Oh sure, we had Christmas trees growing up, every year. And yes, I always helped decorate them. But they weren’t my Christmas trees.
Then I grew older, went off to college, and lived in a dorm, where such things weren’t allowed. And then I went off to grad school, and lived in a crummy little apartment with a couple of pagan lesbians who refused to observe the holiday with The Co-opted Symbolism Of The Patriarchy.
And by the time I had become a Bona Fide Adult With Nobody Else To Push Me Around, I was too broke to buy one.
And so that happened. And it kept happening. For a really long time.
Then a couple of years ago, I finally got a decent job, I was married to someone who didn’t give a damn about the Co-opted Symbolism Of The Patriarchy, and I realized I was finally in a position to buy myself a goddamn Christmas tree.
I hesitated. I don’t know why. I didn’t buy one that first year. Or the next.
And then this year I did. And I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going about it all wrong.
Which brings us to yesterday, when I found myself buying a Christmas tree for the first time in about twenty years. Which was right about when the mournful little Greek chorus in my head woke up and started chanting.
I bought an artificial tree, and the voices sang out no, no, no, you’re doing it wrong, only a live tree will do.
I lugged my crated tree home in the car that doesn’t have a roof rack for a real tree, carted it inside my tiny house that doesn’t have space for a real tree, and let the cats — who would have chewed on a real tree and puked it up for all the fifty days of Christmas — start jumping on the bubble wrap that I pried from its fake, glistening branches.
No, no, awful horrible fake trees are so wrong.
I tucked the base into the little alcove that a real tree would never have fit into, rearranged the furniture, and pulled out the wrinkles in the rug.
No, no, simpleton, jerk — put it in the other window, put it in the side room, put it on the curb, you’re getting it all wrong.
The cats discovered and made a kingdom of the massive cardboard box on the floor, while I stuck Part A into Part B, and Part B into C.
No, no, all wrong all wrong.
I plugged in the lights; they went on like I’d invited the night sky into my tiny little house.
No don’t stop it wrong.
I took my little package of wire hangers and mated them with the sparkly silver ornaments I’d been secretly hoarding for weeks. Started hanging them up.
Started at the top when you should have begun at the bottom. Ruined it all because you hang the garlands up first. No. Wrong. Stop. Quit.
I stood back, raised my voice. Started saying shit out loud. I didn’t have any garlands, didn’t want them. I liked this tree. Liked my ornaments. I kept hanging them up in my own stupid way. Just kept hanging them up and waited for the chorus to fade away.
It backed off when I stared it down. It went off and sulked in the corner; slunk away and moped just out of view. It flew up into the eaves and conferred with the spiders.
The spiders, who have always been on my side.
Here is what I want to know.
How is it that I can write entire novels, 90,000 words of fiction at a crack, paying no heed to those damned voices except on the rare occasion they have something useful to say, but when I try to set up a simple Christmas tree the chanting is so loud that my pulse is pounding to the beat of their drums?
I have no childhood trauma bound up in the holidays. I love Christmas. I suffer from no seasonal blues. I enjoy a comfortable détente with the religion of my youth, and I yearn for the coming of winter like others long for spring.
But for some reason I’ve never had a Christmas tree until this year, more than twenty years after I left home as a kid.
I could blame all my housemates, I could blame years of poverty, I could blame any number of things. But none of that explains why the grey shouty thing in my head got up such a big head of steam the minute I got serious about buying a Christmas tree this year.
It’s a mystery to me, that is.
But it is one that I will contemplate, if I think about it at all, in the warm silvery glow of my first-ever Christmas tree, cats curled up warm on my lap, little white lights blinking in the dark like a thousand glad stars, like a million little answers, each of them a silent, laughing yes.