I wasn’t going to write anything about this Christmas. I didn’t have the energy. It wasn’t anything like, “If I can’t rip off my mask and French 50 other folks over fondue then I’m not doing it.” It was simply the fact that this year has gone by so incredibly fast it didn’t seem like Christmas should even be here yet. Like this was an imposter Christmas. Sneaking in the back door of a batshit crazy year like a drunken teenager, hoping none of us would notice it was, like, eight months too soon.
But here it is. Ready or not.
“Are we decorating Thanksgiving weekend?” the partner asked.
“We’re not – no,” I said. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked. “I’m not decorating for Imposter Christmas. If you want to, you can. But I’m not.”
I wasn’t fooling anyone. He’s always the one who decorates anyway. I just stumble around in my robe making sure there’s tequila in the coffee and whatever Imposter Macy’s Parade Thing he watches while he does it is on the telly.
I watch it coming out of the boxes. The care he takes handling the heirlooms. Much to his disappointment, the partner doesn’t own any Christmas junk from his youth. I was in the same boat, but a couple summers ago I left the air conditioned comfort of my father’s house on the Gulf Coast and ventured into the attic to find something to bring back to California to remedy the situation. I knew where the box of ornaments lived since when my mother was alive I was the one who always retrieved it once we’d brought the tree inside.
I spied it as soon as I reached the top of the stairs – a box so big you didn’t bring it down so much as dragged it one step at a time until you could hand it off to someone else. The hotass Alabama sun punches though the side of the gable vent and climbs in the side of the box so I can see most of its contents. Most of them tell a story. The star I made in Miss Haney’s first grade class. The white yarn snowmen my mom made with her friend Cynthia Nelson that came out looking more like hula girls. The first ornament my parents bought after they were married – a red tin Santa with a giant hole in the top you had to jam a hanger in.
When I was a kid, my mother would make sport of the way I would rearrange the ornaments on the tree. “Why do you have to change them around?” she’d ask. “What’s wrong with the place they’re already in?” I didn’t have the tools yet to tell her that beauty and art are always in flux. Something could seem utterly brilliant for a couple of days until you woke up one morning and all of a sudden it was so Christmas before last.
I’m lying on the sofa reveling in the fact that I don’t care where the partner hangs the ornaments. I don’t know when it changed. I guess I have other ways to make art now. I’m on the sofa because I have a foot injury my doctor thinks may be related to the time I broke it when I jumped off the back of my daddy’s pickup while heading into the woods to cut down the last tree we had before my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Some kind of crazy full Christmas circle. I’m taking in the tiny blue monk I painted with my sister in fifth grade and wondering how it is it’s not ten years ago but half a century when I decided the green elf’s tattered hat hanging onto the paper clip by the grace of God was two branches too low. In a year surrounded by more mortality than any of us are comfortable with, the gratitude that I’m lucky enough to sit here and make that observation feels like a luxury.
“Wanna flick on the tree lights?” the partner asks.
“It’s okay,” I say. “You do it.”
The phone rings. My indestructible father, recovering from a horrific accident that could have easily snatched him into the next world. Instead we’re bragging about who sports the most high-tech orthopedic boot. “This vaccine’s coming,” he says. “You’ll come home in the summer?” I can hear Fay, his wife, bringing him something for lunch that would rival anything I’d make for a lavish birthday brunch.
“You bet,” I say.
The partner plugs in the lights. “Voila,” he whispers through a breathtakingly beautiful grin.
Imposter or no, it’s Christmas. Then, now, and everything in between.