Christmas Lights

by Amanda Lewan

            We stopped suddenly in the middle of our journey back home. Marc pulled off the freeway and we soon realized we were not in a safe place. Urban sprawl had left this border of Detroit stretched down to emptied lots, barred liquor stores, and then glowing from a distance, the very brightly colored pizza place he specifically desired. The stop had ultimately been my doing. I had shared the thought out loud while leaving the viewing and passing a chain. It had to be this specific type of pizza now and this was the only stop on our way back into Detroit. Marc would not change his mind. When he got an idea into his head that was it.
            I thought it didn’t look so bad as we got out of the car. The windows were barred but decorated with a thick rainbow string of Christmas lights, or the bright flashing lights you see in darker parts of town, lights that command this place exists here. Those are lights that say be careful. Safety or celebration it was neither for us as we waited ten minutes for the pizza.
            “Why are we the ones to pick up Uncle John from the airport?” I asked.
            “My mom has to stay longer. Brian is working.”
            But this was a question we had been asking ourselves lately. Why were we tasked with so much? We are the reliable couple, the older siblings, the ones asked of favors no matter the occasion. I was always described as “too nice” by past friends and lovers and this bothered me. How could you lovingly tell something they are too much of anything? It was a phrase that I’m pretty sure every ex-boyfriend had said to me at one point in time. Michael across the country reminding me on the phone the too many buts and ifs of our separation. Alex a volatile man had said it over and over wanting more of a fight. Nick who was my heartbreak after five long years; I’m sure he said that after I took him back everytime. At this point the words carry an extreme dislike. This was not something Marc would ever say, because we were too of the same sitting on the bench together.
            “What is the problem with this uncle?”
            “Nothing. He is a little off, and he may be ill.”
            Marc was avoiding my questions and I frankly didn’t blame him. He was tired and sad at the death we just left. I woke early on Christmas morning to let the dog out. Upstairs I could hear his voice on the phone and I knew immediately that she had passed. He drove far out of the way on Christmas Eve after a night of parties to see her. His grandmother’s body was failing, but they thought she’d still make it through.

Untitled by Kate Salvi
Untitled by Kate Salvi

            “She couldn’t speak, but she squeezed my hand. She knew I was there.”
            This is the Christmas of death: his grandma passing, and my grandfather taken suddenly to ER on Christmas morning. Anxiety on one side, grief on the other. Death brings sight to any relationship: testing like a spark of electricity for grievances and love, testing for the want of a passionate life, testing to see if it’s all turned on there. My mother made the decision to leave my father when she saw her eldest sister lying still in her tomb. That was the moment, that was it. Years of dad trying to get sober and mom trying to leave had ended. There was no going back when the image of a tomb was right in front of you and your sister stared back. What decisions would be made at the face of death this time?
            But Marc and I did not feel this way yet. A couple days passed after picking up his uncle, the funeral passed, and my Grandfather quickly grew worse. Marc and I came home rather peacefully as if resolved that this is the facts and we are still here.
            It is a great sign that we are still here. It is our first holiday living together. Marc is always in a flurry with work, and stress is now shared between us reverberating through our days. He is still working to accept what happened now.
            “I am sad,” he says. “I no longer have a grandma.”
            “You are wrong. She is still with you.”
            It is the only thing I can say that feels right. I felt my aunt watching over me throughout the years, imagining a guardian, and it brought me peace. The statement comes from a new faith I have found comfort in. I believe more every year after the blunt refusals of college rebellion. I see no other way. I cannot create daily without believing in something, without keeping a faith. He asked me to take communion and I did for the first time in five years at the funeral. It tastes the same, the thin wafer of hope and celebration, the delicacy of a life lived and lived again, of life entering and leaving the body.
            I believe in us too. The man who wakes next to me, slim with dark hair and just a tad bit taller than I is a man I love deeply. He tells me I am beautiful no matter how much I complain. He does not allow for the superficial. This is the truth in our relationship, the light between us focused on only what matters most.
            I take him for a visit at night through the Detroit Zoo where enormous amounts of Christmas lights and figurines are on display. It is a long walk, almost an hour in the chilly air and snowless eve. We are just walking together and watching. Marc has a thing for fireworks, bonfires, Christmas lights, anything that lights a place. He comes up with ideas to incorporate lights into his technology company he is building, a dreamy message with a purpose. This is the Marc I know and love.
            I think of the single string of lights he hung on our little balcony for our first Christmas. They are big colorful bulbs dangling on the edge. There is not much light around us on our block in Detroit. Many street lights are still in need of repair, and most neighbors didn’t bother with decor. We wait for the lights to be turned back on, for in the darkness there is likely more danger. Or perhaps we imagine this danger and fear multiples. Eventually we want the light to see our surroundings, no matter how grim, how barred they may be.
            I think of death as light now. I think of a poem I wrote a few months back before this holiday, before death was dragged over the mind with it’s heavy bodies. I cannot find the poem anywhere. It is not on my computer, but suddenly it is there again: Dying is like fireworks I think / Our souls are ready to rise up / Leaving our skin it is the fire, ready/ the warmth of love leaving the body. They are words that when strung together may have meaning someday, lit up only by the short time we are given.
            We are still here. I am testing, testing to see if it’s all still there. I will look straight into the face of death, and what will I want? I will want us to still be here.