“Let’s not get a Christmas tree this year,” I say to W. “We’re too busy to get one and set it up. The kids won’t enjoy it, because they never come out of their rooms. Plus, we can save the $100.”
“Oh,” she says in a quiet voice. “This might be the last Christmas we have in our house with the kids.”
But her voice is soft so I know I’ve won. No traveling to the Christmas tree farm, overpaying for a tree, lugging it home and into the house. No making sure it’s perfectly straight, stringing the lights, placing the ornaments just so and yelling at the cats to get the hell out of the goddamn tree. No boxing up the decorations and dragging the tree to the curb some weekend in January when the branches have started to droop and vacuuming pine needles for weeks and weeks and weeks, even though the tree has been long gone and is now barely a memory of Christmas past.
I rub my hands together and smile a big smile.
I feel a little bit bad. But I’m busy. So busy. With work. And other things. My manuscript is due in January and I’m freaking out. I haven’t written a blog post in for-ev-er.
Three days before Christmas, I start feeling a tad more bad.
Because W deserves better. She deserves a Christmas tree.
So when she is out for the evening, my son and I drive to a nursery and get a tree like we used to do in the old days, pre-W.
All of the trees are $45. My son wants a Charlie Brown tree, but I’m paying so I pick out a not too big, not too small tree with a straight spine.
She’s tall and slim with excellent posture like Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.
“It’s not going to fit in our car,” my son says.
“It’ll fit in the trunk,” I say. “Don’t you remember how we used to carry our trees in the trunk of our car.”
He says he doesn’t. He always says he doesn’t remember.
The kid at the nursery binds the tree and starts jamming it in the trunk of my Nissan Altima. He looks a little like the Grinch shoving Cindy Lou Who’s tree up the chimney for repair.
Hela barely fits in the trunk of my car. My son and I smile big goofy smiles at each other as the kid struggles with the tree. His smile saying see I told you. My smile saying see I told you, too.
On the way home, my son says we should have saved the $45.
“It’s a waste of time and money,” he says. “It’s going to take you two or three hours to get it set up.”
“One or one and a half,” I correct him. “But that’s not the point. It will make W happy,” I say.
I don’t tell him my secret wish for him. That I hope someday he has someone in his life who is worth such expense and bother.
He shrugs his shoulders.
“Plus, I got to pick out a tree with you,” I add.
At home, he helps me put the tree in the stand.
He doesn’t want to cut the plastic netting and watch the tree spread its arms or help string the lights or put on the star like he used to. He’s 18 not 8, and I ache for those 10 years.
I take my time and wind three strands of lights around Hela. When I’m done, I pull the lights to the front of the branches, the way W likes them.
Next, I put on the string of purple beads that W always had on her tiny tree in her Philadelphia apartment. Back then, I thought it was a strange—purple beads on a Christmas tree. Now, our tree doesn’t seem complete without them.
I place the silver star on the highest branch. A gold star below it.
The silver star was the one W always placed on her tree. The gold star was the one my son and used to decorate our tree.
When the kids were young, they would fight over which star we should use. We always used both to keep the peace. Now, it’s tradition.
I wait up for W, admiring my handiwork: a skinny tree with lights and purple beads and a silver star and a gold star.
“Oh,” she says when she comes home.
“I was going to ask you if we could get a tree,” she says.
“I’m sorry I’m such a Grinch,” I say. “I don’t mean to be.”
I kiss her.
“I know,” she says. “But you usually come around.”
She cries a tiny bit.
And I feel good. Like my heart has grown three sizes today.
* * *
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
(Especially you Grinches out there! You know who you are!)