by Madison Stevens ’19
There is blood everywhere. That’s all I am aware of at this point—wet, metallic-smelling blood. On the operating room floor, on gauze packs, on me. I survived my twelfth day at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Austin. A Christmas miracle, to say the least. I had done my first year residency in Dallas but moved to train under the best after I decided on my specialty in cardiothoracic surgery. As the harsh florescent lights of the O.R. stare me in the face, I am very much regretting my decision.
I live for the rush of the hospital, for the unsanitary in the midst of complete sterilization. Blood hitting the bleached floors of the O.R., a completely diseased organ in the safety of my latex glove-covered hand, a placenta sliding into a medical waste bag as a mother swaddles her newborn baby girl. I live for it. The hospital welcomes life and strives to delay death. I live for the first cut, taking the scalpel and initiating my workspace with a drag of the blade across an abdomen, chest, leg, or scalp. These are the things that surgeons think about, I think to myself so I don’t feel as crazy as I tie the waistband on my scrubs. I retrieve three charts from the nurses’ station, all post-ops, and look it over. “December 25” is displayed on the sticky calendar on the desk. It couldn’t be more perfect that today was Christmas, for today I am getting the best possible gift I can imagine: the meat and potatoes of surgery specialties—working in the cardiothoracic wing under Dr. Gerald Hallen.
“Dr. Penelope Kannery?” I hear my name in a deep voice from behind me. I turn around and look up; my 5’9 frame suddenly feels tiny in the presence of Dr. Hallen. He has to be mid- to late-40s, though there are no traces of laugh lines around his eyes; just frown lines framing his chin.
“Yes Dr. Hallen, that’s me. I was on my way down to the cardio wing.” I say with a smile. His face remains neutral.
“You’re here earlier than your call. That’s good. Follow me and keep up.” And he’s off down the hall. I hear two nurses mumble “the Grinch” under their breath as we pass by. He comes to an abrupt stop in front of a room, turns around, and shoves a binder with all of the patient information at my waist, saying, “30 seconds to review. Do not speak to the patient.”
Yeah, he’s the Grinch all right. Okay, Henry Sidler, 72, he needs a coronary artery bypass graft surgery, the most common of heart surgeries—one that I studied endlessly in med school and scrubbed in on four times back in Dallas. I walk in behind him and wait as he explains to Henry what would happen during his surgery.
“And as I have said before, it is the most common heart surgery preformed, though that doesn’t mean things cannot go wrong. I have—” Dr. Hallen was beginning another sentence as Henry cut him off, causing the world-renowned doctor to have a look on his face as if somebody kicked his puppy.
“Yeah, yeah, Doc, you’ve told me all of this before, can I get back to my game of solitaire? My granddaughter gave me these cards for Christmas,” Henry says with a nervous laugh, gesturing at his playing cards displayed on the makeshift table on his lap.
“As. I. Was. Saying. I have an extremely high success rate, and there have only been good things said about Dr. Penelope Kannery, so we’ll see if that’s true,” Dr. Hallen finishes as poor Henry looks at him wearily. Grinch.
“You have nothing to worry about, Mr. Sidler. You are in the best hands possible, Dr. Hallen has done this surgery hundreds of times. Try not to worry, this is the best Christmas gift you could be receiving—after the cards of course,” I say with a smile and a squeeze to his arm. Dr. Hallen storms out of the room. Henry smiles at me as I throw out a quick, “See you in surgery!” and scamper through the door to catch up with Dr. Hallen down the hall. I bring my pace back down to a walk next to him, but he stops short again and turns to face me.
“You are at strike one, Dr. Penelope Kannery, and I operate on a two strike system, not three. Do not test me. The next time I see you will be in the O.R.” And with that, he’s off, not even giving me time to apologize for speaking to the patient.
I walk into the O.R. with my arms bent at the elbows take my place next to Dr. Hallen.
“Let’s see if you’re going to cash in on strike number two or succeed. I want you to make the initial incision,” he says as he hands me a scalpel. I do it with ease and fluidity.
“Okay Dr. Penelope Kannery, ever cut a breastbone?” My eyes light up at his words; I’ve never done it before on a live person, just cadavers.
“No, Dr. Hallen. It would be my honor to,” I say. He hands me the electric saw and I feel it again, the rush of the hospital. This is what I live for. I start my cut at the top of the sternum, avoiding the ribs.
“Now be sure to cut through the middle slowly. He’s old so his bones aren’t as healthy and you risk the chance of a rib cracking into the—” the BEEP of the breathing monitor interrupts him and I watch as the respiratory levels start to plunge.
“Get out of the way, Dr. Penelope Kannery. You not only just splintered a rib into his lung causing it to collapse, you just hit strike two. Get the hell out of my O.R.!” Dr. Hallen yells.
I stand at the small circular window of the scrub room as I watch him finish up Henry’s surgery with ease. Six hours later, both lung and heart are stable and he’s being wheeled out to the ICU for post-op monitoring as Hallen walks out.
“Two strikes, Dr. Penelope Kannery. You will now have to answer the consequences. So, what is your decision Dr. Penelope Kannery? Do you accept the consequence?” He asks as he scrubs out, and then opens another package of soap to scrub back in.
“Yes,” I reply.
The next thing I know, I’m lying on the very same table where Henry had just been. Dr. Hallen administers an epidural and lifts my scrubs to reveal my abdomen.
“I do not stand for mundane, avoidable stress in my surgeries, Dr. Penelope Kannery. Precision avoids stress. After this you will be as precise as you would be if you were operating on yourself—because you are.” He hands me a scalpel. I feel no rush, no “living for” feeling—rather a feeling of needing to survive. It was suddenly becoming a very dark Christmas.
“Remove your appendix, Dr. Penelope Kannery. Be precise.”
Letters to Santa
How is Rudolph doing? I hope good. Is it cold? It’s cold here, but I have a blanket and sweater. My Grammy made it for me. Does Rudolph have a Grammy? Who makes him sweaters? And cookies? And gives him hugs and kisses? The good kisses. Not the sloppy kind my doggie gives me. Do you have any pets, Santa? Oh yeah, the reindeer. Silly me. I made you cookies. The gooey kind. And milk! But my brother ate them. Stupid brother! And my kitty drank the milk. Stupid kitty! My daddy says to not say “stupid.” Don’t tell him, ok? Can you say that word? How old are you? I think three billion! Why don’t you have any kids?
My daddy says I need to write what I want. Ok. I want a pink pony with purple eyelashes and a blue tail. It needs to sing and fly and bake me cookies. Oh, my daddy says I can’t ask for that. Ok. I want a castle with servants and a pool full of jelly. And I want a house made out of candy. And I want a pony, but this time a normal one, but a real one! Please? Oh, my daddy says I need to ask for something you can actually get me so I won’t be disappointed. But, why can’t you give me all of this stuff? You are the greatest man alive! You have powers and a big belly and a jolly laugh and, um, stuff! Yeah. So, I want a rocket so I can go to the moon and eat moon cheese. I like cheese. Do you? What do you like to eat?
Oh, my daddy says I need to stop because I’m running out of paper. I love you Santa and Rudolph and Dancer and
Prancer and the other reindeer I don’t know the names of. Kisses. Oh, and sorry about the milk and cookies. Please still come. I have been good, I promise.
Love and hugs,
I don’t really believe in you. I know I haven’t believed in you for years. Not at all, in fact. So why am I doing this? Why would I write you a letter? I don’t quite know to be honest. I’m not sure I could put it into words, at any rate. So what do I want? That’s the question, right? I don’t think I know anymore. Not to be lonely? Is that an answer? I can’t put my finger down on anything that doesn’t seem to have some sort of baggage and grief on it, but there’s a part of me kicking around that still wants to believe and to hope that something good is out there for my life.
When I was a kid, I guess that meant presents under a tree and a world outside covered in snow. A day of playing with Dad and then hot chocolate inside and watching your clothes get dry in front of the radiator. Then I got older and it changed into more complicated things like money and love and feeling important, and usually we don’t have any of those.
Now you can’t give me what I’m looking for. But I guess if I write you this letter and I remember for a split second what it was like to be a child on Christmas Eve, then at least I won’t forget what it feels like to hope. And that makes all the difference in the world.
This year for Christmas, I do not want any gifts from you. I simply want my family to get together. I want them to enjoy themselves in the spirit of the Holidays. I want my siblings and my friends to love the gifts that I have purchased for them. I want you to fly on your big red sleigh through the cold and brisk air with a smile on your face. I want children and parents to scream your name from afar so that you can hear them and know that they are excited for the season of giving to truly begin.
I love you and all that you do for every child around the world. Thank you for changing my meaning of Christmas for the better. Good luck on your journey. I will be thinking of Rudolph and his shiny red nose and you with your big beard and full belly.
Lastly, please eat the cookies that I leave out for you, they are sugar cookies this year. Please make sure that Rudolph eats his carrots as well.
Much love and best regards,
Your Biggest Fan
Year after year I wrote to you, asking for a puppy—a cute little black pupper with white paws so it looks like he’s wearing socks—and nothing. Every Christmas morning from the ages of 6 to 16, I would run downstairs, eagerly expecting the sight of a wagging tail and the sound of yipping, and instead, all I got were a bunch of Legos, a Playstation, a pair of Beats headphones, an iPhone, and a whole boat load of money.
Seriously, how hard is it to bring me a puppy? When we were 10, you brought my neighbor Jerry and his sister Cathy a kitten, so I think you could figure out a way to leave a puppy under my parent’s tree.
I’m just saying, Santa—if I don’t get a puppy this Christmas, then have fun eating stale cookies from the back of my locker and drinking soy milk next year.
His Name Could Be Socko, But You Playin’
Two Writers, One Line
“This Christmas was shaping up to be the one ever…”
by Marisa DelFarno ’18
This Christmas was shaping up to be the best one ever! Actually, no. That’s a lie. This Christmas marks another year where Natalie and her sister, Sara, have to endure dinner table discussion with their Aunt Claudia, who incessantly brags about her daughter, Jane.
Natalie and Sara huddle together at one end of the table while their mom and Aunt Claudia are seated at the opposite end. Porcelain dishes housing ham, mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots lay scattered on the table, obstructing the girls’ view of their aunt’s Raggedy Ann-red dyed hair with matching red lipstick, staining both her lips and teeth. Her powdery makeup is caked on, creasing into her wrinkles. The sisters attempt to avoid conversation by hovering their heads over their plates and stuffing their mouths with food. However, Aunt Claudia always finds a way to bring up Jane and her lengthy list of accomplishments…
Sara: (puts down her fork and rubs her stomach) All this food is giving me agita. I might go upstairs and lay down for a bit.
Natalie: (pushes her plate away from her) Oh my God, me too!
The girls rise from their seats and make a beeline for the stairs.
Mom: Wait, come back! Let’s all sit and talk. (nudges her head) We haven’t seen Aunt Claudia since last Christmas.
Sara: (takes a deep breath) Okay, fine.
Natalie and Sara drag their feet back to the dinner table as if they were made of cinder blocks and sit.
Aunt Claudia: (smiles) So, Natalie, do you have a boyfriend?
Aunt Claudia: (turns to Sara) Sara, what about you?
Sara: (without looking up from her phone) Nope!
Aunt Claudia: Oh, well, Jane and her boyfriend Henry are still going strong. Five years already! They just got themselves an apartment in Palo Alto. It is so beautiful over there in California. (spits as she talks) BIG bucks they are making now!
Natalie: Oh, good for them. I heard tha—
Aunt Claudia: They went to Japan together this summer, too! Do you want to see a picture of them in Kyoto? (whips out her phone from her pocket and scrolls through it before passing it around the table)
Sara & Natalie: (voices infected with indifference) Aww.
Aunt Claudia: Isn’t she gorgeous? So classy and natural-looking! I always tell her she should model! (points to her phone) Doesn’t she look exactly like Prince Harry’s fiancée? Oh what’s her name…Meghan Markle!
Mom: (leans in for a closer look) Why yes, she does. It’s uncanny!
Sara & Natalie: Uh-huh. Yeah.
Aunt Claudia: Anyways, Natalie, do you have any plans for after graduation?
Natalie: Um…hopefully grad school. I’ve been checking out a few creative writing programs and—
Aunt Claudia: Oh, Jane is into creative writing, too! But she only keeps that as a hobby. (laughs) She used to write prose, but now she writes code! (laughs at her own joke until silence fills the room)
Mom: You know, there aren’t a lot of women in STEM fields. I think it’s great—
Aunt Claudia: You all don’t know how proud I am that Jane is a software developer! She’s only 23 and look, she’s working in Silicon Valley!
Sara: Yeah, we know.
Aunt Claudia: Anyways, Natalie, what were you saying again? I forgot.
Natalie: Oh, well, I might take a gap year. Save up, travel, maybe take a GRE review course, and then apply to a couple of programs. (half-smiles and shrugs shoulders)
Aunt Claudia: Oh…(takes a long pause) And, ah, Sara, how are things at school?
Sara: (apathetically) Fine, I guess.
Mom: (turns to Aunt Claudia) Sara has been doing great in school! She got all A’s this quarter! If she keeps this up, she’s going to graduate with honors! (smiles at Sara, whose face is reddened with embarrassment)
Aunt Claudia: Oh that’s good, dear. You know, Jane graduated with honors in high school and later summa cum laude in college!
There’s an awkward silence. Sara’s eyes dart down to her phone and she fumbles with it underneath the table. Natalie’s phone buzzes. A text from Sara reads “kill me now.” The sisters exchange looks and a smirk.
Mom: (notices Aunt Claudia’s empty plate) Hey, we’ve got desserts. Do you want some Christmas cookies?
Aunt Claudia: Oh, yes please!
Mom: I’ll be right back. (disappears into the kitchen)
Aunt Claudia: Hmm, I’ve been talking so much about Jane. Let’s switch up the conversation. (grins like the Cheshire cat) Let’s talk politics!
by Erin Lucey ’20
This Christmas was shaping up to be the best one ever—or at least the best one my kids would see so far—when it all abruptly collapsed. Just as we felt that everything was falling into place, we blinked and it had all fallen apart. The tree stood lonely in the corner of the living room, lights unplugged and lively ornaments populating just the top portion of its left side. The children’s gifts lay tucked away in the attic closet, unwrapped and unseen. The house was empty.
The world saw its first broken Christmas 12 years ago, two months before the birth of my first child. For roughly a month and a half before the big day, new rumors kept surfacing that shocked the world and began to abolish the magic of the season. For the very first time in history, journalists had made their way to the very top of the Earth, to report on the subject we all wondered about, but wouldn’t dare question—Santa’s toy factory in the North Pole.
What they discovered astounded everyone who believed. Photos of the horrifying working and living conditions that his helpless elves experienced quickly circulated, and the world’s jolly image of Santa quickly flipped to the vision of a monster.
On the night of Christmas Eve of 2005, on his annual mission to deliver gifts to the nicest children around the world, he was assassinated as he flew over North America. The traditional celebration of Christmas was banned, and everyone promised to never mention the evil man or his Christmas practices ever again. These rules became stricter and stricter over the years, quickly making the celebration of Christmas with a decorated pine tree and “Santa’s presents” a hefty criminal offense.
I’ve always been particularly fond of the loving magic that engulfs the Christmas season, and couldn’t stomach the thought of my children never experiencing it as I did. As they grew up, I’ve slowly and subtly introduced the wonders of the holiday little by little. Starting with Christmas carols when they were babies, I’ve waited until they were old enough to keep the secret from their teachers and friends to decorate a tree, and allow “Santa” to bring them presents as a reward for their good behavior. This was supposed to be the first year of us doing it all.
As I wait here, surrounded by bleak cement walls and anchored with defeat, I wonder how it is that such a harmless and wholesome concept could become so irreparably damaged. Will Christmas ever regain its magic?
Left with nothing but my own inner holiday zeal, I walk up to the metal bars that enclose me and begin to gently tap with the side of my shoe, creating a calm and steady beat. Inhaling slowly, I quietly whisper just loud enough that it can be heard over my music, “You better watch out…”
And immediately a faint voice has joined me. “You better not cry…”
Two more voices have added to the harmony. “You better not pout…”
At least eight mouths are chanting now. “I’m telling you why…”
A door opens and guards come flooding in, but everyone in the prison is singing at this point.
“Santa Claus is coming…”
And at this very moment, I am sure that my family and I will always believe in the magic of Christmas.
by Sam Pellman ’20
One day it was August and the next it was December
This magical month seems to come when everyone needs it most.
December is truly magical, anything can happen.
It can be warm one day and snowing a white wonderland the next.
It’s the month that starts out stressful, but quickly brings peace.
The family all finally has an excuse to reunite and relax together, even just for a little.
Not only does December contain the excitement of Christmas
It gives us a time to reflect.
To reminisce on the good and bad times of the year;
It’s true when they say the best is saved for last
The close of December brings the close of the year
A whole chapter in life is ending, but ending in magic and never anything tragic.
December is full of surprises
Who says the end of the year can’t be the start of your new beginning?
Just as it snuck its way into our lives, it’ll be over just as quickly
So make sure you grab hold of December and let it sprinkle a little magic into your life before it’s too late.
The Festivus Airing of Grievances
- The Torch
- The Stolen Cowls
- When Huxley Gate Shows Up as Eaton Street on Uber
- “So, what are YOU doing after graduation?”
- Food Poisoning
- Derek Shepherd’s Unnecessary Death
- Arbitrary Due Dates
- A Decided Lack of Barack Obama & Joe Biden
- When Your Nail Polish Chips
- The Wicked Long Walk into Al Mag/Hickey/SOWA
- Chronic Hair Loss
- The Lies of the Harkins Loop
- The Absolutely Ridiculous Nature Photography in Lower-Level Ruane
- The War for the Harkins Cowl Stand
- Still No Windows for the Cowl Office
- When Netflix removed One Tree Hill
- The Room Across the Hall That’s Always Mad Extra with the Volume
The Cowl’s Holiday Bucket List
- Get a tan
- Eat more than I did on Thanksgiving
- Get my “merry” on
- Pass finals
- Play (and probably lose) a drinking game with my aunt
- Get drunk off of virgin eggnog
- Actually enjoy my family
- To not talk politics at the dinner table
- Avoid the physical labor of outdoor decorating
- Read Joe Biden’s book
- Make one last snowman before #GlobalWarming
- Watch every Hallmark Christmas movie ever
- Memorize all the lines from Elf
- Eat a roll of Toll House cookie dough as fast as I possibly can
- Snuggle with some cats
- Get my sister/mother a gift she’ll actually like
- Get Trump off Twitter
- Have money in my account after all this is over
by Connor Zimmerman ’20
It must be perfect,
It cannot be any ordinary object.
It must make her smile, laugh, and cry.
It should be the apple of her eye.
Browsing through the stores,
The clock is ticking, and doors are closing.
Sweat begins to run down my face,
It feels like I’m running in a race.
Her friends tell me it should be chic.
I’m actually starting to freak.
My friends tell me it should be legendary.
I might as well be buried.
Google tells me it should be from the heart.
Maybe I’m just not that smart.
I don’t know why I can’t think of anything,
Maybe it’s because this just isn’t any fling.
I really care about what she thinks of me,
And I was hoping this gift would fill her with glee.
Then an idea strikes me, and I know this is the one,
This is no hit, it’s a home run.
I give her the gift, and as she unwraps it,
I start to worry and think maybe it’s time to split.
She gasps and then hugs me tight.
I take a deep breath knowing it’s going to be all right.
She opens the scrapbook of our memories with much effect;
She closes it up and says it’s perfect.
A Friartown Christmas Story
by Jay Willett ’20
You don’t have to attend Providence College to know the spirit and energy that comes with every winter season. Frigid winds tear apart my lips, and make me cough and sputter on my own breath. No matter how much thick clothing I have my mom send me in the mail, I always end up shaking in the cold. That changes when I stroll between the dorms, as Christmas carols and pop songs echo across Aquinas Lawn. The freezing winds still have me, but I only feel warmth as I sing along to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and a tingling wave of goosebumps and excitement runs up my limbs.
Then I hear some kids in McDermott playing Cardi B and I laugh because they clearly didn’t get the memo. Banners and tinsel line the windows, and people decorate for the holidays like it’s their job. At this point on my trip to Slavin I’m goofily skipping to the jingle of “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Then I recall last year’s holiday concert when Mariah Carey had that awful performance due to technical difficulties and her inflated ego, so I stuff my hands in my pockets out of embarrassment and memorial. The wind slows for a brief moment and I look up to see the massive metal structure in front of me, glowing a dull green.
I shift my gaze to the corner of the Slavin Lawn to see the dimly lit Christmas tree in the distance. Small as it is, I always stop and take a quick moment to be reminded of home and smile at the thought of how close I am to being with my family again.
But seriously though, I think, why isn’t the tree bigger? Or located at the center of the lawn? Questions for another day I decide, as I struggle to open the heavy Slavin doors. Inside I take a moment to hope and pray that the Dunkin’ line isn’t as bad as it was yesterday. Campus record was next to Santander, and it was pretty close.
Much to my dismay, the line ends at the bookstore, and I silently cry to myself as I slump to the back of the line. I don’t know what comes over me, but I cut the line unintentionally, as I look to see that the line had exceeded past the Friars Club office. Oh no, I think to myself, my hands pressed against my cheeks like in Home Alone.
“Oh yes,” someone says behind me.
I jump and turn around to see an old man with a broomstick in his hand. At first, I think for sure he’s going to murder me, but considering the two essays and one project I have due the next day, I decide it wouldn’t be the worst thing to have happen.
“Can I help you?” I ask the man.
“You must learn of your actions Jay, and realize the true spirit of PC Christmas!” The fact that he knows my name could only mean one thing.
“I knew it! Santa is real!” I immediately take my phone out to take a selfie with him like everyone did with Phill Lewis from Suite Life when he was on campus not long ago.
“No! I’m not Santa! I’m the janitor, but you cut the line so now I have to show you your Christmas past to make you feel bad and stuff!” He chants with his hands waving in the air.
“Or I could just get to the end of line?” I ask with a shrug.
“Oh, yeah, I guess you could do that,” he pouts with a sigh like we had just skipped a whole plotline. Suddenly the man is enveloped in a blinding light and disappears faster than my Friar Bucks.
“Wow!” I stammer, my eyes gleaming with Christmas joy.
“Hey, what do you want, I don’t have all day,” Kevin calls from behind the Dunkin’ counter. I look around me to see that the line has completely vanished, my one and only Christmas wish made true.
“I’ll have a medium caramel swirl iced regular please,” I wink and toss him a grin. He makes a disgusted face and slowly types in my order. Truly it is a Christmas miracle.
Red and Green
by Marelle Hipolito ’21
red. green. green, red.
what was once alive is now dead
red. green. green, red.
all because of something that should’ve been left unsaid
him, and his little bitta whiskey
me, and my now little brittle heart
why’d he have to open his mouth, and tear me apart?
now the chestnuts are cuts
the candy canes are pains
white Christmas, he drunkenly stained
he wasn’t what he seemed.
red, to grinch green.
I became equally as mean.
broken ornaments and cold fireplaces, empty with no wood
blown out candles, no carolers in the neighborhood
dimmed star on the floor by the tree
unopened box of the nativity scene
why did he have to be so mean?
but, you glued the ornaments back together
made the embers spark, and fight back the cold weather
you sang songs of carolers down through the streets
lit the candles, and placed the star back on the top of the tree
next to a table where we set up the nativity scene
and you warmed my heart again, back to its size three
you’re sweeter than gingerbread
green, to love red.
you’re the merry to my Christmas,