Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh, Tannenbaum.

After a long day yesterday — kids who cannot under any circumstance receive As asking for As, kids who cannot under any circumstance receive Cs begging for Cs — I came home under the cloud of a long semester to this:

AMR had, while I was gone, found the tree stand (behind the lawnmower, outside, in our spider and cricket exhibit), gone to the tree lot, bought a tree, lugged it home and into the house, set it up, and decorated it.

A little background, perhaps, is in order: I have a thing about Christmas. Really, I have a thing about all major holidays. Growing up, we had elaborate rituals even for Valentine's Day (you'd sneak away, go get the cards you'd made that day, knock on the closed den door and then dash back around into the den like it wasn't you — cut to surprised parents, Who could that be at the door, Oh look how beautiful, How did you make this all by yourself, We didn't even see you sneak away, etc.). But Christmas was always the big deal. Boxes and labeled boxes of decorations. Album after album of Christmas music (I was always partial to Kenny & Dolly singing I'll Be Home With Bells On to those sick and broken children at the hospital). The house grinding to a full stop for The Grinch, for Charlie Brown, for something involving animated mice ruining and then saving Christmas (they've pissed off Santa, and now have to apologize) and singing You whistle/I'll worry/You something/And I'll plan/We'll do what's necessary, 'cause/Even a miracle needs a hand.

When we'd decorate the tree, it would be this huge deal. We'd have Smorgasbord for dinner that night — tin of sardines, cheese, crackers, pickles, summer sausage, and I want to say tin of oysters, but that seems appalling — and my mother would turn the tree into a kind of high holy ceremony, the glass ornaments up first, then our birth ornaments, which we got to hang — large glass balls with our names and birthdates in cursive glitter. We were to be VERY CAREFUL when hanging these. Then we'd move on to the other ornaments: ones my parents had made when they were too poor to buy any, some felt horses, these soldiers that had toothpicks coming out of their asses that got jabbed down onto gumdrops, a couple of cut-out angels my brothers had made in Sunday School — one looked decidedly drunk, and the other had a pretty clear look of sexual satisfaction on its face. These got substantially funnier as we got older. The whole thing took hours. Hours. We would take a break in the middle.

The first times I can remember really enjoying being alone were at Christmas, when something would be going on elsewhere in the house, and I'd sneak into the living room and sit on the sofa, upholstered in white, not to be sat on in any other circumstance ever, and sit and look at the tree. My dad hung the same string of lights on it ever year, regular colored lights with these clear plastic crystal attachments around them, so that everything got very faceted and magical if one was say, ten years old. Or thirty. The lights would blink on and off and I'd hear my brothers down the hall, my parents cleaning up from dinner, and I would sit alone and think and worry and love nearly everything about the world.

I've only had my own tree one other time — the year I lived on Crestland in the Gingerbread House, a lonely year, but a good one. That little place had a shallow fireplace and the whole house probably didn't have 400 square feet in it and I bought a tree from my neighbor and made ornaments and strung blue and white lights on it and made fires and sat next to all that and sipped whiskey and thought not one bit about how This day in the city of David but rather about my family, about my girlfriend and what to do about all that, about what a sap I was, about the houses up and down the street with those halfassed icicle light strings hanging off their gutters, which is cheating, but which is still lights on the house, so.

I loved that tree.

No trees recently because the girlfriend came with two cats, one named for a palliative technique common to mental health professionals and one named for a day of the week. The cats are — the cats are often a bone of contention in our little life, due in part to my allergies to them and due in part to a kind of general pissiness that I cultivate and tend to leave with and on them because it's easier that way, and I'm not particularly good at being a person. In the years since we've been living together, we'd figured (I'd figured?) a tree was out of the question: easy enough to imagine a cat in flight, a cat perched atop the tree, the tree going down in a rain of needles and ornaments and cat and water and fiasco. No tree, then, I said, and would after that grump around the house in what I thought was a half-joke, but probably wasn't.

We got married this summer. Midway through the ceremony, a bagpiper appeared and played and walked down the center of the aisle and took his place with the groomsmen. My wedding present. A thorough surprise. And last night I come home to a dark house after a long day and week and autumn and open the door and she flicks on the tree lights and the goddamn thing is completely decorated, including even the painted wooden jigsawed name ornaments we got every year with our names on them and whatever year it was — so, a Big Bird with DREW 1985 on its belly, a racecar with DREW 1979 on the door — and she raises a glass and says, Merry Christmas, dear. Would you like some egg nog?

I would. I would like some egg nog.

I sat up last night, alone with the girlfriend who agreed to marry into all of this, that fool, and looked at my tree. She's not a big fan of Christmas, by the way. This, though, is exactly, exactly the kind of thing she does.

It did not rain. But it will.