Thursday, December 23, 2004
The Little Tree That Saved Christmas
(a sob story of a sober Christmas)
It was cold, or as cold as Los Angeles gets. There was a heater, but it didn't work, at least not for the intended purpose. It worked more like an intercom system between apartments. We were sleeping on a sofa-bed these days, before it broke in a moment of raw passion a few weeks later. It wasn't comfortable, but it was great because the studio apartment was too small to have a real bed in it anyway. It was before we had witnessed our first drive-by, and after we learned not to say "Hi" to people that we passed on the street. I had never lived anywhere that had bars on the windows before, and I doubt that I ever will again. It was just a reminder that prisons can protect people on the inside, just like they protect people on the outside. All the money that I saved to move had been exhausted between damage deposits and rent and that stupid cat deposit that we found out about, upon arrival, with a truckload of our meager belongings parked illegally in front of the smog-stained white stucco building.
we spent nights on the roof, where Francis would sing in my ear as we looked out over a sea of neon lights and concrete-searching for stars through the light pollution. I worked retail, as I always had, and he was temping as a county clerk for the city of Los Angeles. As the holiday season approached, it was clear that we would not be celebrating. We were buying groceries at the dollar store-which isn't as strange as it sounds, I'm sure, to anyone who has ever been to a dollar store in LA. You can get any Mexican candy that has ever been made, and at the one by our domain (and demise) you can even buy some milk.
I got a little bitter working at the mall this time of year, I just masked it well enough to sell some sucker a 120 dollar gift basket for his mother, or a 15 dollar stocking stuffer for someone's daughter. You see, I have always loved the holidays. Everything about them, and in the height of poverty, they felt so bleak. Not celebrating, hundreds of miles from our families, we were becoming depressed. Mamacita, donde esta santa claus?
Aparently Santa's alias is James and Leisa Torres. After a long day of school and work Francis and I had a package on the doorstep from Francis' dad and step-mom...Only we lived in an apartment so it was really in the front office. We weren't expecting anything, so we were surprised, but Christmas was only a week away-so we weren't too surprised. We ran back to our dirty cold apartment, with the box. It contained the best gift I have ever received, a 3 foot tall little tree and tiny ornaments to go with it. The mood of the season changed entirely. We were actually excited about the corporate holiday that we couldn't really afford. We decorated the tree and even bought a few stockings (from the same dollar store that provided the spaghetti we ate almost every night). We managed to scrounge up a little money for gifts and even wrote out Christmas cards (that we never sent). On Christmas eve Francis snuck out in the middle of the night and got little cute junk to fill my stocking with, so it was ready when I woke up in the morning. This year we are not broke. I bought much better gifts for him and I'm sure he did the same for me. We even have a full-sized tree for the first time- but we have put up the little tree anyway. The little tree gives us the joy, hope, and nostalgia that this season really is about for me. It was the perfect gift at the perfect time. Even without the extravagance that the season usually brings, that little tree single-handedly saved Christmas.

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