Tag Archives: trees

A Little Light Conversation

This weekend we put the lights on the house.

Kids in front of the tree
Kids in front of the tree

Yes, I know, I’m behind the times.  Most people in my neighborhood managed to get their lights put on the house on Thanksgiving Day.  I know I sound Dickensian when I say this, and will manage to aggravate so many suburban residents out there, but . . . what the hell is wrong with you people?!  Look, I get that there’s not a lot of time and you want to keep up with the Joneses and all that.  I also know that you want to be all celebratory.  I’m not disputing that, Christmas is my favorite time of the year.

But what the hell?!

Thanksgiving is spent for me making too many pies – and this year screwing up in baking two of them – and then driving around town to relatives.  Never mind the meals the next day, working before the day, all of that.  How in God’s name did these people find time to get the lights on the house?  Some hired them done . . . I know that, and I realize full-well that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of my doing that.  I couldn’t afford it and there’s just something, I don’t know, odd about doing that for me.  I can’t figure out why I’d pay triple for lights for about a month when I could simply put some lights on the house myself.

So after all that, with yet another splitting headache, I took to the roof of our home.  (Well, it’s not our home, we’re renting, but you get it)  My oldest daughter, Abbi, saw me suffering and my vision a bit blurried and decided that it was worth helping me to ensure I didn’t fall to the bushes below the roof.  Never mind the fact it was a convenient excuse to ignore the homework she didn’t want to do.  I would say it was easy, organized, and perfectly suited since we’d managed to get the lights up on-time last year but I’d be lying.  Like so many things from last Christmas I don’t remember much.  We did manage lights, tree, presents, all that, but I don’t remember doing it.  Autopilot must have been a major part of my life last year because we managed to get through the holidays, I wasn’t a mess, and the kids enjoyed themselves.

This year I looked at all the lights put away, the giant snowflakes that I remembered hanging down at least one of the peaks on the house, and I scratched my head.  Maybe it was the headache, or maybe it’s because my brain has slowly filled up with useless information.  Either way, I didn’t remember how the hell we’d gotten the lights up on the roof.  I had tons of strands of green outdoor lights and then tons of strands of white outdoor lights.

“These don’t match,” I told Abbi as I stood staring at the storage containers.
“No . . . they don’t.  Does it matter?”
I had to think about that.  It used to.  Andrea, my late wife, used to have conniptions about anything going against “the plan.”  The plan, you see, was her vision.  Given my ways, particularly early in our marriage, you’d have been able to land an F-16 on our roof with the lights I wanted to do.  Patterns and colors be damned, I want to see my house from the International Space Station!  That didn’t go well.  I argued, I fought, I groused . . . and like always I gave in.  You know what, it was always classy, minimal, and beautiful.  She had a knack for it, this woman, and it always looked good.

So I stood looking at the lights and could only muster “well . . . ”
“I mean, we could do the snowflakes like last year . . . but put the green lights on the bottom eave . . .then up on the top one,” Abbi pondered.
“They won’t match,” I told her.
“So.  I’m not Mom, neither are you.  She’s the only one that really bothered.  It’s not worth all that work.”
She was right, too.  I got up on the roof, managed to match the white snowflakes with white strands and separated the green ones in separate areas.

We turned on the lights, fixed the broken bulbs to eliminate the dark patches, and suddenly . . . we were a lighted home.
“Your Mom would have hated this,” I said.
“Yeah . . . but Mom’s way took three days, which we don’t have, and we’d both be exhausted,” Abbi said.
“You’re absolutely right.”

The other kids came out and hugged my saying simply “yay!” and dancing in the dark of the street.  I went in satisfied, knowing it was perfect.  In the dark all you saw was the colored lights, and they sparkled against the eaves.  You couldn’t see the wires.  In the window you could see the tree lit up and even it was contrary to the way Andrea would have decorated.  There was no theme . . . except we decorated with our own materials and ornaments.  No leopard spotted bows, no ribbons instead of tinsel, it was a traditional tree.

By that I mean it was traditional for us.

Long Way from Home

Long Way from Home from Brotherly Love by the Vaughan Brothers

Crepe Myrtles, the trees Andrea favored

I had a rather unique problem tonight, one that I didn’t think would be any big deal, not for me at least.  It wasn’t even something I’d thought about since we moved out of our home and into the rental where we’ve lived for the last many months.

Abbi, my oldest, had ordered something from Amazon.com and had it shipped.  She was scratching her head at the kitchen table asking me if I’d picked up the mail or if there was a package.  When the box wasn’t there I looked up at her with a sudden cognition realizing exactly what she had done.  You see, Abbi hadn’t ordered anything online, particularly from Amazon, since last year – and I don’t mean last year, December 2011, but last year, January or February of last year.  When she’d ordered her box, she had never bothered to change the settings of her account and simply pushed the “order” button and said ship it off without realizing they were sending the box to our old house.  The tracking information said it was delivered at noon and it obviously was at the old house.

I saw her struggling with it.  Once before, in a bit of routine memory, she had accidentally turned into the road leading to our old house on the way home from school.  She couldn’t turn around, it’s a small 2-lane almost country road that led to our old neighborhood, so she turned into the cul-de-sac where we had lived.  The house was empty, the back yard being landscaped and everything just torn up.  Which is what it did to her, tore her up.  She was a bit overwhelmed.  She had to park the car and compose herself then continue home.

I didn’t think I’d have the same problem, I really didn’t.  I had moved us out of the house, done the walk-through and everything when we left, did the “broom clean” bit and even did the round about looking at the yard and everything to make sure we had gotten it all.  I left knowing full well that this wasn’t the home of our dreams.  This wasn’t my middle child’s view at all.

The day I announced we were moving Hannah went into a panic.
“This is our house, Daddy!  Mom wanted to live here!”

But she didn’t.  That was the only irony that kept me going.  Andrea didn’t want to live here.  Sure, she’d found the home, even slyly, using her very feminine wily ways of conversation to get me to buy into the fact we needed to buy into the housing market that was giving me heart palpitations because of the massive disparity in costs from the market in Texas, where we’d lived prior.  I said before, Andrea had ways of making me say and do things I would never have done before.  It was good in some ways, but in others, like buying a home right before the market tanked, that’s bad.  I don’t say this to make it sound like Andrea always got her way or tried to make me a virtual slave to her ideas and ideals.  Far from it.  In fact, there were moments where we nearly didn’t make it because I caved in too much and had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to help her since she helped me so much.

The ways it helped, of course, are evident.  I met a friend for lunch today and when I talked about my kids and going through teenage shyness and self deprecation I told her how I was shy, paralyzingly so, in my teenage years.  It was horrible, and I even regret it but couldn’t help it then.  I was so scared of rejection, so lacking in self-confidence I nearly couldn’t function.  In a group of friends I might be fine.  When I had a crush on a girl I so desperately wanted to ask out, I would – and this isn’t an exaggeration – dial the first 6 numbers and physically couldn’t get to the 7th.  I would hover over the number.  I had an old push-button phone that would dial out the number like a rotary phone and even if I got to the number, I’d hang up before the last number went through.  The few times I went out I was so amazed I’d gotten to the date I couldn’t think what to do.  I was quiet, shy, and just stupid.  Let’s face it.  Wish I’d been less of a dweeb, but it took Andrea to see that it wasn’t really me.  It took her not just befriending me, but loving me, showing me I was worthwhile.  It’s funny, just withing a couple months, when we’d just started dating, I must have made a pretty drastic change.  People I’d spoken with in my college classes normally wouldn’t have given me a glance – not because they were mean, I gave them no reason – were asking me to out for drinks.  Girls were saying hello.  I was actually being flirted with, even enjoyed it, but knew . . . I had found the person who really knew me and she was waiting for me.

My friend said they couldn’t picture that.  They saw me as so outgoing and confident, the complete antithesis of what I was describing.
“That’s Andrea,” was all I could say.  “She looked at me and saw something.  God knows what, but she saw it, pulled me out of there.  I have to wonder what her friends thought, because I know some of them had to be wondering what was going through her head.”  I’ve said it before, but I’m so much better for having fallen in love with her.  I just wish I’d told her that more often.

But where she made me better, she made me worse, too.  We bought our home, thought we’d argued and negotiated well. The price was far lower than market, by a lot.  But then the market didn’t just “adjust”, it tanked.  I liked the house, it was nice, it was big, and it was somewhat comfortable.  It had two ovens which was amazing.  But by the same token, the space between the kitchen island and the fridge was barely enough to fit one person, let alone two through.  The pantry was deep but narrow.  The light fixtures weren’t normal screw-in lights, but plug-in one-brand flourescent only.  The furnace filter was off-sized and had to be custom ordered.  The house was always drafty and the back yard was literally a mountain of a hill that couldn’t grow ANYTHING.  I tried, used a jackhammer on the rocks, tried to plant jasmine in the soil, planted carpet roses and hiked up the back yard.  But we never had the money to finish it.  The house cost so much we couldn’t afford to do anything else.  The enjoyment you’re supposed to get from having a home just wasn’t the same.  It echoed massively.  The place was loud.

We moved because we had to.  Financially, sure.  We didn’t have a second income.  I can’t use the social security for such a large mortgage payment.  I can’t do it without a second income, and it was just too much to handle alone. More importantly, though, my daughter and I couldn’t look around without seeing Andrea.  She was on the couch in the living room.  She was at the table, a mug of coffee in her hands.  Her form in the front room, where the Christmas tree was every year opening presents.  Abbi said everywhere she turned she saw Andrea and she just couldn’t take it any more.

So I took up the mantle of getting her package from the old house.  I thought it would be fine.  I wasn’t sure if there were people there or not.  I wasn’t sure what I’d say, but it wasn’t like I wanted to tour the home, I just wanted Abbi’s box.  But the closer I got to the neighborhood I started to feel like that kid again.  My heart started to beat so hard it was skipping, the tachycardia I had as a teen becoming evident again, making it hard to breathe.  I turned onto the road and started up the giant hill, the mile of asphalt leading to the small neighborhood.  I realized there might still be friends in the houses, maybe out and about.  I went from the strong, confident journalist to the teenager who was dizzy from the hormones and emotion of trying to ask out that girl all over again.  I told myself I didn’t know why I was feeling this way, knowing full well I knew exactly what I was feeling.  I hadn’t been back here since we’d packed up the trucks and moved.  I had no idea who was in there now, never really met them.

I pulled up and the Christmas lights were still up on the house.  A giant dumpster was out front, a Christmas tree in it, rocks and landscaping garbage in it.  I walked up and saw Abbi’s box on the porch even though the people were obviously home.  Through the windows I’d seen new paint, different colors even on the walls.  I grabbed the box and turned around and noticed something wasn’t right.

The lawn right by the front of the house, the small sections of grass that went on either side of the sidewalk normally bordered the two garages of the home – one a small one-car and the other the normal garage.  In the middle, when we left, were two trees, pieces we’d loved when we moved in because they were Andrea’s favorite.  They were crepe myrtles. The trees were tall, still young, and they flowered every Spring in beautiful colors and made her smile.  As I turned around, the front grass had been covered with mulch, tons of little tufts, desert kind of plants filling the whole area.  The trees were gone.  The things she’d loves so much had been ripped out, sitting in that dumpster, unceremoniously disposed.

I couldn’t take it.  That was the last bit.  I was glad I hadn’t had to talk to the people inside, but I couldn’t believe it.  I was angry, though I had no right to be, it isn’t my house.  I was sad, so much so that it just broke my heart.  I know it shouldn’t, Andrea didn’t like the house, she didn’t want to live there forever, or even much longer when we were together.  But now, the piece she liked, the bit that made me smile every time I marched up the walk to the door when I got home, was gone.  Not just gone, but ripped up, torn out and tossed aside.

I wasn’t bawling, not screaming or beside myself.  But it affected me.  I took the box, my eyes watering and sniffing a little as I walked up to the car and couldn’t bring myself to look back at it.  It’s not that the house had changed it’s that I just couldn’t face it.  I realized I was just starting to fall apart.  Simultaneously I was turning into the teenaged wallflower and angry, simpering man.  I realized that I’d weighed myself down this whole time.  I could tell you more about my shoes and the sidewalk than the world around me because I look down and trudge along like a man weighed down by a cord of wood.  After putting the box on the passenger side I looked up.  I inhaled a deep breath, opened my eyes, and realized I’d been staring at the ground wherever I went for the last nine months.  So I looked up and noticed up there, nearly at eye level, was the moon, nearly full, orange, and beautiful.  The woman’s profile staring back at me in the right lower corner and the stars around it.  The crisp air made the night clear and I saw the stars, brilliant and twinkling at me.

It made me think of her, of how her eyes sparkled like those stars when she smiled and of how the first time we visited my folks and it scared her because there was no light, just the stars.  I looked around me, seemingly for the first time in months, and realized even the neighborhood was dead.  Our home sat there, the lights and Christmas decorations still gaudily glinting there.  The house across the street empty, dead.  The neighbors selling, another house, vacant.  Andrea wasn’t here anymore, but she really never was.  I’d prayed this would make me more hopeful, but in the end it just resigned me to the truth.

All of it had changed.  We left and left it all behind.  The house wasn’t the house any more.  It felt like the place was just standing there while we moved.  Like Andrea, we’d left it behind, like so many crepe myrtles in a dumpster.

I try to hold on to my son’s analogy, that she’s there, in my heart, the biggest portion.  But I have been looking back so much to try and keep standing, to shoulder it all that I haven’t just . . . looked.  It’s really hard, nearly harder now than we even thought the holidays would be.  I think I realized, as I drove away, that it was because we want so badly to hold onto what is back there, but the more we move, the farther it falls behind us.  It made me feel even worse to finally realize it, and I had to pull out, into a Target parking lot, wandering the store aimlessly, because I didn’t want my daughter to feel like I’d been so affected by a simple package retrieval.

After a short while I composed myself, headed home and went to our new house.  I had to get the boys ready for bed, the midnight snacks going.  I had to get moving to the daily routine, knowing full well that with each little action, I was pulling us farther away from the world I’d just revisited.

And I took some solace knowing that even though it was left behind, Andrea’s body lies under two new trees, the same kind, those beautiful crepe myrtles, and at least there I can visit and know she might see them, wherever she is, and smile.