Friday, December 18, 2009

A Series Of Unfortunate Events, and Happy Christmas, Y'all

Yesterday I took to my bed. It started last Sunday when my apartment, over the course of a matter of hours, turned into a hellswamp. I'd been at my father's house participating in the annual tree trimming song singing extravaganza and I'd left all my windows open.It had been very cold, and then it began to rain, and then it got very warm, and the weathers collided in such a way to make Tallahassee resemble the inside of a mouth. My apartment was one of those terrariums you build in sixth grade science class to explain how a rain forest works and it's all very exciting in sixth grade science to discover that you, like God, can create rain, but it is not very exciting when you discover that God, like you, can move into your apartment and say "HA". "ONLY I CAN CREATE RAIN. NOW MOP YOUR CEILING, BITCH."
I was very adult. I covered my laptop, hid my journal, and mopped the ceiling. Then I mopped the floor. Then I did it again. I ate some soup on my couch that is actually a twin bed, huddled on the damp sheets like an Katrina puppy on a raft, and went to bed.
No, wait, it started Sunday morning, when I decided to make a Christmas tree. I have a history of making my own tree. Who doesn't remember the futon frame I folded and leaned against the wall and decorated all those years ago? (Much to the chagrin of my then boyfriend because it stayed up for about two years.) Last year and the year before I actually had REAL trees and they were WONDERFUL and they stayed up till February (real trees die, so you have to throw them out eventually). This year money is tight, and I no longer have a futon frame, so I cast my mind about my possessions until it settled on a wrought iron plant stand that Mama gave me a while back. It's a lovely little three tiered thing that looks like a spiral staircase you might find inside a cathouse in New Orleans. When I look at it I can easily see tiny hopeful men ascending, with their hats in their sweaty little hands, their mouths slightly open. In other words, ideal for fake Christmas tree making.
So Sunday morning I made coffee, retrieved the plant stand from the front stoop, gave it a cursory swipe with a rag (that unbeknownst to me I would later use as one of the many things I would mop my ceiling with), and looked for my Christmas cd. I have one, and I could not find it. I did however, find a mix of love songs that was made for me back when I was sweet and pretty, and that seemed to do just as well. Al Green, Dinah Washington, Etta James, thank you and yes. It was lovely my friends, the music sultry, the rain falling soft, my hands and mind busy in the task of carefully twining multicolored twinkle lights around each and every intricate twirl of brothel-ornate iron- until I finished (it took me an hour) and plugged the damn things in and discovered that only half the strand lit up. Not even the good half. (There was a good half.) Don't you dare say that I should have checked it first! I did! I did check it first! This is not my first rodeo! Remember the futon frame! That took me hours and many many strands of lights! So, I sighed. I turned off the cd, which was really making me depressed anyway, unplugged the lights, and cut the bitches off with some wire clippers. They now fill my tiny desk waste basket, tangled and bitter like chains cast off the ghost of Christmas past.
Then the tree trimming song singing father's house extravaganza, then the fetid Godsfault terrarium hellswamp debacle.
Monday was a day of respite. I woke up, called my sweet Mama, and followed her advice of closing up the house and turning the ac on. Worked like a charm. I have an old apartment and I do not have central ac, but I do have three window units. THREE! I am richer by far than many of my peers. Two, of course, weren't working. The one that was, fortunately, is the one in the living room (and so the one most centrally located) and it's a giant rattling thing that hums and spits and curses, but damn does it make the air cold. There was a feeling of Christmas as the great humping beast tharumped it's croupy wintry breath into the air and sucked the moisture from the room, all but pouring water onto the ground outside. My coffee steamed, the music swelled, and we went round two on the decorating, and all was as it should be.
I worked Monday night and came home filled with a strange lighted energy to make Christmas presents. Here is my favorite part of Christmas- that time when the inspiration to make pretty shit to give to my family fills me up and overflows out my nimble fingers. It only happens once a year and by God it is a Christmas miracle and though late this year, I'll take what I can get, so in a frenzy of glitter and glue and gratitude (the three "G"s of Christmas) I pulled out my supplies and set to work. It was a gorgeous night and I stayed up until 2:AM in happy construction, like an elf with a 401k and a dental plan.
Tuesday morning I woke to discover that the glue I had used the night before was, of course, the wrong kind of glue. I can't tell you exactly what went wrong, because that would be giving away the secret of what I'm giving people for Christmas (and really, the secret is the best part of it, this year is pretty weak. No pajamas this year, people!) but suffice to say, everything I had done needed to be scrapped. I did not cry. I went to work.
The details of the next few days are unimportant. Here are the highlights: Work. Cold. 100% Chance of rain (I wish the weather man would say something like "I bet you a Million Dollars it is going to rain", it sounds so much more fun that way). Premenstrual. Bone pain to the point of crippling. Serving a table of twelve peevish viragoes. Nausea. Which brings me to yesterday after work when I came home, put my purse on a chair, took off my bra, and got in bed. Done, I say! I am done! I was ready to hang up my apron and live in my car.
But today, after fourteen hours of uninterrupted sleep, everything feels much better. I know that all this is just spoiled child's blues, I know that most of you out there have children and it is a luxury I have that I can just lay my pathetic burdens down and go to bed, but oh babies, I needed it. I needed a temporary oblivion, a thick sweet dream state, I needed blankets pulled up to my nose and the world going by without me for a while. Christmas Day is one week away, and I don't want to hate it.
I love Christmas. I love the excuse to make silly things. I love the madness that comes over everyone once a year that infects them to drape their houses with tiny lights and bring trees inside. I love the smell of cinnamon and peppermint and orange peel. I love the absurdity of it, the way we hang giant socks from our fireplaces and bake cookies for imaginary men. I love that we make everything so pretty.
I love beauty, I need beauty. I don't understand why beauty seems unimportant or unnecessary in everyday life. We have these marvelous bodies that are able to touch and taste and see and hear and why not see color and light? Why not smell fir and vanilla? Why not hear Etta James and Otis Redding? When you reach out to touch, touch velvet, touch silk, touch the oily mottled smoothness of an orange, the prickle of a pine, the warmth of a cheek. And mistletoe? The succulent poison of its fat fleshy leaves and waxy berries, hanging in doorways for promises of stolen kisses. Ginger. Clove. The stab of holly so green and glossy and red berries that fall and make a mess and we don't even care we love them so. Golden globes hung from branches heavy with the burden of family history and each cardboard box of ornaments a treasure you open once a year.
When I went to buy the correct glue the other day I had a moment of panic in the craft store. All around me there were the things that make me happy- ribbons, paper, new pens, paints (that smell of alcohol, that smell of rot, that smell of sulphur), crayons, jewels, beads, sequins, bells, needles, and thread. And all around me were people red faced and angry, brandishing advertising circulars like weapons and shouting at other people who I promise you were not getting paid nearly enough to get shouted at. Behind the cacophony of voices ran the tinny sounds of insipid carols that have been done and redone by both celebrities and dogs and everything in between and played only because the words "Christmas" and "Holiday" and "Snow" are mentioned somewhere in them. This is not my Christmas. I wanted to bolt, and bolt I did as soon as I bought the glue.
My mother hates Christmas, but she has never passed hate of anything on to her children. I am so lucky for that. I am so lucky to have the family I have that lets me be me, and pick and choose the Christmas I want to have. Each year they let me make my misshapen handcrafted things and pass them off as presents. They let me ignore the mall and get all starry eyed over the sparkly bits, the twinkle lights and glitter trees and red bows that people, in their madness tie onto just about anything that will let them. When I was growing up we drank cocoa out of mugs shaped like Santa's head and felt special, even as we rubbed his cherry cheeks white year after year, and we put out cookies, and we put out carrots. Mama, who does not like Christmas read us "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve every year until one year we lost the book and my brother spoke up in his tiny child's voice and recited the whole thing from memory. As children we clutched our stomachs in despair at having to eat raspberry strudel BEFORE we could even look at the tree to see what Santa brought us! When we are children it is all magic, even if the "tree" is actually only a branch that dad cut off a pine tree behind the house and our stockings are mostly filled with tangerines and walnuts. As children we do not have to fulfill Christmas wishes and bargain shop and fight tooth and nail for the last Xbox on the shelf. We can sit next to the tree and push our faces up so close so that all we can see is a forest filled with lights and magic, with colored glass so delicate you could crush it in your hand and yet survives year after year because we are careful with our magic, and we wrap it in paper to keep it safe.
I try to keep my Christmas a child's Christmas as much as I can. Like fourteen hours of sleep, I know that it is a luxury I have because I don't have children of my own. But I do envy you mothers and fathers. Even if the light is gone from your own tired eyes by the time Christmas Day arrives and you are worn out and you have tape in your hair and cuts on your hands and you feel sick from eating Santa's cookies at midnight to keep the babies believing in make-believe one more year. I envy you, that you will be there to watch the light in your children's eyes. You will watch them grin their gap-toothed grins and wriggle in their nightgowns. You will be able to pass on pretty, you will make beauty for your little beasts, and they will love it, oh they will love it. And when they grow up, maybe they will keep that in their hearts and still get excited each year, because you gave them that.
And now, sweet friends, my house is dry, my stomach is settled, and I am well rested. The proper glue is sitting on the table next to me and the scissors are calling out. It is only one week till Christmas. I must get busy. Christmas waits for no man. God says "HA". I may not finish my gifts in time, but it really doesn't matter. I wish I could kiss all your pretty faces. If it gets too stressful, put on some Lady Day, take time to breathe.