When I called my family to let them know I broke the Christmas tree over the weekend, they said, “You have issues.”
Under normal circumstances I would never bother my family with my problems even when something real takes place: My latest subscription to Psychology Today goes to the wrong address, a black widow spider jumps on me, Bambi’s dad hits my car; so they weren’t sure what to think when I called and explained that the biggest problem I was facing in my life at the moment was a broken Christmas tree.
“OK, I don’t get it,” someone said.
I told them I was having a panic attack.
“You’re serious? I thought you were joking,” someone else said.
“No,” I said.
I’m on the floor in the fetal position, I said, I can’t feel my legs, I don’t know what to do with my hands, I can’t remember to breathe, everything hurts and I just hate everything. “I’m having a nervous breakdown and you have to come check on me,” I cried out over the phone to anyone who would listen.
They weren’t buying my story. They didn’t believe me.
“Fine!” I said. “I’ll handle it myself.”
I jumped up off the floor suddenly, knowing no one was coming to my rescue. I know my family wants the best for me. Me too, I want the best for me too, I decided.
This was my first rodeo with cutting down a live Christmas tree; and I enjoyed cutting it down at the tree farm and hauling it home. But now, even when it was fixed in its holder, it kept tipping over onto the floor.
I tried over and over again but I was failing. I couldn’t give up. Deep questions overwhelmed me: What would Jesus do? What is God trying to tell me? I wondered. What’s the purpose of my life? What’s the moral of this story?
Someone recommended that I Google a how-to video demonstrating how to set up the Christmas tree, so I began Googling, “How to survive a midlife crisis” and “What to do when I’m failing at life” and “How millennials overpower a quarter-life crisis,” and “How to stop failing at life” instead.
The way I saw it, there were several reasonable solutions to getting the tree fixed up properly.
The first idea was prayer, but I soon realized it needed something more than to “just breathe and relax and hope God’s love will find its way.”
I contemplated throwing the live tree outside, dousing it in kerosene and throwing a match on it. I could set up little Molotov cocktails and buy a different Christmas tree later, but then I saw the way the kid and the pets, especially, were staring at me with expectations shining from their eyes that I would fix this broken tree.
So we went shopping, just in case there was a nice artificial tree, but then I altogether decided against buying another tree; primarily because I didn’t know what to do with the first one, and if I got a second one and it broke, then I’d have a whole room full of broken trees. Instead I bought a roll of duct tape and a sugared apple-scented candle to go with it.
Shopping for candles is a coping skill and an amazingly simple way to keep it cozy when you feel like Christmas is going to be the death of you.
I went to Whole Foods and sampled holiday beets, and spent $100 on fruit and chocolate. Sensitive to the season, I allowed myself to buy the Christmas ale, even though I normally don’t drink alcohol. In the back of my mind, I wanted to hibernate and have something quickly available to numb the pain of the existential crisis of being alive and maintaining homeostasis during the holidays.
Once I made all of my purchases, got home and unpacked all of the decorations, the tree fell over a dozen more times. I drank two ales and then the wildest thought occurred to me: No matter how much money and love you invest into something, somehow, some things just never work out.
The Christmas ale was a treat and by the end of the night I was more lit than the tree. I learned that, according to Google, I’ve been having a quarter-life crisis for the past seven years. I didn’t even know it, but the broken Christmas tree showed it. I thought this was one of the funniest things I had ever experienced because I feel like it was obvious to my whole family and I was only now realizing it.
Sunday morning was wonderful but the tree continued to fall over and as I laid on the floor crying, I went through my contacts list and told everyone that I was having a mental health crisis. I told them they needed to come and check on me.
My whole family refused to come over to help. On the phone they would sigh and say things like, “You have issues. It can’t be that hard to do. I don’t get it. You can’t set up a little five or six foot Christmas tree? I can’t help you but I’m sorry you’re having real problems.”
I’m sure my family has the best intentions. I’m thankful for them. My soul grew by infinite proportions…soul growth so deep I could feel it in my bones. I talked to my bone marrow and told it that everything would be fine. So I posted a “for sale” ad on Facebook and offered to pay someone $50 to fix the tree.
Everyone thought I was joking, and I laughed and cried until my kid crawled into my lap and said, “It’s OK, failures are the steps to success mommy.”
That sounds exactly like what I’d say to a potty-training 2-year-old who took their diaper off and missed the toilet.
One of the greatest parts of having kids is when they coach you with the exact words you taught them: “Failure is a good thing, it means you’re trying. Don’t give up!” Now here was my family on the phone testing my willpower saying, “Now, Ash, you can do it, just keep trying!”
Yeah, I cried, and mumbled low-key about how reading the Ohio Revised Code and applying it to the business law books was easier than assembling a living Christmas tree with screw pegs. It’s amazing, it truly is, and if you’ve never had the experience of assembling a living tree, I highly recommend trying it out for yourself so that you can come to terms with the state of your own mental health.
Still laughing and crying, I inched like a worm across the floor and once I was under the tree and convincing myself that I was the best gift my kid would receive this year, I realized the tree’s stand was missing a piece and that it was the tree stand itself that was the problem. Not me. I wasn’t really having a midlife crisis, so I texted my family and told them I was just practicing for when the real thing supposedly happens, and seeing if they were paying attention and prepared.
I ate an avocado for dinner, patted the tree, and feeling friendly, put the Molotov cocktails away, drove to the hardware store and bought a new tree stand.
Contact Ashley by email at email@example.com, call by phone at (740) 313-0355, or connect on Twitter by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton and sending a message.
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