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.


Ms. Moon said...

Oh I love this and I love you and I love that I didn't make you hate Christmas. I love the pretty things you give us that you made with your own nimble fingers. I love that I can tell you I hate Christmas and it's okay. I love that our family all gets together and I love that we have kept at least some of the magic safe, wrapped in paper.
You make me so happy, May. And so do your sisters and brother and so does our entire family, even the ones with different blood.
We are blessed and we know it.
I love you.

Mary said...

Thank you, May, from the very bottom of my heart.

Like you, I strive to find the child's Christmas that still lives in my memory and my heart. I sing along (badly) with carols whenver I hear them, but sometimes in the mall they are SO sweet and poignant, sung by school children choirs, they make me cry, but I still love them.

I love turkey with stuffing and giblet gravy. I love the lights and the glitter and the aromas and the cranberries and the cold - here in Edmonton it was COLD this week, warmer now, it's 18 above...

Take care, enjoy your making of presents and the sharing of them with your family, who I watch from afar with love and curiosity, I adore all of you and your sense of humour and patience and deep love for one another. Merry Christmas, May.


Kori said...

I too am like your dear mama; I don't do well this time of year, and feel the darkness sucking me in. Yet-internally I hold my breath and close my eyes while outwardly showing my "Isn't htis so neat!" face-and with any bit of hope nad love and magic or whatever it is, my kids will grow up feeling the way you do. So-thank you for giving me what you have today-I will take it for my own, like my very own, hold-cupped-in-my-hand secret gift.

Danielle said...

ah may..that was written so well..tell me..when will you finally write a book? you have and your mom are so talented in turning the observations of the day and the memories of the past in such wonderful!

SJ said...

You need to be published, my darling, and I hope one day you will be!

So very glad you are a gift-maker and a mall-avoider since both of those things lead to much, much less stress.

Me? I pile on as much stress as possible ;)

And good god--mopping the ceiling?? Shit. That's enough to make me want to crawl in bed right there :)

May said...

Mama- We are blessed and we know it, and the fact that we know it is a large part of the blessing. Every day I get older (which is most days) I am more grateful that you are my Mama. I think this year will be fun! Or at least funnish. Are we making tamales? Maybe we should just have chicken salad, fish, and black-eyed peas. We could make a king cake for the baby! I think he will like that. I love you so.

Mary- Thank you for commenting, and for such sweet comments! I'm glad you love Christmas, and God knows SOMEBODY better enjoy those dang carols!
18 above is warm?! Good lord! Where is Edmonton? Do you live next door to Santa Claus? I hear his wife makes some pretty good brownies. I hope you get all the treats you desire, and warm nights by the fire.

Kori- We didn't know that Mama hated Christmas until we were grown, and I bet that's the same for your kids. But we are awful, we know she hates it and yet we're still like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but seriously... We are getting toothbrushes in our stockings, right? Cause I need one." Greedy little biters, we are.
I do understand about the darkness. It's hard this time of year. So many expectations, so much to do, and it's cold, and it brings up memories. The bad memories come unbidden, it's the good ones we have to dredge up sometimes. But you are making good ones for your kids. Such a wonderful gift you are giving them. I can tell you're a really good mom.

Danielle-Sweet man. You are the one writing the book, no? I should write more often if only because I love to read other people's blogs and I feel like I'm just a voyeur if I don't contribute something. I've been feeling a little empty as of late. But thank you for the compliment, you make me blush.

SJ- No more stress for you! I mean it! You've got enough on your plate. Don't go to the mall unless you really really want to.
And yeah, I almost DID just crawl into bed when I surveyed the water everywhere, but I realized that it was raining on my bed, so I had to mop the ceiling before I did so. Oh well. At least I rent, right? I mean, if this was MY house I'd really have a freak out.

Mwa said...

That was so beautiful - like a Christmas prayer for the godless.

Petit fleur said...

Magical Marvelous May!

Happy Christmas to you darlin. I hope we get to hang out a little bit of the time you all are out here.

And you are absolutley right about that light of magic in the eyes of babes. Soon Owen will showing you all his. (I know he already does, but as you say, there is something magical for the wee ones this time of year.)
Peace to you love,
xo m

Steph(anie) said...

I sure do love you May. You have so many gifts and you are a gift to us.

Glimmer said...

This is the best Christmas post I have ever read. By far. This is like a song. You are very talented.

And you are exactly right about the children and Christmas.

I can remember the night I heard sleigh bells outside my window on Christmas Eve as a little girl and never found out where they came from. That was wonder.

But I also remember after two hours of sleep, when my son was very little, and he had gotten up in the dark and gone to the tree at Mother's house on Christmas morning and was so excited he was about to burst and he put his little face close to mine and his voice was so excited he was about to cry but was laughing at the same time and he said, "Oh mommy mommy mommy, Santa brought it, it's in there, Santa brought me Commando Bot!"

And I pulled him into bed and hugged that warm wiggling bundle of frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails and every bone-tired moment was worth it and more.

Because just yesterday he was talking about going to Alabama, where we always spend Christmas. Christmas Eve at my sister's and the morning at Mother's. And in a dreamy voice with a faraway look in his eye, this now-usually cynical teenager said, "I just love going there for Christmas. I love their houses. And I just really really love their Christmas trees."

So, my extended family helped to make my son's Christmas a magic thing for him. Not just me. It was the joyful work of the village. That came through loud and clear in his voice. Mission accomplished!

SJ said...

That's exactly why, right now, I can't help but be a renter. I would freakin lose my shit if I had to deal with homeowner things at this point in my life.

Mel said...

This is the most beautiful Christmas post I've read, besides your Mama's. I'm going to go sit real close to the tree and look at the lights, and listen to pretty music. Thanks for reminding me to ignore the madness and look for the magic. Wishing you much happiness!

honeyluna said...

I love your gifts! And I love you more than words can say.

Plus, you just totally made me the most excited for Christmas that I have been all season so far, so thank you!

downtown guy said...

Your presents are the best always and forever amen.

I especially liked the image of the little men going to the tiny whorehouse.

Tiff said...

I love this. I want to put it in my pocket and carry it around all day.

Bethany said...

I love the way you write and talk and see things. Thanks for getting it all down. Merry Christmas. I hope we get to see your newly glued gifts.

michelle said...

You are a very wise young woman Miss Maybelle

Danielle said...

so..i still wonder what it was what you craftet for your loved ones for christmas!!!

Anonymous said...

Don't tell BabyMama, but I'd let you borrow a dehumidifier any time.
Happy New Year

Elizabeth said...

I don't know how I missed this several weeks ago, but now I haven't and I just loved it. Merry christmas to you and Happy New Year. Your writing is sublime!