The calendar has been turned. It’s officially December.
I’ve made several more trips to the shed. And every time I do, I see that green bag holding my Christmas tree. The tall skinny one that I brought from Texas and put up the first year I was here. I try to keep my eyes averted.
That green bag has been the big elephant in the room, or the shed, all along.
I think many of you know why. I think I’ve finally admitted to myself why I can’t get motivated. Why I didn’t put that Christmas tree up last year either.
On Thanksgiving Day, as I’ve done for so many years, I thought back to that day, 39 years now, that I gave birth to my first child. I had had problems since my sixth month. I was 17.
I don’t know how I got to the hospital that night, the one where poor people went because the state often picked up the tab, back when the state was that generous. I’ve thought about it at length for many years now and I still don’t know who drove me.
I had the worst headache of my life, I remember that. And I was dizzy. This was about three or four days before Thanksgiving, which fell on the 28th in 1974. Just like it did this year.
I remember being poked and prodded. I hoped beyond hope that your father would show up. He didn’t.
You see, this was not an unplanned pregnancy. It had been planned for a year, because we were “in love” and wanted to be married, but were too young to sign the papers. At least I was. We figured if we had a baby, we’d be able to be a family. And I wanted that more than anything.
But things don’t always turn out like you think, or hope, they will. He’d found someone else, and she got pregnant. And they were married.
Still I kept expecting at least one member of his family to show up while I laid in that bed with nurses checking things and interns and doctors coming in and out of my room.
The night before Thanksgiving, I was so groggy. I just couldn’t stay awake. It was like something was calling me there in the dark, and I was ready for the journey that beckoned.
A young intern sat by my side most of the night. Occasionally, he’d shake me awake and ask me what year it was. Who the president was. And I’d fall asleep again. My blood pressure was dangerously high, and they couldn’t get it to come down.
The next day, they decided they could wait no more. Pre-eclampsia, they said, was nothing to fool around with.
Back then they cut you up and down, a scar of about 12 inches. And they knocked you out. At that point I was too tired to care.
When I woke up, they said: “you’ve got a daughter.”
And not too long after, they brought you to meet me. You had tiny little fingers and toes. And I looked down and counted all of them.
Well, I thought, after I was feeling better: when I get out of here, I’m going to go back to school day and night, and I’m going to still graduate with my class of 1975.
I don’t know how on earth I’m going to do it. But from now on, it’s you and me against the world, kiddo.
And I did. And you were there for my high school graduation. I’d had to sit in a class with your father’s new pregnant wife, and that wasn’t much fun. I was assigned to the same table, unfortunately. Where I had to listen to her tell about their new life together.
But I know now I was well rid of him. Careful what you wish for, huh? And I don’t think they were married a year before they were in divorce court and she gave the baby to her mother to raise.
I had $900 to my name that day I graduated from high school. I found a dilapidated little trailer house and bought it for us. There was a little yard and it was fenced and toward the back. So I thought it would be a good enough place till we could do better.
I enrolled in a junior college that fall. And took you with me to babysit at night to see us through.
The world was kind of a scary place and things weren’t easy. But I had what I’d wanted all along. I had a family. You and me.
You guys won’t believe what I’ve been doing for the last couple of hours on this windless gray day. Earlier I looked up photos of Christmases past.
And I happened upon a folder of that first year here, just two months after I got a divorce and crossed the Texas state line into Oklahoma. The last time I put up that poor skinny Christmas tree.
I had someone to help me that year. I still had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I of course had no idea what was ahead of me, or I’d have never crossed that state line. Not in this direction anyway.
But they say things happen for a reason. And maybe there’s a new place on the map just waiting for me to find it. And maybe one of these days before too awful long, I might be crossing that state line again.
I sat here this morning and gazed at that tree with all the ornaments I’d made, and finally I pushed back this chair and said: “Enough.”
I headed out to that shed, the dogs right behind me, and picked up that big green bag. I brought it inside, finally managed to put it together, and I’ve been fluffing it ever since. I can’t figure out the lights, so it might not have any. But that’s okay.
There has been a good amount of thinking and crying while fluffing. Thinking back all those years ago, about the family I was finally going to have. I have to be careful, because Abi can smell a tear a mile away, like Charlie can sniff out a squirrel, and she gets really upset.
Sometimes there are other plans for you. I had been telling myself: who wants to put up a Christmas tree and go to all that trouble if no one is going to come in and see it?
But then I realized, as I gazed at the photos, you guys are my real family. You and the pupsters. And you will see it.
And so I’ll just keep fluffing.
And by the way, if I haven’t said it lately: “Thank you for being my friends. As well as my family. I’m so very proud and thankful to have you all.”