Saturday, December 23, 2006

I almost bought a Christmas tree today 

It’s the day before Christmas Eve in New York. I missed my plane this morning and spent four hours at the airport, trying to remember why I stayed out until 4 in the morning the night before my flight. In retrospect, a bit of vigilance might have gotten me on the plane, but once I had a slip of paper in my hand with a seat number, I thought I’d make it home. While I was trying to stay awake and out of the way, someone with a stronger dedication to Christmas was proving how they would better utilize seat 13A.

And after three hours of waiting for another flight, the disgruntled stewardess at the gate, unlike the male stewardess at the baggage check who cheerfully sent my belongings off to the Midwest without me, told me there was no guarantee I could get on a plane before Christmas. As much as I feared spending over a day in JFK, the possibility of doing so and still not getting anywhere was too much for me. That and the man sleeping on his suitcase who kept drooling on the floor.

My father had been waiting for two hours on the other end when I sent him home. I didn’t have the dedication to the holiday to compete with these people for a seat. It was my third year as an aunt, and we were celebrating a new engagement, but I’d have to send my congratulations over the phone. This isn't my holiday and I wasn’t cut out for airport endurance tests.

I hopped in a cab and spent the better part of the day in my apartment, tending to the hangover. On my way to get some day before Christmas Eve tacos, I walked past the tree sellers on my corner. The arches that supported the trees were nearly bare. Only one lone tree sat propped up against the two by fours. I felt more than a little for that sad tree, wrapped up in twine like a poorly manufactured cigar, waiting to be wrapped in lights tomorrow or kicked to the curb the day after. Against my better judgment, I found myself wanting to buy it.

The slick streets and balmy weather today did not feel very festive. Having that tree might have helped make it feel more like Christmas. But I only owned one ornament, a stray Secret Santa gift that I keep neglecting to chuck. Chances are the tree would stay tightly wrapped in my apartment, but at least it would be off the streets for a night.

And it was on sale. I felt obliged to take it home with me (puppy sales inspire the same ill advised urge). But aside from the guilt of letting another plant die in the confines of my poorly lit apartment, there was the nagging reminder that Christmas trees are my least favorite part of the holiday.

Looking at them, I am always reminded of the layer of needles that the dried husk would leave on the rug every March when someone in my family finally remembered to drag the thing to the curb.

It was a laziness that pervaded the whole affair. We neglected to move the tree from the garage to the living room until the last possible moment so many years in a row that tree decoration had become a Christmas Eve tradition. And while Sharon was busy preparing the house for guests, the children were responsible for realizing her yearly vision.

Once we had a Blue Christmas, another year was a Circus theme. In 1985 it was a Very Nutcracker Christmas. The Muffin Maker and I thought we had cultivated inordinate skill at avoiding the decorating task, but The Little One had one-upped us.

She was in the laundry room watching Ela get washed. The knit penguin had materialized somewhere around The Little One’s second birthday, and the kid hadn’t been able to tear herself away from it since. By this Christmas, Ela was missing an eye, had lost her little orange hat, and was just barely distinguishable from a beloved, but abused old sock. And at some point, The Little One had decided that poking a hole through Ela’s bottom big enough for her thumb brought her a good deal of comfort. All attempts to provide newer, cleaner playthings were fruitless.

And efforts to remove the thumb up Ela’s ass in polite company were regarded as frontal assaults. More than a few glasses were broken at dinner parties before Sharon realized that a passive buggering of Ela was preferable to the ear splitting scream that The Little One reserved for precisely this sort of attack. But the thing would at least be clean for the guests.

So on this Christmas Eve, Ela was still in the washer on rinse when Sharon threatened to hide our house from Santa Claus if the tree wasn’t decorated within the next hour, leaving The Muffin Maker and I to attack each other and the tree with tiny Nutcrackers on our own.

Except Sharon was only half joking about withholding presents. The next day, there were plenty of gifts under the tree. Maybe more than usual. But there were only a few brief moments of unwrapping bliss before we were told that the quality of gifts was indeed too good to be true.

My older sister and I had gotten to that awkward girl age where our inability to care for ourselves was in direct conflict with our disdain for our every parental interaction. Still completely dependent on the two people responsible for our well-being for most everything, we had a growing disdain for them and all things related to them. This caused some trouble when we expected to receive gifts.

But this year, Sharon had decided to take action. She waited until The Muffin Maker and I had ripped through all of our wrapped treats:

“This year you pick. One. Gift. Each. The rest go … BACK.”

The Little One was happily tearing at her packages when The Muffin Maker and I began to counter this maneuver with angry groveling.

She seemed equally distraught, for a second, but we were too busy weeping over the best video games and dolls we had ever seen to pay much mind.

The unfairness of it all. The Muffin Maker and I quickly began foraging through our piles in search of the most perfect gift. We were in the midst of brokering a truce to garner some manner of combined excellence when I vaguely noticed that The Little One had stopped opening her gifts.

And then, as I pondered the Nintendo Zapper Light Gun in my left hand and the Strawberry Berry Buggy in my right, The Little One stood up. She parted her booty and made a disdainful nod towards her boxes. With a thumb in the ass of her favorite one-eyed penguin, she padded out of the room.

The Muffin Maker and I were impressed with her steely resolve for a moment. But then someone threw the Pie Man across the room and we were engaged in a war over whose gift would have access to the Barbie Club House upstairs.

“…We should have given them coal like we planned.”

That shut us up quickly enough. During dinner, Sharon gave a lecture about the true meaning of Christmas. As I had a policy of not paying attention to speeches that made me look bad, I was still picking scallions out of my mashed potatoes when The Muffin Maker punched me in the arm. Turns out, with some efforts at remorse, we would be permitted to keep each and every piece of swag that we had opened that day. Apologies and hugs all around.

Later in the night, after The Muffin Maker and I finished our first (and final) game of Duck Hunt, I noticed an extra lump under the Christmas tree. I went over to see what sort of goodie we had missed. But it was just The Little One. She had fallen asleep under the tree wrapped around her penguin, with a smile of utter content on her face. My dad scooped her in his arms to carry her up to bed. For a moment as I followed them up the stairs, I found myself wishing that I had what she had.

And walking through the city's streets tonight, noticing the strange calm of an empty city, I felt a little more alone than usual. When the man on the corner wished me a Merry Christmas, I almost bought one of his trees. In the Christmas spirit and all. But in the end, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
—Miss Anna