I don't know. I'm just ambivalent about the whole thing.
I haul the stuff out of the musty storage area in the basement and pry open the familiar storage cartons. The biggest one, packed with the most cherished decorations and stockings, was Peter's old black summer camp trunk. When its brass colored hinges click open, I immediately smell Christmases past: cloves from some preschool ornament, artificial pine scented candles, dusty tissue paper that cradles each treasure.
The kids oooh and ahhh over each one. Unwrapping the ornaments, waking them from their year-long slumber, is as ritualistic and anticipatory as Christmas morning itself. My beautiful babies are all smiles and wonder. "Remember this one? Where did it come from, Mommy?" For some reason, I always pretend to have to think about it for a while. I rub my hands over it as if I need to feel it in order to help me remember. "This one was from Moanie. She gave it to you when you were just two." But I hadn't really needed to hesitate. The truth is that I'm like a savant with the ornaments: I know immediately and exactly where each one came from. And many of them make me nostalgic at best, deeply deeply sad at worst. I can't help it.
I have a very hard time living in the present when it comes to Christmas. I begin each year with the naivete of a child, but then I open the boxes of lights and bells and dishtowels decorated with wreaths and snowmen. I unwrap nutcrackers and snow globes and jingle bells and what feels like hundreds of Santas. I hear the music of my childhood and I begin to smell and taste the essence of yesteryear. Uninvited, the past rises out of those boxes and assaults me. It actually mocks me as I try to stay in Today. "Those years are gone," I remind myself. "Look at the children. Stay Now."
I'm a child in our family's log cabin in Vermont, sitting by the too leggy pine tree we cut down in our woods. The colored lights reflect in the candlelight and the streams of tinsel. There is music, and the snowflakes flying outside are absolutely enormous. The deer head mounted above the staircase has a single shiny red Christmas ball hanging from its antlers. There's a fire in the fireplace and my dad is making popcorn the old fashioned way.
I reach for another ornament.
Then I'm in our first house as a married woman. We had our own tree with a few choice ornaments. It wasn't complicated. There was anticipation and delightful simplicity.
I unwrap a clear glass pinecone.
Without warning, I'm in Baltimore. It's Christmas Eve and the EMT's have knocked over our tree in their clumsy efforts to revive her. I'm on the staircase watching my beloved mother-in-law turn blue for lack of oxygen. She's still seizing. One of the men puts his boot on the doll bed that Moanie, now intubated, had carefully laid out so that it would be the first thing to be discovered in the morning. I'm scanning the area, looking for something to vomit into. My husband is holding her hand, rubbing her hair, telling her to please, just try to breathe. Several hours later, my sister, having made the trip from Virginia, is rotating shifts between watching my daughter sleep and straightening up the mess in the living room. There's urine on the floor of the guest room. There are shattered ornaments strewn about. Distress has spilled all over the house. My sweet sister is cleaning while I'm retrieving my husband from the hospital.
I want to stay Now, but these ornaments take me from place to place with breathtaking speed and force. Maybe resisting the travels makes them want me even more, but I can't surrender. I don't want to go back, even to the happiest of times. I just want to be Now.