damn tree

Everyday the Christmas tree droops more, the hyacinth blooms topple farther. The air is laden with heat we can’t turn off or down. This morning I’ve cracked a window. It seems wasteful, but a little bright ribbon of cool weaves across the room.

My father’s cancer is back. We all got through the first bout in his tongue, but now it’s back in his neck and lymph nodes, and there are courses of radiation and chemotherapy scheduled. My sister leads the support battalion. She does much of it singlehandedly, driving him to and from medical appointments, making meals and doing laundry, checking on Mom. Chris and I were there at Christmas while she was out of town and helped with a few of those things. A lot of preparation for a couple of days. It was vacant-feeling holiday, my dad talking to the exclusion of general conversation, my mom not talking much at all. Nothing stays with me. I feel a great emptiness where my parents reside. I have no relationship with my father to speak of. My mother isn’t really there at all. She’s become like an irritable body without history or presence. I imagine I miss her before she’s even gone, but which her? I’m exhausted by the layers of absence.

My sister keeps busy with her family, her children’s lives, her care of our parents. She is harried and annoyed and stressed out but eloquent and largely gracious. My brothers are mostly silent until they descend with proclamations. I have no real calls on my time. Rebuilding my life feels monumental in these moments. The smallest things undo me. Today I will do laundry, and we’ll get rid of the damn tree.

the air in here

Our Christmas tree is stripped of ornaments and garlands and lights and stands neglected, still perfuming the air of our apartment with evergreen. We’ve stopped giving it water, and its branches droop pathetically. The hyacinths Chris’s mom gave me for my birthday throw a gorgeous scent into the air. The apartment has grown stiflingly hot, radiators in high gear. I need to check that they’re wound down. True winter took its time but is finally upon us with temperatures in the single digits. Everyday I don my snow books and throw my heavy clogs in my shoulder bag to carry to work.

Yesterday on a crowded train a sitting man stood up, and I sat down. He said, I was giving the seat to the lady. I said, Oh, and got up and gave the seat to her and then stood there for the rest of the ride wondering what made me less of a lady.

wind advisory this morning

Which means little more than noise unless you’re a high profile vehicle. Property owners may incur minor damage. Kind of a weather yawner amid the Hurricanes Sandy and Winter Storms Nemo (a moniker which incidentally gives me cognitive dissonance– i envision a tropical oceanic fish shivering beside the highway in a Nor’easter blizzard).

This morning’s wind, even if a tame threat, gives me a general sense of unease. It’s the tornadoes and hurricanes I’ve weathered that make me jumpy now.

tiny abominable

floyd sprints donuts in the snowfresh park, thrill-rides frosty-bearded through spun fluff glittering with streetlight– halts with purpose, centrifuges inward, makes his humble contribution to our joint venture, and back to racing corkscrews through a serendipity of white– plunges sugarcoated upstairs, melting into steam heat, carves tracery circles through lamplight into a throw rug sliding finish.

morning winter window

I’m sitting at the dining room table this morning drinking tea and watching snow fall– or actually I’m watching it do a whole lot more than fall– big flakes carried on variable wind so that sometimes it drives straight down, sometimes flies sideways, and about half the time ends up floating upwards for awhile before drifting eventually down again. Not that it’s all doing the same thing at the same time either, layers of it near, midway, far—snow gives a sense of air’s distance and depth which is ordinarily unapparent—the red brick building across the street serving as an excellent backdrop for discerning the motion of so many distinct white clusters. When the wind is light, it feels like a delicate, weaving dance in several parts, choreography complex and dynamic. And then there is the changing daylight—now a dull glare, tall buildings in the distance highlighted against a cotton grey sky– now they darken as the foreground begins to gleam—now it all goes matte and dim. There’s the sound of the wind and motion of tree branches gesturing in it—air quiet and near-still, humming with gathering momentum, the whir and howl of a whipping gust. Sometimes the snow lets up, becomes so sparse it seems finished—and I’m sad for the end of my tumbling show—and then it will drive down suddenly harder than before, a white grocery bag caught ballooning high in a distant tree branch, smoke steaming from a stack on the red brick’s roof. And the trees seem to bow and nod to one another, shake side to side, conversing in a code of motion—if I could translate it to sound, it would be operatic, dirgelike, gossipy, falling to a whisper. Three figures emerge from the rear of the red brick building bundled up in big coats against the cold, file down the narrow path toward the sidewalk and out of view. I hear a child’s laughing cry on a gust and imagine setting out for sledding in snow pants and gigantic boots, woolly mittens and scarves, hats of all shapes and motley color. Here where I sit the clock ticks quietly behind me, the potted shamrock on the sill nods red and green leaves delicately in a draft, wedged triads facing outward like me, toward the light. The radiator clanks halfheartedly. My tea cools. And again the snowfall seems to have sated itself. A fat caramel-colored squirrel wanders out impossibly far on a thin twig, scurries about, begins some acrobatics in the lull.

ho ho holiday

good christmas morning, world.

I’m so happy I can’t sleep– so totally relieved to be off work until january 5– I’ve been desperately craving some good big swathes of uninterrupted time to just do whatever, mull, write, play at the art table, address christmas cards.

I woke up cold from a flock of dreams that immediately took wing and went and grabbed another quilt and lay waking for a few minutes just watching the steam from the heating unit of the building across the way float white across the dark sky.

last night chris and I opened a bottle of wine and agreed that we couldn’t wait for christmas morning, so opened our presents before dinner– my gifts to him were haphazard and necessary– sneakers, slippers, socks, coffee cup–  last-minute dispensable items to fill the space beneath the tree– because we’ve so danced around the issue of gifts with one another– while I’ve run around in my free moments to fetch and pack and ship gifts to family hither and yon, even little somethings for work colleagues, I ended up by and large neglecting to figure out anything special and surprising for my favorite person. I’m going to chalk this one up to my harried and aggravated state of mind lately and coach myself to move on, since he’s clearly not sprung about it– but it’s there. in contrast, my most excellent and handsome feller went out and got me an ipod touch, which I’ve slavered over for a year, since they gave one out at last year’s work christmas party raffle. wheeeee! a most excellent toy! it’s making me feel like a very lucky girl indeed.

yesterday I was thinking about the modern mythologies of this season– vividly remembering one specific night, lying in the radiant glow of street lamps through the window curtains, wide awake and determined to remain so long enough to witness santa’s arrival– I remember this, how determined I felt– in retrospect I tend to think I was half-believing, half-skeptical, dead-set on settling the question once and for all. I have no specific memory of learning about the vast conspiracy of fabrication on the other side of this credulity– unless it was neighbors laurie and mary ann smith finding all their hidden christmas presents ahead of time and being punished with disillusionment and spoiled surprises alone. I remember annie hoey and I bearing witness to their collective hubris of cleverness in discovering the stash and the subsequent shared shame and regret.

I recall a pervasive sense of being a fifth wheel in that society, a tolerated rather than treasured and coveted participant in the play, as annie was. we actively vied for her best friend status. to this day I have trouble with groups of girls– always have, have always felt not quite jibing with the whole groove. more and more it strikes me that in many ways we never grow up. yesterday a 60 year old woman was complaining to me about how “mean girls” had ruined her day by not including her in lunch plans. in the midst of this weird and ongoing social limbo I’m experiencing in chicago, I’ve had occasion to ponder these phenomena. I miss my own dear girlfriends, the ones I imagine actually enjoy and value my company– but, if I’m honest with myself, I’ll own up to the fact that I’m only considering the little moments, islands of sync and grace in a more general ocean of discord, resentment, miscommunication, and petty strifes. lately I’m thinking that all my preoccupation with community is as much about difficulty getting along peaceably with girlfriends as it is about forging some idealized family structure.

and I know I probably have too much time or energy on my hands to be preoccupied by such thoughts.

chris has installed The Clapper on the christmas tree– surely a device devised by a man if ever one was– who else would consider loud, percussive handclaps to be preferable to getting up and flipping a switch? only a guy enchanted with the fact that he could do it. and, for all that, it’s still pretty cute. guys are really kind of awesome.

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