Here the tree stood, those years when we had a real tree. When my son stretched just a bit higher than my knees, long ago before my lungs rebelled, we’d go to the Boy Scout lot and pick one with wide branches. Its heady fragrance would fill the house. We lifted each ornament from tissue, telling the tale of how we got that star or this golden orb.
After my long year of near-death from asthma, we couldn’t do cedar any more. When the old Venture closed, the year I found the giant Batman that he wanted in the January closing sale, I got the artificial one.
We placed it in the archway to the dining room some years, but sometimes over by the window where the neighbors could see its twinkling lights. We’d put a strand of lights on the rail outside, strung with an extension cord to the outlet beneath the bushes. On the window sill we balanced the battery-operated Mary Candle to light the way of the Christ child whose birth we did not celebrate.
We put milk and cookies out for Santa, and little treats for the reindeer. Mrs. Claus always wrote a note. “Dear Patrick, I know you have been a big help to your mother this year. . .”. I still have some of them, carefully penned in a familiar cursive.
By the chimney we’d read Christmas stories. Not the one my father read, about the crowded inn. But I used his voice and we told the story of the littlest angel, who longed for a treasure box. The year he turned six, Patrick asked for a treasure box from Santa. And Santa delivered. The box now sits on a shelf in the front sitting room, filled with the little trinkets that a boy collects. Crayons shaped like race cars and tokens from Chuckie Cheese. The card that attests to his highest belt in Tae Kwon Do. A note in the neighbor kid’s lopsided printing, swearing my son into his secret club.
The boxes of ornaments remain in the basement. The tree rests in a big plastic box with a broken latch next to the concrete pad downstairs. I threw away the lights last year. They didn’t work. I meant to buy new ones but there doesn’t seem to be a point. I won’t be here for Christmas. Maybe the house-sitter would enjoy them; but it’s a lot of work for somebody I don’t even know.
The ghosts of Christmas past peer in my window tonight. Daughter plays on Spotify and the little dog sleeps at my feet. The year drifts to a close around me. My tea grows cold. But I’m not complaining. When a friend asked me today, Are you doing all right?, all I could think was this: I’ve been worse. I’ve been so much worse.
It’s the seventeenth day of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.