These are the kind of mornings I live for – hushed, quiet, the soft hiss of rain falling as the crows and gulls and songbirds that thrive in the lush hillsides outside wake and begin their day. The Christmas tree lights illuminate this otherwise gently lit room and the fountain bubbles peacefully over the hum of its pump. The dogs sigh and snore beneath the heated blankets and though are errands I should do, I’ve nowhere I must be. I’ve got a book, a diary, a notepad for lists, and am arsenal of remotes for visual entertainment, and the usual battery of migraine weapons to kill the elf trying to claw his way out from behind my eyes – coffee, Imitrex, ice packs, pornography, cannabis, red meat. Though I’m in pain, things are pretty, and soft around the edges, and in this moment I am most content.
It’s funny the way you come around to things you rejected long ago and, statistically speaking, probably will again. Years ago, when living on Fell Street with my housemates, we had a battle of epic proportions over Christmas tree palettes that resulted in a detente of white lights with silver, gold, and a token few red ornaments. So whole and rigid was this aesthetic that even years after moving out I tirelessly stuck to it, afraid to branch out, though my barrio soul screamed out for a riot of Mexican color.
In 2008, uprooted and exiled to the suburbs, I bought my first string of colored lights in a 15 years, along with several boxes of colorful ornaments. My boyfriend at the time was overjoyed to see the eight-foot riot of color that exploded in our sitting room that year and we kept it up, even the year we opted out of a tree and decorated my potted yucca with a string of colored lights and a single turquoise-and-pink horsehead ornament. We always had a playful debate of which kind of tree was best – thick and wide and fluffy was his preference, while I craved a tall, slender, airy tree suitable for best showing off my ornaments. The first year we lived in this house, my first piece of property, we got a big fuck-off tree that silenced us with its enormity and which he named Roxanne. We stood, staring it soberly, wondering if we’d perhaps gone a little big……but I got out the stepladder and, after our annual ritual of arguing while winding lights about the trunk, I made Roxanne look like the painted tramp The Police must have been writing about in their classic song.
One thing I’ll say for my ex is that no matter how bad things were between us, how rough the going was or how broke we were, when he could he always made sure I had a beautiful Christmas tree. Even last year, when we were technically separated but doing the drawn-out, Irish-goodbye version of breaking up, he took me to the nearby Christmas tree lot and bought me a massive tree, brought it home, and set it in the corner by the window. He also helped out with the winding of the lights around the trunk, and then sat back and watched football while I OCD’d around the three, which took, as I recall, three days to complete. It was, again, huge and colorful and garish and fabulous. And all was well.
And then I went to LA to spend Christmas with my best friend. He has only put up a tree a couple of times in his adult life and only did it last year because I was coming. I walked into his apartment and sucked all the air out of the room – his little tree, decked out in white lights and goldish ornaments, took my breath away with its sweetness, simplicity, and rustic charm. “I think the highlight of a tree is the tree itself,” he said, and I was instantly won over. So I came home and spent the weekend after New Year’s dismantling my tree and, in advance of my plans eleven months in the future, separated mine out into boxes of colored and white/gold/silver and even bought some special new ones – feathers encased inside glass spheres and drops – and packed them away to languish all year up in the garage’s loft.
After this year’s Thanksgiving plans went strangely awry but concluded happily, my best girlfriend drove over from the City the next day and we started a new tradition: Fishgiving, in which we gather together the day after Thanksgiving to drink wine, eat expensive cheese, roast a salmon, and go pick out a Christmas tree. Because she is apparently from another planet, my friend has never been to a Christmas tree lot, experienced the ritual of choosing a tree, or had the pleasure of bringing it home and leaving a carpet of needles in one’s wake, it was a night of firsts. I wound a few strands of white lights around the branches and called it a night, popped open another bottle of wine, and enjoyed the glow of the spare, airy, Scandinavian-looking tree.
Today I started unpacking the boxes of balls and bells and drops and crystals and found it bittersweet. I said hello to the bizarre, horrific octopus that was a gift from a coworker who finds my taste ‘weird’ and ‘creepy,’ I sadly broke the squirrel that was last year’s special ornament, and I found a glittery bear that was a symbol of my ex and another silly snowman with his name on it. I set those aside and made a cup of tea in my new Male Tears mug and contemplated change: the swing from white lights to colored and back again, the stripping down of palette from hooker-carnival to Swedish severity, the air and negative space in my tree where there used to be endless fluffy branches, the first year spent choosing, buying, and decorating the tree without the person I’ve done it with every year for a long time, the new technique of mounting my tree on a low table, thus thwarting the dogs’ desire to Destroy All The Things and allowing me to put presents under the tree in a long time.
Things and tastes come and go. I’m sure that sooner later I’ll see pink
and green and blue lights sparkling on my tree again (probably not next year, though), and there may someday again be a fluffy nine-footer. Who knows where next year’s tree will be set up, or with whom I will choose it, and, to get truly existential about it, if there will even be a next year. Nothing is certain, nothing is a given, other than that I love these lights, all of them, and these long winter nights full of quiet and cool and gold.