My first Christmas tree
Published: November 18, 2010
Like that proverbial tree falling in the woods, my yuletide shenanigans have typically been muted affairs laced with quiet expectation and polite disappointment. Sure, there were always giddy church giggles ruining “Silent Night” as candle wax dripped through our midnight-service fists, the occasional tantrums over ill-fitting fashion gifts, the sneak-a-peak ruin of bratty anticipation that would render the actual event of Dec. 25 a poor exercise in acting. But there was also my mother. No matter how ungrateful the return on her holiday investment, she was unflappable, always capable of tying a ribbon around the shit end of a stick and calling it beauty. Even on the occasion of a divorce, a bounced child-support check, a Jordan Marsh layaway setback, nothing on her face would give away anything less than serene satisfaction. If our lives were a downward spiral staircase, she would snake it in garland and lights and call it an “entrance.” Actually, she’s still like this and it’s scary.
But in 1993, I didn’t have my mother. Blown out of my snow-globe portrait by the big blizzard of gay that was my coming out, I was faced with a hard-candy orphan Christmas that year. But I wouldn’t be spending it alone. I had connected with the man who was going to be the love of my life for at least the rest of forever, or so I thought. What wasn’t to love? Bob was jobless; I worked two jobs and went to college full time. He would drink a jug of Gallo every day; I scraped by on Taco Bell Mexican pizzas and soda, never daring a drink. He was a fat ex-football player; I was, well, a half-sucked candy cane. “Christmas,” I thought aloud in my mother’s voice, “well, it’s just going to be perfect.”
“But we need a tree!” I stamped my feet in the direction of Bob’s empty wallet. “We can’t have Christmas without a tree.”
“Blugga, blugga, blugga, do what now?” was about all that came out of his swollen lips.
See, for me (or my mom), the tree had always been a sort of totem pole of bric-a-brac: little stuffed rhinestone cowboys, glittery eggs crafted in the second grade, a new special ornament from a mall kiosk every year. Never mind that Bob and I had barely assembled a relationship, much less any kitschy signifiers worthy of hanging from lit branches – the ritual of adorning dead foliage in a too-small living room was one I would not be denied. This was my first house with my first washing machine, after all. I would not choose this time to embrace my inner atheist.
“I need a tree, or Christmas is over.”
Seeing how ultimatums and Christmas bring out the best in people, Bob somehow managed to scrub two synapses together and hatched a secret plan while I was working. He would go out to some mystical South Georgia Christmastime woods in somebody’s dilapidated pickup and chop down a tree, and it would only cost $15.
I sat on one of the stained secondhand couches of our falling-down dreamhouse and waited for him to come home, visions of negativity dancing in my head. Maybe life did possess a little magic, but I was too busy staring at the dust on the television screen to see the angel wings dancing before it.
And then he showed up with something prickly and covered in sap, his face dripping with sweat and satisfaction. I was tentative, but ready to make the leap. Our relationship was consummated in a way that only my mother would understand.
Grabbing the tree by its trunk, he shook it into whatever form it would eventually take. A tear started welling in my left eye and then … about 500 wasps went shooting out in all directions like evil angels of doom. He had brought home a nest.
“You ruined Christmas!” my irrationality seethed with the rage that would end our endeavor just one year later. “I hate you!”
The tree fell and I didn’t care.
> Email Billy Manes