I look at the giant pile growing in my living room. It’s all being donated. I don’t have the energy to try and sell everything, so I’m gifting it to the universe. I have a small storage space for a few items, but eventually I’ll probably give those things away too. My belongings don’t hold meaning for others the way they do for me. Members of my family have their own set of cherished items, so it’s unfair to unload my things on them in an effort to keep my stuff close. I want to be free. I want to travel, unencumbered.
But it’s still hard to let it all go.
I’m 17 years old and the living room is full of people enjoying coffee cake and admiring their gifts. Then someone sneaks a strange shape, draped by a sheet, into the center of the room and I’m surprised when they say it’s for me. As I pull the sheet away, I see a small wooden chair with simple lines, and I gasp. It’s a beautiful little chair, but that’s not what makes me catch my breath. The chair has been reupholstered in a blue velvet and in the center is an embroidery piece I made for my mother three years earlier.
At 14 years old I’d aspired to become a professional ballet dancer and so I’d spent every other weekend visiting my family and then returning to the boarding house near my dance school in Vancouver, BC. The trip required a 4 hour ferry ride and to pass the time I pushed a needle, draped in thread, up and down through fabric to create a rose embroidered design. I’d worked diligently, but some of the threads didn’t match and the shape was slightly lopsided. Still, my mother smiled from her bed when I gave it to her. She died 6 weeks later and I thought the piece had been forgotten… until I lifted the sheet.
She’s 8 years old and it’s time she have a desk in her room. Not just any desk. A proper one. The children’s desks in my budget all seem to be made of particle board, metal and plastic. That just won’t do. I continue my search and stumble upon a consignment shop. Elegant tapestry, oriental lamps, and grand dining room tables fill the space, but in the back corner I find it. A beautiful antique desk, just the right size for my little girl. My heart sinks when I look at the price tag. As a single parent, on a teacher’s salary, $250 is going to hurt, but I know it’s probably worth far more.
I don’t remember how I got it home, inside, and gifted by Santa on Christmas morning. I just remember the moment I saw it and knew it was perfect.
The Christmas Tree
I watch as my husband assembles the pieces of the white Christmas tree and when he’s done I fluff up each plastic branch.
When did I stop using real trees?
It stands in our bedroom, tucked in the corner with our dog, Yiska, hidden beneath. We decide to keep the decorations simple. Clear glass balls reflect the colored lights at night and with the click of a timer it lights our room from 5-10 pm.
“Let’s keep it up,” he says, shortly after New Year’s. It seems a strange idea, but I have to admit I enjoy the atmosphere of the tree as much as he does. Each night, as the room glows colors of red, blue, green, and yellow, we hold hands in bed and watch our favorite TV shows.
As I take the tree apart, unhooking the white branches from their center, I say a little prayer to my husband. Speaking out loud to the empty room.
“I love you, honey. I’m going to miss our Christmas tree.”
Why can’t I have the sort of belief in an afterlife that he had? His was an unwavering, comforting, and peaceful faith.
Instead, I try to believe because I desperately need to. I have always tried so hard to believe. And so I send my prayer to him, once again giving the idea of an eternal soul the benefit of the doubt since the alternative is unbearable.
I tape the box with the tree inside and stack it on top of the desk before pushing the embroidered chair back into place among the growing pile in my living room.
It’s just stuff, right?