she’ll tell you she’s an orphan, after you meet her family

I don’t know whether or not to get a Christmas tree. I used to love Christmas, maybe because my mom loved it and I used to love everything my mom loved. When I got married, I took with me all the Christmas ornaments I had bought after college and all the ones from when I was a little kid. The little metal drummer boy with my name engraged and the year, maybe 1977, the clay Christmas tree that I had painted red and green with that watery paint you get in elementary school, the kind that washes out. I never understood trees with coordinating decorations. Memories aren’t color coordinated.

After I got married I still loved Christmas. I liked white lights and my husband liked colored lights. He had all the Star Trek ornaments from Hallmark and I didn’t know if those belonged on the tree, but I think I always ended up putting them on, even the ships that plugged into the Christmas lights and blinked.

Sometimes when I was a kid, we would drive to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. I remember the snow in Flagstaff, as we drove along Interstate 40. It covered the pine trees and the ground and I’d worry that we’d get stranded. It was so cold and the mountains kept coming. All the cousins and aunts and uncles were at my grandparents’ house and we’d all gather around and my grandpa would show slides of old vacation photos from when my mom was a kid. Here’s Niagara Falls. And this is Canada! Grandpa almost fell off the ferry and he can’t swim!

Most years we stayed home, so I don’t know why I think of my grandparents and their house so much when I think of Christmas.

My mom gave me all the ornaments I made when I was a kid and a bunch of other ones, like the glass balls with the Disney characters on them, when she gave me everything else from my childhood when I moved out after college. I think a lot of parents keep the mother’s day cards and report cards from their kids, but my mom figured all that stuff was mine.

I still have the report cards but I lost the clay Christmas tree and metal drummer boy and the rest when I got divorced. It’s all probably in some box with those Star Trek ornaments. I don’t imagine my ex-husband puts them up every year or anything though.

So, just like everything else, I started building up my Christmas ornament life all over again. If I can’t have a tree of memories, starting from when I was a kid, then maybe I should give the color coordinated look a try. I still liked Christmas.

Then I got a boyfriend and we got a house and we got trees for Christmas, but we never really got any ornaments. That was OK though, at the time. And then I was single again, and I still didn’t have any Christmas ornaments.

I don’t know how I feel about Christmas anymore. After my grandparents died, I started feeling like an orphan, just a little. I wish I had spent more Christmases with them. Last year, after my grandma died, I spent Christmas with my sister and my niece and we went to see my grandpa. Someone had brought over beef brisket and I think we all ate outside on the patio. Now that my grandpa’s gone too, I don’t want eat on that patio, don’t want to even see the house, really. Not when they’re not in it anymore.

The thing about some kinds of regret is that there’s nothing you can do to make up for it.

I’m too hard on my boyfriend. I feel like I have no family and I need him to become that family — all of it, in one fell swoop. My marriage didn’t work out and my parents didn’t work out and my grandparents are gone and I never had children and I imagine a life when I’m old and alone and I need him to make up for all of it. But no pressure, really.

And in my weaker moments when I’m dramatic and ridiculous and say I don’t have a family at all, he reminds me of my sister and my niece and my friends and I say it’s not the same. Because it’s not the same. Even though he’s right and what I’m wanting is something else.

And I can’t explain that I feel like a failure in love, in relationships, in life and that I’m 36 and have no Christmas ornaments to show for it. Because I didn’t have the foresight to build the right kind of a life.

Which isn’t true exactly either, of course. I don’t know that there is a right kind of life. And mostly I like my life a lot.

But I don’t know if I like Christmas anymore. I wonder if I should get a tree and I wonder if it’s too complicated and then I wonder if I’ve become the kind of person who skips Christmas because it’s too much trouble.

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