Why do I put up the Christmas tree even if I don’t believe in Christmas? A fake one with its bright lights and fake snow? Plastic branches heavy with old decorations – those clumsy things you made from glitter and glue when you were just a child. The kind that you can’t be bothered to make any more. Now, all I get is a little peck on the cheek as you walk in through the door like a stranger. There is no one to decorate the tree but me now. But every year I still do it, and every year I’ll put it up just a little earlier… And every Christmas day you’ll admire how neatly it’s been done, and we’ll laugh at one of your childish cardboard snowmen and in the afternoon you’ll wave to me from the car as you drive away to another party. A reunion. An office. I don’t know where you go. I’ve never asked. And then I’ll switch off the pretty lights and turn on the telly and just watch. And laugh at some moronic lovable character. I laugh so hard there are tears in my eyes. And then I suddenly realize that the tears are not of laughter, but of desperation. The next one liner pops, and I’m laughing again.
Christmas is like a disease – with all its cloying sentiment of love and hope and all that. It seems to have infected everyone. Even the folks at the TV station. They seem so much more annoyingly chirpy than usual. But there seems to be nothing else that I can do. Recently, I have developed a new addiction – so called intellectual forums on the internet that discuss religion, thermodynamics and literature. There will always be one idiot to take out my frustration on. I read… sometimes. But my mind refuses to stay on one track – it always wanders, and it enjoys sliding downhill. It’s been three years now since I gave up writing. It feels like I’ve run out of meaningful things to say.
Sometimes I bake – and the smell of chocolate fills the entire apartment, and I turn on the music and for a while I’m happy. I’ll hear the kids who live upstairs go on their routine thump-thump-thump up the stairs, and there’ll be a small pause, and then they’ll go thump-thump-thump up the next fleet of stairs. Every time they do that, I think I should invite them in for a piece. They are good kids. Instead I just take out the cling film and a big enough box and pack it and send it to you. You always dutifully called back to say how wonderful it was. Its a rehearsed script that both of us have become very good at.
On lonely nights like this one, I remember that night – the night you said you wanted to start afresh – a different course, a different college, maybe even a different name. And we all just laughed. I didn’t believe you, none of us did. We snickered when you screamed “THERE IS AWAYS A CHOICE,” at the top of your high pitched adolescent voice and ran out and slammed the front door. We snickered when you came back. But we didn’t laugh when we saw the new application forms in your hand. I saw you re-build yourself, block by block. We fought you at every step along the way. I saw you change before my eyes. Something broke that night – something very fragile. That was a long time ago, but on lonely nights like this one, I wish I had your strength.
I can see you before me now – the new you, with that pointed eyebrow cocked high. You roll your eyes. Maybe you are right. Maybe I have become that crazy old woman, staring at the plastic tree, two months before Christmas. Maybe even envious of her own daughter. Your sharp eyes admonish me. You expect the world to have the same strength as you. No, you say, vehemently shaking your head. There is always a choice.
The sun is beating down on the city outside; the fumes are pouring in through the cracks in the windows. The kids are running up and down the stairs again. I listen for the second thump-thump-thump. Instead, I hear some very robust, albeit off-tune, carol singing. The kids had decided that since I wasn’t offering any cake, they may as well devise subtle ways of asking. But I didn’t open the door. Instead, I picked up the phone. I knew your number by heart, though I had never dialed it before.