We All Learn from Your Beauty, by E.S. Dial
“We get in, get the tree, get out,” says Dad. “Got it?” Football begins in less than two hours; my family is on the clock.
Marc points out that Christmas trees do not grow in Bethlehem. It would be more authentic to decorate with sand and palm trees. “It’s tradition,” says Mom. “They represent eternal life.” “And they smell nice too,” I say.
Holiday Catholics make mass an extra fifteen minutes long and cause a parking lot jam at St. Jude’s church, putting us behind schedule. “Jesus Christ,” says Dad. “Damn it all to hell.”
But tradition is tradition, and on the first Sunday in December we go to Artie’s Tree Farm to rent a handsaw, trample through snow, and cut down a Douglas Fir like backcountry men.
Dad holds the tree while Marc saws and he directs: use nice smooth strokes, no, you need to press harder, use some muscle, Jesus. “Why don’t you do it then, Dad?” “Just saw.” “Screw this. I’m done.” Marc throws the saw, and Dad has to dig it out. I hold the tree for Dad. “Good girl,” he says.
Dad’s face turns poinsettia red, sweat drips from his nose, puffs of breath chug out of his mouth. When the tree topples into the snow, he collapses back onto his heels.
“Would you get off the phone?” says Dad. Marc’s texting his boyfriend, Robby, from across the street. They are planning to have sex on New Year’s Eve. My parents don’t know. Not about the boyfriend. Not about the sex. But, I do. “Damn it, Marc,” says Dad, “Help carry this thing.”
They drag the tree to the car while Mom and I follow. Marc keeps looking at his phone. He pulls his hat down over his ears because he’s secretly listening to music. Sometimes I go through Marc’s phone when he leaves it around. Sometimes I see things I probably shouldn’t.
Marc stares out the window while the rest of us stand up the tree. We can’t get it straight. Dad has the idea to hammer a hook into the ceiling beam. He ties green wire around a limb at the top, pulls it taut, and connects it to the hook. “The tree must be crooked,” he says. “Yes, must be the tree,” says Mom. “How does it look?” “Perfect, honey.”
It does not.
Dad gets a beer and turns on the game. “What is that?” says Mom, joining Marc at the window. Across the street, the Aghastinos stand around a giant tree with glittering lights beside a life size nativity scene in their front yard. “That Robby,” Mom says and glances at me, “such a nice boy. Maybe when you’re older, you two…” She does not finish her thought.
Blues, reds and yellows flash over Marc’s face, still and silent like the snow outside. Maybe he’s right; some traditions don’t belong.
This story originally appeared here.