped they wouldn’t be permanent, that I would be able to take them off if I wanted to be rid of the extra weight or just blend in with my classmates. There was a chance, I knew, that I would wake up on Christmas morning with two new appendages. It was of some concern, but I ultimately trusted Santa and believed he would figure out a way to make them detachable.
The day grew closer. I dreamt in flight. I talked to my parents eagerly about what Santa would bring. I didn’t want them to be sad that they didn’t have wings, too. I wondered if Santa would leave two spare pairs. If not, then that could be my wish the following year, and then we could all fly together, like a flock of birds.
I woke early, early on Christmas morning, and reached around my back to see if I could make out any feathers or protruding nubs. Nothing. I was a little disappointed, but ultimately relieved. Detachable is better, I thought.
I crept down the hallway, listening, watching, reveling. The light from the tree cast a warm glow across the walls and floor; the mechanical Santa swiveled back and forth on its stand, creaking softly.
I reached the living room, held my breath, and turned toward the fireplace. There were stockings, some boxes, and other objects now rendered formless by my memory. Sitting alone, prominently displayed, was a small figurine, maybe three inches high. It was of a girl with wings, hanging a star on a tree. She looked just like me. She was even wearing a blue dress, my favorite color.
As I get older, Christmas seems to become more and more an exercise in wanting things I cannot have. I want people who are no longer here. I want a version of home that no longer exists. I want successes that seem too far out of reach; a person, perhaps, who I have yet to meet. The things I want feel no less magical or impossible or wondrous than a pair of wings. And like a pair of wings, sometimes you may get them, after all, but they’ll look different than you expect. It is not altogether a disappointing thing.
I held that figurine in my hands and ran my thumbs over its curves. I looked at it as though it were itself made of magic, formed from no more than a wish. Yes, I wanted to fly, and I knew I could not fly with this. But somewhere, somehow, someone had heard me. Someone had listened. And they had given me all they could.