All The Pretty Lights by Kendall A. Bell

In December, the day disappears by about five p.m., so I make sure that I turn off all of the lights in my house by 4:30-ish. It’s not like I need them on, anyway. I’ll end up in the living room, either lying on my back on the well worn rug in the middle of the room, or on the aging loveseat that never closes up right away when you want to stop reclining. I stare at the tree’s blinking lights for what seems like an eternity. I watch the outdoor lights pop on as night commences. I stay motionless, stuck in the wonder of the holiday season, like when I was a young girl in the back of my parents’ car, when we would pass by the houses of people much better off than we ever were. I love Christmas lights. Those Decembers were much colder than what passes for the holiday season now, but you can thank climate change for that. It was just me in that huge back seat, clad in the warmest mittens and a pink puff ball hat, my eyes scanning all of the bright lights in wonder. The best memories were of me helping my dad with decorating the tree. “Be careful untangling the lights, Chelsea,” he’d say, and I’d make sure that my small hands never let any of them clink together or hit the floor, even if we had carpet upstairs. I knew the kind of wrath I’d face from my mother’s prying eyes and the judgment that my father seemed to always have reserved for me. It’s why, to this day, I’d rather be alone in this house, like right now, than be surrounded by family that does nothing but wait until they’re face to face with me to tell me how disappointed they are with my life choices. I didn’t ask to be stuck in a relationship that only I was fighting for. I didn’t ask to be left before the holidays for someone that could pass as my younger sister. I didn’t plan to quit college or work at a job that doesn’t come close to paying a living wage, but I digress. This isn’t about them, and it isn’t about feeling sorry for myself. It’s not about how depression bores itself deep into my bones and leaves me empty and alone. Well, maybe it is a little. It’s more about escape than anything else. These lights are my escape. This seven foot, artificial, pre-lit tree is my escape. All of the decorations are my escape. I wish this were a winter wonderland. I think that everyone, given the chance, would take the movie version of the holidays, where snow is falling, and friends are knocking on your door, presents and freshly baked sweets in tow. Most everyone would love for their dinner table to be perfectly set with dishes and silverware, wine glasses and candles. It’s not the reality, though. The reality is this right now: the ache in my left hip and sciatic pain. It is me tilted towards the window where I can focus on the tree and watch the sun slowly set over this quiet town. There are a few gift bags under the tree. My mother sent me her annual card with a check in it. I’ve taped the six Christmas cards that were sent to me on the front door. Most of these people, I never see during the year. It’s ok. If there’s one thing that I can count on, it’s my own company.

Christmas is almost here, and I don’t expect a call from my best friend, or even my mother. There won’t be a pot luck or a secret Santa at my job. The Christmas present I give myself will be the semi-annual sale at Bath & Body Works. For now, I’m content making this pie for myself, knowing that I won’t have to share it, as I don’t know another person who likes coconut custard pie. I’ll cook for myself, and maybe make some cookies, too, and let the entire house smell like my childhood. Christmas night, I’ll lie on my back, a belly full of savory and sweet, and stare at the lights, my emptied gift bags at my side, my dog curled in her bed and aloof. I’ll think about how many more of these I want to endure, now that I’m older, less important, and less attractive than I’ve ever been. I’ll think of all of the pills I have in the bathroom: ibuprofen, naproxen, percocet. A glass of wine and a buffet of pills to get washed down by a full glass of moscato. Maybe it’d be the best present I could give myself. My body wouldn’t be discovered for weeks, maybe even months. I never have the nerve to actually do it, though. Instead, I just lie here in the dark, on my back, stare up at all of the lights and cry like a fucking failure. The kind of anguish I harbor never seems to get any lighter. It feels like a boot in my chest, getting heavier by the minute. Everything seems to be fuzzier right now from down here. It’s happening faster than I had imagined. These lights are so pretty.

Kendall A. Bell’s poetry has been most recently published in Crepe & Penn and Pink Plastic House. He was nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018. He is the author of two full length collections, “The Roads Don’t Love You” (2018) and “the forced hush of quiet” (2019), and 27 chapbooks, the latest being “the frail spine of us”. He is the publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press and editor and founder of Chantarelle’s Notebook. His chapbooks are available through Maverick Duck Press. He lives in Southern New Jersey.

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