I had a dream about my mom last night. We watched old home movies on VHS tapes and put up a Christmas tree. It reminded me of my grandfather’s house and the too-large colored bulbs that hung in the covered porch. I found an old story I wrote that talked about my mental health and the importance of string lights.
I put up the tree for the warm light of an endless morning it gives off once it’s plugged in. All of the more attractive baubles hang in front to capture the eyes of whoever may grace my front door. From Black friday until January first, my gawdy beacon of holiday cheer stands in proud, statuesque perpetuity, all in the name of tradition.
I welcome in the musty smells of forgotten decorations while “A Very Merry Christmas Vol.2” plays over my Bluetooth record player. I put my kettle on the stove and the smell of hot metal and boiling water transports me to my grandparents’ kitchen, where Nan and Pop fashion either Lipton tea of Foldger’s instant coffee. I, in my own kitchen, opt for a French Press with coarse ground Costa Rican blend from the local fair trade coffee shop near my house. I sit at my table while my coffee steeps, one foot in a past life that I sometimes struggle to recognize as one I lived. I hope the smells linger — the warm Christmas lights stay lit — and the memories don’t elude me again.
Short of leaving my Christmas tree up year-round, I hang string lights tastefully around my condo to tether myself to a positive childhood moment. Growing up, my mom would spend an entire day expertly fluffing up the tree and stringing lights in between drags of her cigarette and gulps of blush-colored Franzia boxed wine, of course. She never let my brother and me string the lights for the fear of one or both of us fucking it up, but somehow he and I worked out other systems of placing ornaments — the same ones — each year. We would be furious if the other touched one of our respective balls, as if a rift would split all space and time and pull us through into nothingness for messing up the order — as if there was ever order in our house.
And yet, in my condo kitchen over my French Press, I question if those memories are entirely true and honest with me. How authentic are the moments I hold onto? How true to the timeline are my childhood recollections? The flashbacks are more reliable when they tie into the memories of things like scents and feelings rather than cognitive pieces stitched together over various decades — little baubles I put at the front of my mind to distract from the garbage in the back. But even if those fond times aren’t entirely accurate, I hold them tight and keep them treading above the deep black-green of trauma in the form of booze and bibles.
My spiritual advisor told me in order to achieve certain enlightenments — and pull myself from certain doom following years and years of horrible events — I had to lean into the things that once brought me joy as a child, because that little girl was starved for almost thirty years. He told me she needed to be nurtured and loved and forgiven. I realized then, around maybe my fourth move in the pursuit of anti-homelessness, that I left her for dead in an attempt to preserve my present state.
But my present state sucked.
I was just so over the night terrors and the memories of my mom, wide-eyed and clawing for either God — or more time — that when I left the creek house for the very last time, I left my inner child in the front room watching me drive off as the walls consumed her. My mindset at the time was, in order to move on from that Past I had to either kill or abandon it all. Like an old diary, I bound the pages of my past life in layers of duct tape before throwing it in the trash, or hiding it in a drawer long enough to forget what I wrote. I tried so hard to snuff out bad memories and abandon all in a dark house where the walls scream so loud I couldn’t sleep towards the end. But the inner me — that little girl — knew just where to find me. Late at night, alone in a new house, crying for my mom, hugging our family dog — she’d creep up the stairs and watch me from the doorway and tell me to cry harder, to cannonball into the feelings I had in order to clean myself out. I hated her for it.
But now I sit across from her and drink my coffee while she feeds on the lingering memories of a warm creek house kitchen that I didn’t know I missed until I was reminded. I could have gone the route of my mom and drank myself into oblivion while maintaining a shell of stubbornness so thick that only Death himself — and liver failure — could make me see straight. My inner child and I are proud of that — not losing ourselves under the sails, and alternatively not leaning entirely on an invisible higher power. Instead, I believe in my own abilities, and hold onto memories that made me.