I stayed in New York City for Christmas that year. All three of my roommates vacated our apartment for the holiday and I was alone with the fake tree that I’d found on the curb weeks earlier. But you know, New York City was far from empty. My friends Ben and Jessica were in town and they also liked to ride bikes. Together we rode the northern tip of Manhattan. It was warm enough that we only needed thin gloves and light jackets. Ben’s mom made her own dehydrated mangos which Ben rationed out to us during the ride.
In the afternoon Ben and Jessica dropped me off at the Little Sisters of the Assumption in East Harlem. The Little Sisters are a chapter of Catholic nuns that work closely with the communities in which they live–they do health care work, run a thrift store and are progressive af. I had been hanging out with them for a few months by then, volunteering, staying the night at the convent on occasion, asking them questions about being nuns. I came up for mass and prayer circle sometimes.
I brought cookies for Christmas dinner and we did a white Elephant gift exchange. I stole Sister Susanne’s gift which was a fuzzy pair of socks with foot lotion–you put the lotion on and then the socks for bed and wake up with the dewiest feet. Sister Susanne was the nun who really took me under her wing: welcomed me to the convent, gave me a tour. We had a little ongoing email chain between the two of us.
After dinner my writing teacher Art came to pick me up at the convent–he was the one who had introduced me to the Little Sisters in the first place. The two of us walked across the Queensboro Bridge–by this time it was a dark Christmas night with the city lights reflecting in the East River. I still had my bike but I just pushed it along so Art and I could walk together. We had a late night dinner at a Chinese place in Astoria–just over the bridge.
I was thinking about that Christmas, because it is that time of year and because it was one of the strangest Christmas’s I’d ever had. I was thinking about it before I heard the news that Sister Susanne died this year on Christmas Day. I still have the fuzzy socks that I stole from her and I think of her when I wear them.