Anyone who comes from a complicated family and/or has been single during the holidays knows how tempting it is to throw a raging month-long pity party (Read: Get drunk and cry, repeat until after New Year’s Day, and then swear that this year is going to be totally different). Or hey, maybe it’s just me. And as fun as all that is, last year I decided to get a hold of myself and try to get ahead of the holiday blues. I was going in to the holidays already depressed because of the situation with my job. So, I made the decision to get all up in the Christmas spirit (Read: Decorate my apartment and sit alone on my couch in a room lit only by Christmas lights). First step of my master plan: Get a Christmas tree.
I had a tree the year before. I also had a man friend to drive me to get one, help me carry it upstairs, set it up, blee blah blah. With no such man friend that year, I felt determined to do it by myself. I’m not sure why I pride myself on total autonomy or why I insist on doing everything for and by myself. Lies. I totally know why I do that. I don’t know why I continue to do that. Because, more often than not, it’s just a recipe for loneliness and a monster pain in my ass.
Case and point: This damn tree.
I rented a Zipcar that morning to drive myself down to the Home Depot in South Philly. Yes, I know. I should have been “shopping small.” I should have gotten one from a vendor at the Italian Market or even from one of the dudes selling them out of a shady parking lot off of Washington Ave. But I didn’t really think it through (you know that’s my jam). It was really cold that morning, so I just wanted to get in and out. I headed straight to the back of the lot where all of the mini trees were stashed.
My apartment is small, and so am I to a certain degree, so I wanted something smaller than me. Especially since I was going to have to carry that beast up three flights of stairs without a spotter. They were all leaned up against a chainlink fence, stacked one on top of the other. I grabbed one on top of the stack, stood up against it to see who was taller, and decided it would do. I flagged down one of the three twenty-something year old guys working outside that morning.
“I want to get this one. Do I just take it up there and pay for it?” If you hang around long enough, you’ll see that asking obvious and stupid questions is one of my favorite things to do.
“Yeah, Ma’am.” Every time a boy in his twenties calls me “ma’am”, a little piece of me dies inside. “Do you want me to cut off the string so you can see how full it is?”
Not wanting to be a pain in this dude’s ass, I declined. I paid for my tree, lugged it out to the eco-friendly hatch back I’d rented, and drove home. Well, not quite home. To the parking lot where the Zipcar lives. I decided I’d carry the tree a few blocks to my apartment rather than risk getting a $40 parking ticket while unloading the tree in front of my building. Believe me when I tell you: Philadelphia Parking Authority doesn’t care about your Christmas.
Luckily the tree wasn’t heavy, just a little awkward to carry. Once I got it into the apartment, I went right to work setting it up. I wanted to fast forward to the sitting-on-my-couch-in-the-dark-with-Christmas-lights phase of my holiday spirit plan.
Turns out, I don’t love decorating a Christmas tree. So much of it, I just do not enjoy. Starting with trying to get it to stand up straight in the tree stand. Why hasn’t science and technology found a better way to accomplish this other than trying to balance a tree trunk in place with four screws? Or I don’t know, maybe they have, and I have been a little drunk and not paying attention every Christmas. This is the game I played for about fifteen minutes: crouch under the tree, get stabbed with needles in my head and in my ear, try to hold the trunk in place with one hand and tighten the screws with the other. When it feels straight, I crawl out and stand up. I take a step back to see my that my handy work is super crooked. Start all over again. Eventually, I allow practicality to win out over perfectionism and just accept the fact that the stupid tree is going to be a little crooked. Fine.
Another thing I don’t like to do: stringing the lights around the tree. Listen, I love Christmas lights. They are so warm, inviting, romantic, whimsical, and blah blah blah. But at the same time, Christmas lights, the actual strings of lights, are assholes. I hate them so much. Tricky little bastards. One bulb goes out, and they all give up? That’s bullshit. I would never dare start the tedious and stabby work of winding the lights around the tree without first plugging them in to make sure they are all working.
I plugged in both strands and since they were both in working order, I got to work winding them around the tree, which was ridiculous. I’m getting scratched and stabbed by the needles, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to not tangle myself up in the strings, and I trip myself repeatedly. I’m sure I looked like Godzilla attacking a building or something equally graceful and feminine. After spending too much of my life on this task, I finished and plugged the lights in to see the finished product.
Ok, so NOT ONLY are only maybe a third of the lights working after I clearly stomped all over them (not unlike the Godzilla), but half of the fucking needles and about six branches fell off during the process. I don’t mind telling you that I sat down on the couch, thoroughly frustrated and distraught, and took this picture, before sending a text to my friend Mallory. Accompanying the galling image was a detailed confession of how a Christmas tree had just defeated me. Mallory’s a good friend, so naturally she validated my feelings.
I took a deep breath in through flared nostrils. That’s how I breathe when I start to get annoyed and angry. This is Home Depot’s fault. They sold me a shitty tree. After Googling the number, I called the store and pressed “4” for the outdoor department.
“Yeah, hey, what’s your return policy on Christmas trees?” Now, I know damn well that there is no version of reality where I take the broken lights off this tree, pry it loose from the stand, carry it down the stairs, and take it with me to rent a second car just to get my $25 back. But, on principle, I wanted to know my rights. I thought it might make me feel better. It did not.
After giving the tree a few more dirty looks (and maybe uttering a choice word or two), I took another deep breath and got back to it. I was going to have a Merry Christmas, dammit!
I unwound the string of lights, losing more branches along the way, and began the ridiculous waste of time that was trying to figure out exactly which one of those bulbs was the one ruining my day. I tried very hard to be patient and remain calm as each bulb I tried ended up not being the one that needed replacing. But there’s only so much a girl can take. After trying all of the bulbs with no success, I decided to quit. That’s right. I laid down and gave up.
I knew it would be ridiculous to bother Mallory with this nonsense for a second time. So, I decided to spread my holiday cheer around, and sent a text my friend Sarika instead. I was looking for, I don’t know, sympathy? Practical advice? Shared rage? Maybe a little bit of all of the above. Sarika told me to forget about the tree and come to the bar around the corner where she was having a drink. I momentarily considered it, but then told her “Not yet.”
It turns out, I wasn’t ready to give up after all. I was now taking it a little personally, as though the tree was intentionally trying to give me a hard time and crush my holiday spirit. I couldn’t let this tree get the best of me. I put my coat on, grabbed my bag, and went out to the CVS around the corner from my place. I’d just buy new lights and get on with my life—finally a bright idea (get it?).
Unfortunately, I really had no concept of how many lights I would need. So, I grabbed two boxes of 50-count light strings and headed home. Not only were those strings too short (no shit, Raina), but they weren’t the kind that can plug into one another end to end. What the what!? I didn’t even know they made lights that way. What have I been doing every Christmas of my adult life? How don’t I know ANYTHING about any of this?
At that point, I couldn’t be more over Christmas in general and this stupid tree in particular. With a big old “WHATEVER,” I shoved the tree up against a bookcase and hung the too-short lights on just the front-facing portion of the tree and called it a night.
And here’s the finished product. My sad, little tree. In addition to the copious bald spots, there’s a straight up hole on the right side. But, eh, what are you going to do? The point is, after some personal (and physical) battles. I did it. I got my merry on!
Somehow, as I raged against an inanimate object, I knew that I was fighting for a bit of holiday cheer—happiness really. As I’ve said, those were dark days for me, so even two strings of 50 white lights on a Charlie Brown tree, were worth the struggle. I just knew I wasn’t going to give up on something I thought might make me feel even a little bit better.
So to all of you sad souls out there, dreading this holiday season and the Christmas joy that is about to be shoved in your face and down your throat for the next 30 days, to you I say: Just go with it. Get into it. The best you can. Get a tree. Or a menorah. Whatever you’re into. Donate a toy to Toys for Tots or some spare change to the brave Salvation Army souls weathering the cold to ring that bell. The holiday season isn’t going anywhere. So might as well try to make the best of it. You might feel little better. Hell, you might really get into it. Hey, stranger things have happened.
From where I sit today (in early retirement), my life is so much better. And, who knows, maybe winning the battle of the sad Christmas tree helped get me here. So, if you need help putting up your tree, give me a call. I got you, Boo.