Embroidery: Mandy Milks. Photo: Roberto Caruso
In December of 2006, I just didn’t know how I was going to cope. I was seven months pregnant and had been on my own for the past four months. My husband had walked out when we found out I was expecting, despite the fact that we were trying for a baby. (It turns out he’d been having an affair, which I discovered after finding a love letter in his pocket when I was five months pregnant.) I spent a lot of my evenings sobbing in the bath, listening to Neko Case and Johnny Cash songs. Parenting solo definitely wasn’t part of any plan I had, and grieving the end of my relationship clouded any joy that I may have been feeling about the new life inside me.
A week before Christmas my upstairs neighbour Myrna, a single mom to two girls, knocked on my door and told me we were going out to get Christmas trees. I’d never had a real tree, or any tree at all since leaving home at 15. My husband wasn’t into Christmas, so we never bothered doing anything special, and I had no decorations to put on it, but thought: “What the hell!” and went along for the ride. We drove around looking for a tree lot, Christmas music blaring from the stereo and her daughters giggling in the back. We bought massive trees and somehow managed to get them in the back of the car with the girls, a treetop poking out of each of the back windows. The whole outing was hilarious.
We dragged a tree into my apartment, and I propped it up against the wall while I went out to pick up a stand at the hardware store, grabbing a few strands of tinsel and a package of tree lights, too. Dressed in those few things, my tree looked pathetic, so I dedicated the next day to shopping for decorations—splurging at stores like Restoration Hardware and other places I’d never have dared shop at when I still had a shared bank account. The tree looked fab, and in the glow of those fairy lights my life seemed somehow less miserable. I decided to run with all this Christmas spirit and try to enjoy myself.
I cooked a Christmas dinner for five friends who, like me, had no family to spend the holiday with. Because I’d left it so late to order a nice turkey from my local food co-op, my only option was to get one of the deformed ones that nobody had wanted, but whatever. I took that wingless and bruised bird, turned it into golden roasted perfection and served it up with all the trimmings.
The dinner was delicious, we played poker ’til the early hours of Boxing Day, and it was the best Christmas I’d had in a very long time. As I sat there laughing with friends, my hand on my belly feeling my daughter kicking inside me, I felt happy for the first time in months.
That was a turning point for me. I knew I was going to be OK, and that I was going to have a lot of happy Christmases to come. I pictured how good the next one would be, when I’d be decorating the house for two of us. My daughter, Perdida, was born two months later, and Myrna and her girls were the first of my friends to visit once we were home from the hospital.
Eight years later, I’m remarried and have had another baby. We have a massive tree every year, and seeing Perdida helping her two-year-old brother, Carmelo, tear into the wrapping paper to discover all his toys under the glow of twinkling lights just makes me melt. I still invite friends without families to join us, and I love having a full house tucking into a perfect—and these days, always a non-deformed—turkey.
This article was originally published online in November 2014.