People really worry about us single gals over the holidays. We garner some concern during the other days of the year, but we really make eyebrows furrow with worry during the glut of festivities that roll out in December. The humdrum triflings, like, "Do you need some carpooling?" get ratcheted up to crisis-level worries, like, "Have you been thinking of walking off a bridge?" There's good reason for the angst. There's the loneliness that slides under the door right after the children leave. Misgivings hang in the air like mistletoe and we wonder if we are still welcome to gatherings that were meant for families.
While all of these things have the power to snuff out all the breathable air in the room, the gravest, most soul-wrecking thing about Christmas for the single mom is: Getting rid of the Christmas tree.
Procuring the Christmas tree is a straightforward proposition. Everyone is in a jolly mood, united in the common purpose of fetching the grandest, fullest, most fragrant tree under the price of $45 because it's a tree, which should be free for the love of God. I've always taken a more traditional, more laissez-faire approach to its selection, allowing the kids to do the bidding until it's time for someone to wield an axe, at which point I allow another grownup, who is not me, to intervene. I wait to pull the twenties from my wallet until the tree has been hoisted and strapped atop my car by another grownup, who is also not me. The acquisition of the tree comes with no toll to my well-being and grace, just a minor reduction to my bank account, which signals the beginning of hundreds of more reductions to that account over the next month.
Moving the tree into position inside the house is not without tribulations, but the process is bolstered by the many hands of family. Everyone, no matter how small, is eager to pitch in to get that tree, the glittering beacon to draw Santa's eye on Christmas Eve, to its throne in the living room. Each time someone releases an untenable grasp, each needle to plummet to the floor, each scratch against wall paint is an ingredient in that magical recipe of Christmas.
Moving the tree out, however, is the startling counter. No one wants to help un-trim a tree. No one wants to help un-stand a tree. Even fewer want to help un-living room a tree.
It's one of those bitter truths that no one lets you in on when you're going through a divorce. Nobody pulls you aside and whispers, "See if you can arrange a legal provision that you are not responsible for hauling away your own Christmas tree." It's the same thing for changing high light bulbs. Last year, my first Christmas on my own, that tree taunted me with the hollowed out boxes and half-built creations over which it roosted. I stopped turning its lights on after the kids left because I couldn't stand looking at it if they weren't hovering by, wondering what goodies it would beckon. When my patience for it waned a couple of days before the new year, I fixed my mind on taking it out myself.
It began with the tree stand, which seems, upon first consideration, like a useless device without moving parts, no whirring, no power supply. What utility can a plastic dog bowl with four screws really offer? I learned quickly when I unscrewed the second of the four screws, which sent the tree in a free-fall into the television. My nerves already rubbed low, I determined to push the tree through the door frame of the living room. The wrong way. I once cooked a chicken the wrong way. I got a little confused and disoriented by the process of removing its innards, which is a fair outcome for a vegetarian, and went on to plop the bird on a tray upside down. I never realized it was upside down nor did I think it really mattered if the goal of cooking the chicken is to cook it all the way through anyway, but my dinner guests noticed immediately. The same reasoning took over in my shattered state of moving the tree. There didn't seem a wrong way to push a tree through a door until I realized that the frame was doing what a chef's fingers would do to a sprig of thyme.
By the time I squeezed that tree through the front door - again the wrong way because the hallway was an impossible space to upend a tree - my floors looked like the ground of the Bialowieza Forest and the tree looked like the banister to a staircase. After both the tree and I went crashing to the icy pavement beside my house, I staggered to my feet and noticed my neighbor, a British national here on a year's leave, staring at me mouth agape.
"Do you need any help, love?" He asked as innocently as a man can who has arrived to the fire way too late to be offering water.
"Nah," I grunted. "Unless you want to marry me and agree to handle the tree every year."
He laughed nervously and said, "Brilliant!", which is what all Brits say when they can't think of anything else to say.
As I huffed back up the stairs of my porch, he called out, "What happens now? Will the town come collect it?"
I turned toward him, realizing I was as foreign as he was in this land. Unwilling to show my hand, I said what I could only hope, "I'm sure they will. Eventually."
The town didn't come collect that tree. My neighbor didn't propose marriage either. This year, however, my proposal came in a different form: An announcement that the high school was organizing a fundraiser around Christmas tree disposal. All I had to do was call to arrange my pickup time in exchange for a donation.
This marriage had better last.