It is Christmas night. Something urgent came to me and I woke up my 23-year old son who is here, after a day of quiet holiday inertia and basketball. He was cross, unreceptive. I have failed to pass on the gift I’ve had all my life—the one that wakes you with mad urgency, the one that made butterflies talk when you were little--- the one that let you see the names of things, like a sign--- before you knew words. The ‘privilege’ that strange man at the gallery recognized some months ago.
I heard the other night in some film that ‘spirits’ appear as reflections of light or tiny orbs in old photographs. Maybe it is my missing Grandma— undoubtedly a ‘waker’ and taken away in the prime of her legendary beauty-- that shines from the teary eye of my 3-year-old portrait. She is the one who would have understood me, who died for love, who suffered for art, who comforted me when I cried for no reason, for something I didn’t understand, who led me through the piles in the attic to the right books, reading over my shoulder in her curtainous wedding gown. I could smell her hair, like a kind of sweet fog of musk.
So we were sitting in the wet hallway last night, tediously sawing branches from our orphaned last-minute tree with a dull bread knife—a million strokes-- and images from past trees were appearing like Christmas lights... always especially missing my one truest love who smelled faintly of pine… the one we buried, who occasionally sings through me like my lost Grandma, so young and beautiful... the one who loved to be awakened, the one whose song I will never get right.
My girlfriends are annoyed with me today. They were partying and drinking and meeting. I veto their priorities and dislike their escorts. Conversation was clumsy and stupid, last night; I was feeling the Christmas bad elf on my shoulder, I was snide and bitchy and rude… and then suddenly I am back like a holiday pumpkin-- it is just me with the bored tired kids carrying back the abandoned (free) tree-- the dark, the rain, the wet pine needles and the sap… me craving solitude and the dark—the tree lights, Sigur ros or Mogwai or Low, maybe some depressed Scott Miller--- and the Dickensian Christmas thing passing through… better days… sexier days… days when we were both waiting.
By dawn I hear my neighbor through the wall—the one with the midlife crisis and the newly shaved head and the motorcycle jacket who has now taken up slide guitar. It’s bearable this morning. Downstairs they have a new piano and a fake-book version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Less bearable. Outside is that layered kind of winter sky you get in the mountains. Someone has blessed the city today…the late-afternoon feels blended with sunset. Couples in buildings are fighting, couples are disappointed with their gifts…couples are proposing to one another, nursing hangovers, watching the Knicks lose. Kids are getting high in courtyards, sneaking alcohol in bedrooms, vomiting up their fruitcake and eggnog. Dogs are overfed and sleeping, bankers with full stomachs are on Park Ave. sharing cigars, thinking about their mistresses—loving or cursing their kids, counting their bonuses, the fictional fiscal cliff, refusing to regret. Someone is nursing a loved one through a final Christmas—always extra people die at Christmas—in a sense it’s a great day to do it…and others are missing their wives and husbands who no longer love them, children who despise them, children who were cruelly murdered-- grieving, refusing to grieve.
Our presents were few and inexpensive but smart… still, I must cook and laugh and realize that although my son may love the tree in that Shel Silverstein way, his genetic buck stops there, and having his sleep disturbed now, he is annoyed and accusatory in a way that I'm sure my rigid imaginary Grandfather was. No one here will sit with me and listen and feel things pass through us.
Still, somewhere in this city-- -and in other cities-- I know there are the sitters like me who will not take what comes up on the wheel but will wait it out… past the disappointment, past the redundancy of middle age.....even if it never comes, because there is an exhausted Santa who cannot possibly be everywhere…will wait for the gold angel, the perfect story, the man who will not say ‘but no one ever will love you the way I do’, even though he didn’t, but will light up with mischief when you crack the door at 4 AM because something has just occurred to you, and he ‘gets’ it… he has had it all—the hallucinatory sex and the endless drives home over terrifying bridges and hellish rivers—he gets the skewed jokes and the references and why this song is the best, and the tearful laughing, and Barcelona, and sleighbells in the subway, and why the Christmas rain feels like cool acid on your face, and the smell of your Grandmother’s hair in the pre-dawn of the last night of the last endless week of some urgently cold year.