My husband, Hank, likes to wait to decorate the house for Christmas “until at least December 1st.”
As soon as he pulled out of the garage for work the Monday after Thanksgiving and I’d made sure his car had turned the corner at the end of our cul-de-sac, I began hauling out boxes in the garage marked “X-mas.”
“You going Christmas crazy like me?” my friend, Cindy, said over the phone later that day. “I think that we had this same discussion last year, Heath.”
Why do I do this to myself? I don’t lovingly take a holiday decoration from the tissue and find that coveted spot in the living room. I don’t oohand awe over a treasured ornament or my collection of snowmen. I don’t love hanging garland on the mantle. In fact, I worry that it’s scratching the paint.
But, it’s Christmas! And I’m on it. Right?
By Thursday, the 29th, I’d finished decorating the house, save the fresh greens. It was raining that day and I was obsessing about minutia, things that don’t really matter. Did I do this? I need to do that…
At a stoplight, with the windshield wipers swinging against the downpour, I was making lists in my head when my eyes went to my hand on the steering wheel and the ring that my mother had given me. It was as if she were speaking to me as the memories came rushing back.
“It’s the f**ing hol-i-days!” she’d tell me. “You’re getting crazy again.”
I’d snap at her. “Just becauseyouhate Christmas…”
“I don’t know why you like this time of year so much,” she’d say. “All the crazies come out during the holidays. Family crap. Who’s coming to Christmas? Who isn’t coming. The goddamn lists and shopping. Who’s going to make a scene on Christmas night. It’s endless through New Years.”
“Quit trying to make it perfect,” she’d scold me. “Christmas never is. Or should be. Relax for Chrissakes!”
I haven’t heeded her advice. In fact, I’m worse. This year, I even put the pumpkins away before we left to go away for Thanksgiving weekend. It’s become a thing with me - a push to the finish as if it’s exam time and the final is Christmas morning. Is everybody happy?
Then, life happens.
You get yanked. God whispers, and those silly worries become luxuries. And you realize that it can all be taken away in a snap.
“I like going early,” Melissa said, walking out of SoulCycle class this morning. I fell in behind her, heading down the escalator to the lower level of the parking garage.
“Me, too,” I replied. “I’m such a morning person.”
She swung around, her wet ponytail whipping at her neck. “I did a 7:30 yesterday. Love getting it done early.”
In sync now, we headed past the entrance at a steady pace to the escalator to the lower level garage. I smiled back at her, the fluorescent underground lighting blaring as I headed to my car just beyond the walled area. “Usually my husband comes with me on Sunday and we do the 9:30,” I said. “But, we’re going to New York later this morning and he was…”
Melissa, to the right of me with vision of the open garage, abruptly moved her arm to hold me back, halting me. “WAIT! HOLD IT!” she shouted as a nondescript grey car whizzed past within and inch of me at high speed.
I froze, eyeing the car as it rounded the corner of the parking garage, wheels screeching, to the next level. “Oh my God,” I whispered. Was this how it could end? Some idiot in a grey car speeding in a garage taking no notice of a pedestrian? Ending it all? Just like that? That dreaded call Hank would receive. My children would receive…
I reached for her. “Melissa, thank you…” Then, I turned to the parking attendant nearby. “Did you see that?!”
He shook his head in disgust, waving cars past with a muscled bicep. “I see stuff like that all day. Not near misses like this one, but cars speeding around here as if it’s an open roadway.”
She turned to me. It was light-hearted and I can’t even remember what she said.
I slipped behind the steering wheel of my car, trying to absorb what had just happened. I looked down to reach for the ticket to exit when my eyes went to the ring.
“You dodged a bullet,” Mom would say. “Pay attention and quit with the holiday crap. Quit with minutia and the busyness. You’ve been given a reprieve.”
I let out a sigh and pressed the ignition button to start the car and looked in my back-up camera for the all clear.
Outside the space, I shifted into Drive. Moving forward, I cautiously rounded the corner of the garage and exited into the muted winter California sunlight. Reaching for my sunglasses, I put them on, only to take them off.
It’s a clear day in Los Angeles, and I want to take in the light.