Of Christmas Trees and Dirty Dishes

Things look a lot different when you change your perspective. Life is what you make it.


1. Of Christmas Trees and Dirty Dishes

The snowflakes are falling, so soft and gentle. Each one is a different shape, individuals in the slate colored sky. But what difference does it make to be unique? They all fall to the ground. Some melt, innocent and pure, but are destroyed before they even have a chance. Others cling to each other for comfort, but they are only one in a crowd of many, all traces of individuality erased by the sticky mass of snow.

Despite the cruel truth in this, the snow is peaceful and quiet, as I the assimilation is no longer painful. Perhaps their voices have just been oppressed, the world around them muted as they protest with words that never make a sound. Still, I cannot help but to find the winter wonderland to be beautiful, a marvel to regard with child-like fascination.

 I step up to the frosted window in my apartment, leaning my forehead against the chilled glass. It fogs up as I breathe on it, obscuring my view.

“Get a hold of yourself, Maggie,” I say to myself aloud, “Are you gonna look out the window all day?”

 I wrench myself away, my pale eyes glancing around the room. I see my slippers, strewn in different directions, one of them peeking out from under the tattered couch. I see the crappy television, the one that only gets reception half the time. Just the home of a normal 23-year-old office aide.

I peer into the depths of the kitchen, sighing as I notice the ever growing pile of dirty dishes. I’ll do them another day.

 I pass my Christmas tree, the once vibrant pine needles now turning an ugly brown. Eighty percent of the string lights aren’t working, the ornaments are either too old or broken, and the star on top is always crooked.

 I’ve never been good at decorating, but I stopped caring about traditions on that day. I stopped caring about everything. Putting on my snow boots and shrugging on my coat, I step out my front door.

Tiny snowflakes embed themselves in my straw colored hair as I walk down the hushed streets. I round the corner, peering into the brightly lit convenience store. Laughter came from inside, families rejoicing together as they prepared for a Christmas dinner.

I step reluctantly onto the linoleum floor, before scurrying across the main area into a more secluded, quiet aisle. Cheery music blares out of the speakers, a loop of songs played all day. It makes my head hurt.

Quickly gathering supplies to make a small dinner for myself, mostly frozen meals and packets of potatoes, I remember last year’s Christmas.

I had tried to make a turkey for our dinner and it had failed, the poultry too dry and slightly burnt. Still, he hadn’t cared. He only rubbed his hands together and told me to compliment the cook.

 I shake my heads to clear my thoughts. Stop daydreaming, I chide to myself.

I weave through the crowds of people, mothers with their children, grandparents catching up, young couples in love. I stoop low, trying to avoid attention. I am nobody, someone everyone sees but never talks to.

All the self check outs are full, and I feel vulnerable standing out in the open. With no other choice, I gingerly place myself in front of a jolly faced cashier. I exchange as few pleasantries as possible. I zone out, watching the snow come down.

 “Ma’am?” the cashier asks expectantly.

“What?” I ask in return, not paying attention.

“Paper or plastic?” he repeats patiently.

“It doesn’t matter,” I reply.

Nothing does. At least not anymore. He hands me a small paper bag, and I look away as he wishes me a merry Christmas. I just want to return to my house, to be hidden away in my cocoon of memories. Once I am on the street again I breathe a sigh of relief. But as I walk towards my house, a snow drift from up above lands in my path.

Did the wind blow that over? I sigh, moving around it. A flash of something in my peripheral vision catches my attention.

A man is standing across the road, an umbrella clutched in his hand. I can’t see his eyes, for he is looking down. Something about him seems eerily familiar. Wait… Could it really be? He looks just like him, I think to myself, it couldn’t be a mistake. But he was dead!

 The memories of that night came back to me. The blinding lights, the crunching noise, the arm held out to protect me. The smell of alcohol permeating the air. Screaming his name over and over again in anguish. But here he was, standing across the street from me. He starts to move, shuffling in the other direction. Where was he going?

“Hey wait!” I call out.

I didn’t know what to make of the situation. If he was dead, he couldn’t be here, but the retreating figure looked exactly the same as him. Wondering if I had finally gone crazy, I decide to go after him.  I clutch my bag of groceries tightly in my arms, keeping it secure while I run.

The streets are slippery as I chase after him, the snow turning into water and the water turning into ice. Every time I come close enough to see his face, he turns and walks away at a brisk pace, stopping close enough to stay in my field of vision but far enough I couldn’t catch up.

The city was flying by now, the buildings only a blur as I pick up my pace. But no matter how fast I run, he is always a step ahead of me. I approach trees now, a thicket on the edge of town. For a moment, I am lost within the foliage, unable to see him. It is dark inside the branches, all light from the outside being repelled. But then I spot him, a mysterious glow surrounding him. It pierces through the gloom enough for me to see, and then fades away as I come close.

Suddenly, I break through, the light from the sun blinding me. Once my eyes adjust, I look around. I’m in a circular area, a wide span of space formed around me. Tall pine trees with snow capped peaks shoot through the ground, looming over the clearing. The ground is blanketed in snow, glittering in the now present sun. It is breathtakingly beautiful. But right in the middle was the reason I came, sitting on the stump of a once mighty and ancient tree.

 I drop the groceries I have in my arms, not believing my eyes. He was here, in the flesh. Striking blonde hair, the color of sand. Shockingly stunning blue eyes, ones so deep they are like a churning ocean. Skin that was tanned, the color of melted chocolate. A small but defined body, tall and thin. There was no doubt it could be him, for nobody else looked like he did. The sun plays across his face, lighting up his angular features. He doesn’t look over at me, almost as if I am not here. For a moment I am bewildered, and then the spell breaks.

“Jason?” I ask, breathless and shaky.

How could this be happening? I never saw him die, but I went to his funeral. His head tilted slightly, as if he couldn’t quite hear what was being said.

“Jason! What’s wrong with you? It’s me, Maggie!”

 He does not respond, still acting as if he couldn’t see me. Why did he lead me here only to ignore me? I step up to him, inching closer. He is perfect, even serene. Am I only imagining things?

 “Why can’t you hear me? Don’t you know me?” I ask to him brokenly, feeling tears well up in my eyes.

I feel my legs go weak and I sit on the stump. The taste of saline fills my mouth.

“It’s you who can’t hear me, Maggie,” a voice says.

 I snap my head up, my eyes widening when I realize he has spoken. He isn’t looking at me, but I didn’t think I’d made it up. Sure enough, he spoke again.

“I’ve been trying to communicate with you for years, you just don’t see it. I’ve had to wonder if you even remember me.”

Was he kidding?

“Of course I remember you, Jason! How could I forget?”

He got up from the stump, pacing back and forth. His eyes look serious, and I know he means to say something important. As he walks by me, I can feel the air displaced, and can smell his cologne. He was as human and real as me, but how could that be? After the accident… He sighs, a great heaving expression of sorrow.

“You aren’t paying attention,” he says, “You haven’t even recognized where you’re sitting.”

I peer around, trying to understand what he means. Something seems oddly familiar, but I can’t remember.

“This is where we had our anniversary. Don’t you remember?” he asks.

That’s right! We had a picnic and he sang My Girl while he played the guitar. I smile at the memory. When I look back at Jason, his face shows melancholy.

“I know who you are, Maggie, but you don’t know who I am anymore,” he says, looking away.

“What? That’s not true! I think about you every day! You’re the only thing I think about…” I trail off.

 He sits down next to me, running his hands through his hair. I feel an overwhelming urge to reach out and touch him, to verify his existence, but the situation seems inappropriate.

“You don’t,” he says, shushing me when I move to protest, “You think you do. But when was the last time you remembered something good? And I mean really remembered, not just brushed it off.”

I look away, unable to deny the comment.

“The only Jason you know is the one that died. Tell me that’s not what you think about!”

He raises his voice slightly, and it echoes around the clearing. I don’t reply. Our world is silent and muted like the snow around us. But my heart is steadily growing louder, thumping against my chest painfully. It hurts so much to have him be gone, for he was my everything. The tears blur my vision again, and I start to cry.

“I’m sorry, Jason,” I sob pitifully, “But it hurts so much. I feel like I’m being ripped apart, it’s agony. I miss you more than I can say now that you’re gone.”

 I hear him sigh. He shifts his body towards me, before gently taking my face in his hands. As we touch it’s like an electric shock runs through my body, his sudden existence colliding with mine. His fingers make my cheeks tingle as he wipes away my tears.

“Don’t you understand, my sweet Maggie? I never left. I’m always watching over you. Remember the day we had our anniversary? I told you I would always be with you.”

He smiles, a brilliant grin that shines as bright as the sun. He had told me he would live on in my heart, and that he would always be with me. I had agreed, but wasn’t even able to comprehend the idea of him being gone. I had forgotten. But here he was, indeed still with me. I lunge forward, wrapping my arms around his torso.

“It’s okay, Maggie,” he soothes, “You’re going to be okay now. You only have to live your life how you would if I was here.”

 He gives me a kiss on the forehead. The clearing is getting lighter, beams of sunlight shooting across our intertwined forms.

“I’ve got to go now,” he says with a sad smile.

 No. He was leaving? I just got him back!

“You can’t leave yet!” I exclaim, “I-I need more time. Please don’t leave!”

He just shakes his head. I lower my eyes, trying not to cry again.

“I love you, Maggie. More than you could ever know.”

 I hug him again, feeling him become less real by the second.

“I love you too, Jason. Thank you. For everything.”

He smiles, and leans in for a kiss. For a moment, I am back on my wedding day, the happiest girl on earth. But then he pulls back, and I see his form become one with the light pouring around us. He waves, an adorable send off.

“See ya later, alligator,” he comments.

His form disappears into the light.

“After a while, crocodile,” I finish with.

The light still stuck around, infusing itself with me. There was no pain in my heart, only the love that Jason had given to me. He would always be there, watching over me.

Smiling, I pick up my groceries from the ground and set off to the city. There is a walking path set clear in front of me, the one we had walked along when we came here on our anniversary. I made it back to my house, walking along the streets with the content families out after the snow had stopped. But this time, I was happy too.

I walk up the stairs and shut the door, looking at my apartment again. I retrieve my slippers, and turn on the television. A Christmas movie is playing, and I sing along as I get to work on the dishes. Once I am done, I wander into my living room again.  I hesitantly plug in the Christmas tree and let out a giggle. It looks a bit ridiculous, the light only working certain places. Still, for some reason it’s beautiful to me.

I should call mom, I think to myself, I haven’t had Christmas there in forever.

I pick up the phone and dial her number, smiling when she becomes elated at the idea of me coming over.

 I look out to see the snowflakes pressed against my window, and I smile. I was wrong about them losing their individuality. They merely share their uniqueness with each other, just as humans share love and personality with friends and family.

As I get ready once more, I stop to think about my life now. It may be lonely sometimes, I may not have the best apartment or possessions ever, and I may have many flaws. Still, I was loved just the way I was. And that was all that really mattered.

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