O Christmas Tree, How Denuded Are Thy Branches

She left him in January. Always the worst time to leave someone, despite many saying that the holidays are the most detrimental period for abandonment. But no, the sting of being left right at the beginning of a new year is far more painful. Far more pronounced in its momentousness. Plus, not only did she leave him in January, she left him with little more than a denuded Christmas tree in the apartment after gathering all her things (and many of his) in a hurry and departing without warning. Like some kind of fugitive. Except that, rather than fleeing clandestinely in the night (when most clandestine things are presumed to go on), she did so during the day. While he was at work.

Although she had shown some slight signs of dissatisfaction in recent months, it hadn’t been anything extreme enough to give Otto cause for concern. Kiara was known for being mercurial anyway—you couldn’t put stock in her moods. When she had a dip, Otto just stood out of the way and waited for it to pass. Which it always did. And neither one of them brought it up in the wake of the black pall. It was better that way. Preferable. At least for Otto. He didn’t want to address what she was feeling before “perking up” again, and she didn’t seem to want to discuss it either. Or so he had assumed… Maybe it was wrong to make that assumption just because he hated acknowledging emotions of any kind that bordered on “unpleasant.” In fact, it had been Kiara’s “upbeat demeanor” that had initially attracted him. That day almost five years ago, coming up this very January. When she decided to abscond instead of staying to celebrate their unofficial anniversary. Because yes, unmarried couples have anniversaries too. Except now, there would be no “milestone celebration.” Not without Otto’s “better half” around.

When he got home from his first day back at work after the long winter break (if two weeks can really be called “long”), he could scarcely believe what he was seeing. The apartment had been rendered bare. This absence of furniture even included the broken barstool in the kitchen they had both often talked of throwing away, but never gotten around to. Even that she had taken. Almost as though out of spite. Malice, dare one say. All that was left was the mattress in the bedroom and the aforementioned stripped-down, visibly-dying Christmas tree. The one that she had insisted upon getting in the first place. Otto certainly didn’t want it. He hated frivolous trappings of capitalism in general, but, above all, those that fell under the umbrella of Chrismas décor.

Otto couldn’t think of a bigger waste of money or crueler manner in which to shit on Mother Nature’s face. But he loved Kiara, so he relented. It only took him three years into their relationship (two of which they had been living together) to finally surrender, but he did. And it seemed Kiara wanted to either really make up for lost time or simply make Otto pay for forcing her to wait for so long by being as over the top as possible via the chintzy decorations she began to outfit their apartment with a month in advance of Christmas. Otto never imagined himself being with the type of person who immediately started decorating the day after Thanksgiving, but here he was, helping this crazy bitch put up all these cornball wares. Why? Could it be love alone that drove him to concede? Or had she merely worn down his will to fight it any longer? Maybe there was a fine line between the two possibilities. Whatever the case, looking back on what might have driven her away, it was probably Otto’s hostile attitude toward decorating this year.

As per usual, she took out all the many boxes filled with useless Christmas shit right after Thanksgiving. Like clockwork, as it is said. But Otto, rather than assisting her as he normally would in the past, decided to just stay in bed and relax that morning… and afternoon. The more she called out for him to help her from the other room, the more determined he was to stay in bed. To defy her “Christmas wishes,” as it were. That evening, as they sat in silence eating the dinner she had made, it was clear he was being punished for his “sins” when she flashed him nothing short of a death stare before staring back into her plate of pesto pasta and not giving him another upward glance until finally he asked, “Is this about the fucking Christmas decorations?”

She slowly raised her head, as though possessed by Satan, and looked directly into his eyes when she said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She then resumed eating in eye contact-avoiding silence. That’s when Otto knew for sure: he had fucked himself by trying to take a stand against Christmas. But the truth was, Otto hated this time of year. Mainly because it bled slowly and painfully into the beginning of January. The month he hated most of all. More than the average person. To him, it felt like being caught in some time loop-esque ether, where it was neither really Christmas or the New Year. The two periods were instead sort of fused together as one seemingly endless two-month cycle that allowed Christmas decorations to remain up well into January for added confusion and disorientation.

This, too, was part of the reason why he was so averse to putting up “tinsel” in the first place. It made him dread January all the more, when the reminder of the “holiday haze” would linger for weeks after it was all over. For yes, Kiara was also one of those people who saw nothing wrong with leaving decorations up all the way until the end of January—sometimes, until the beginning of February. It was monstrous, and he had had enough. Yet still, it wasn’t as though he told her to stop “doing what she loved.” He just didn’t want to aid and abet her anymore with it. Why was that something to get so upset over?

He kept wondering this as he went to open the refrigerator and saw that the only thing left was his half-consumed six-pack of beer. Goddamn, she really was petty when she wanted to be. Which, come to think of it, was all the time. Otto had been inclined to overlook that quality in Kiara until now, but it was impossible to do so any longer. Not as he sat on the cold hardwood floor sipping a lone can of beer in front of a desiccated and eviscerated pine. That he would now be responsible for getting rid of on his own. God, it was such a bitch to move these beasts up and down the stairs, seven whole fucking flights of them. That was the one decorating task he had conceded to assisting her with: dragging it up. But alone he would have to drag it down. Where was the justice in that? Where was the justice in any relationship demise, for that matter?

Clearly, nowhere. As nowhere as that Christmas tree was going, for Otto suddenly refused to give Kiara the satisfaction of believing he would be the one forced to take it out of the apartment. Oh no, he’d sooner let it rot and become an increasing fire hazard than allow her to “win” this way. Indeed, he was so determined to beat her at her own passive aggressive game that he actually went out and bought a string of lights to put back on the dying creature. That’s right, he wanted to grease the wheels (or pine needles) of an “accident” in the apartment. With the cheap lights he had bought, it was just a matter of time before one of them shorted and lit the tree up, like, well, a Christmas tree. On fire.

And who would have to live with Otto’s death by Christmas tree fire on their conscience? Kiara. Christmas décor-loving Kiara. Maybe this would teach her a lesson about pettiness (because, contrary to faux-popular belief, you can fight pettiness with pettiness… though some will say that’s like fighting fire with fire). But, most important of all, a lesson about prioritizing Xmas frippery over what was supposed to be true love.

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