I knew where I went wrong after it was all over.
That night, my husband lay drenched in sweat, swearing as he struggled to construct the dismembered artificial tree. Our dog licked my husband’s sweat and is sworn at for her trouble, so she slinks off to our closet to eat a shoe or two. Our big orange cat plays predator to unraveled strings of lights in spite of the fact that he refuses to eat anything but jellied gefilte fish since he discovered it on Passover.
I stand before a growing pile of birthday candle carnage. The crystal menorah that I bought on sale does not accommodate regulation holiday candles. In a desperate but creative solution, I have come up with the idea of whittling down birthday candles. The wick end fits into the petite candle holders. I just need to carve the wick out of the opposite end so we can light them over prayer. This turns out to not be as easy as it is brilliant. I am swearing in harmony with my husband as I slice my finger adding blood to carnage.
“Jesus Christ on a bicycle, my mother must be rolling over in her grave. This Christmas tree is killing me,” says my husband. I find myself singing, “I saw Grandma resuscitating Grandpa underneath the Christmas tree last night.”
“Jesus, Sonya, I am sorry, ” I whisper. “No, not Jesus, God, I am sorry.” I have always felt a close relationship with my mother-in-law. My husband often talks of how similar we are; smart, strong- willed women who stand tall in spite of being not much over five feet. When I over shop, he smiles and recalls his mother’s words as a sort of blessing for me – “If you can afford it, buy it. Enjoy it in good health.” I can’t allow my cherished mother-in-law to be rolling in her grave. She is my only completely non-critical relative and I banish the thought that a little exercise might have done her good. I turn to her photo. Her smiling eyes are encased in rhinestone cat-eyed glasses, and I feel ashamed. I wish she had lived so I could have met her, but she had passed on before I met my husband. We remain close nonetheless.
“Honey,” I call out, “ I am going to buy a tree to be planted in Israel in your mother’s name. Dump that damn thing in recycle. I will think of something.”
“What I think is that we better get you to urgent care to get that hand stitched up.” He wraps my hand in tissue paper. He has no idea what it is, having never wrapped a gift in his life. I hope it is sterile.
“I think it will be fine, it just bleeds a lot. I don’t want to go out and take up much needed medical attention from those hurt by drunk drivers. Also, honey, don’t forget all the violence from the dawn sales. Those bargain hunters, they are the ones who need stitches.” I also make my point by reminding him of all the food poisoning from poorly refrigerated party treats. Finally, I tell him, “it is also flu season you know.”
He will have none of it and bundles me into the car. As he backs out of the driveway, I can hear parts of the tree grind beneath our wheels. I hum, “Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely were your branches.” My husband is pretty much deaf and so does not get the sentiment, instead grumbling something about his tires. He reaches over to pat my wrapped hand reassuringly. He can be very sweet when he is not hostile.
I work to banish the memory of how exquisite that sea-themed tree appeared when I first saw it shimmering on Hospitality night, Neptune gracing the crown. I thought Laguna residents should rejoice for the sea as well as the rest of the holidays. The flocking had appeared like sea foam. The garland was regal in deep purple and aqua glitter. Gold and silver fish swam through seashells glossed in iridescent colors. Miniature seahorses appeared as if from nowhere. A magnificent mermaid joined Neptune as his queen. Now I recall that Neptune is a symbol of cremation.
I required six stitches and received a bandage that impressed my grandchildren. They want to hear all about the blood and see the knife.
My daughters inform me that no one has the least interest in decorating a tree. The children prefer the menorah. It has fire.
Susan Jacob is a psychotherapist who has lived in Laguna Beach for 20 years.