Monday, December 12, 2011

Tangled Lights

I wrote this Christmas story a few years agoand sent it to many. It seems with the economy and life in itself we are living a life of tangled lights, but we need to see through the pain to the blessings in those tangles. It is a story about a young woman who is so busy trying to run away from her own life that she forgets to write her own chapters. It will teach you how you may not can change the whole world, but you can atleast change your own. Merry Christmas and God Bless.

"Tangled Lights"

I've never understood Christmas lights. The strands of colorful little bulbs get stuck together and end up in this ridiculously impossible coil. I wonder who in their right mind decided we should spend all day in the cold unraveling the impossibility and stringing it around the house just to make it look festive. I stared at my own version of Christmas. The tangled lights coiled around my arm as I shook harder and harder trying to get them to fall to the ground.

"Hey there, Arden, you getting in the spirit this year?" I looked up to see my too-full-of-joy neighbor, Mr. Clarence standing on his porch. The old man's suspenders were decorated with pictures of mistletoe, his porch neatly decorated with poinsettias. I laughed, "No, no sir. Just trying to spread a little cheer. I'll be working through the holidays so this is about as good as it gets." Mr. Clarence shook his head. "I understand, I've been a little down because I just can't find the perfect apples for my wife's apple pie we bake every year. It's just impossible with the freeze." He made small talk probably wondering why a young woman would spend Christmas alone doing sales work on her computer. Fine with me; I was accustomed to getting the annual fruitcake from my grandmother in the mail, the card stuffed with money from my dad and the yearly ham wrapped in tacky wrapping from the office. This was my Christmas.

"Your cell phone was ringing," The intern, Jamie handed me the phone as I reached into the copy machine. "It says it was your dad." I stared up at her. "Don't look at who calls me. Don't you know that's an invasion of my privacy?" "Yes, it's just he's called a lot lately and you never answer." I angrily walked away to my desk. "He wants to know about Christmas. I'm not coming. It's one day. My lord, one day of family and food. What's the point? So I can go home without a new fiancé and listen to my brother talk about the newest gadgets he got the kids and watch all of them frolic in their perfect little lives?" Jamie lowered her head. She was right out of college, one of those girls that got married then had a baby and was living life exactly like society seemed to think women needed to live back in the early 80s. "So, are we working Christmas?" I thought she was nuts to even ask me that question after knowing my work ethic. I didn't take vacations like most employees and I didn't know the meaning of a holiday. "Of course. We'll get a leg up on the competition." I knew her little boy was celebrating his first Christmas, but it seemed to me everyone should be miserable with me. "It's one day, Jamie. It won't hurt us." She blankly stared at me. "It's a whole season. It's not just about family either. You know, it's about... Jesus." "Well, Jamie, I'll celebrate Jesus while I make money."

I flipped through the channels of sweet-candy Christmas movies. My Christmas candy was filled with jawbreakers instead of caramel. Those movies just made me want to throw the television out the window. It seems every year they begin coming on earlier and earlier. Halloween might as well be the holiday season. I began to fall asleep with the sounds of Jimmy Stewart talking to his angel. A knock at the door jolted me from my quick slumber. Not knowing if it was evening or the middle of the night I quickly opened the door. A young woman with long, straight black hair dressed in a green Christmas sweatshirt, a red skirt and green tights stood there. I wondered if one of Mr. Clarence's decorations had come to life. "Hi, Arden." Her voice was raspy, yet quiet. "Uh... hi. Can I help you? Are you the new girl at work? Do you need to pick up some samples?" She giggled quietly. "Oh no, no. I'm here for you, Arden. You're coming with me." I didn't really wonder why this stranger was telling me she was here for me. Was she some saleswoman on my porch? She continued, "I'm Prudence. Call me Pru. Here's the deal, you have no Christmas spirit, Arden, and there's some family members that want that changed so I'm here to fix it." She nodded as if that explanation would make me think she wasn't some killer at my house. "Is this some sort of joke? How do you know my name? I'm not coming with you because you could be some Christmas killer. And, honey, I have Christmas spirit. Did you not see my lights?" She shook her head as I kept on trying to get the weirdo to disappear. "Whoa, whoa. Wait... Is this some sort of Christmas Past, Present, Future blah blah blah? Are you a ghost? What is this?" The stranger called Pru nodded, "Not exactly, but we're going to get nostalgic to find your spirit." Then everything went black.

I wondered if she had hit me in the head with a frying pan. The blurry image of her green tights came into focus as I felt the snow beneath my feet. Had she taken me to a desolate island? "What are you doing? I'll call the police. I just have to... well, find my phone." I shuffled around my jean pockets finding nothing. Pru only smiled. "I don't want to be here either. Don't you think I have better things to do this holiday season? I'm trying to get my wings. That's the only reason I'm helping you." Was I dreaming? It felt all too real to be a dream. Wings? "Excuse me? Look, we can get you help. I know some great therapists-" "I don't need therapy, Arden. Would you look up and just believe me? I really don't want to deal with your difficulties today." My house sat in front of me. Hundreds of miles away from my apartment here I sat in front of my childhood home. Didn't they do this to Scrooge? "They can't see you. It's just a look into the past," Pru said dryly. I watched as we were inside and the scent of cinnamon filled the air. Soft Christmas music floated through the house and my eyes landed on what once was my family sitting around the ornate tree. It was me. The little girl with long blonde hair bounced up and down as she shook the present between her hands. My older brother, Griffin threw pieces of popcorn in his mouth giggling as he caught them. My dad looked a hundred years younger. He sat back watching us with that smile I remembered and hadn't seen in so long. And then she walked in the room. She was still alive, it was our last Christmas with her, I know that now. Her eyes sparkled as she snapped photos of us playing around the tree. "We forgot an ornament this year. I picked it up especially for you." My dad stood up handing her a small shiny bell. As I drew closer I saw my mother's initial inscribed across the bell. "Like your favorite movie. Ya know, 'It's A Wonderful Life' because our life is just that wonderful." We all laughed together as they hung the ornament on the perfect little tree. I shook my head wondering what was actually going on in that room at that very moment. "I don't understand why you're making me see this." I said it so quietly that I thought maybe I was watching my own dream. "You need to remember Christmas." I took a step away from the whole picture. "No, I don't. You think seeing this and feeling the pain that this isn't life anymore is going to make me Santa? It just makes me angry. My mother died the next year. We didn't have anything else like this again. Do you want me to tell you so you can get your stupid wings about trying to make new traditions and learn to make pralines just like hers? This isn't helping. I want out. Just let me wake up, Prudence." Pru looked confused as this was probably not following her perfect little Christmas bedtime story formula. She grabbed my hand and again everything went black.

"You're making my journey to wings a tough one, Arden." "Yeah, well, I wish you would have a little pep in your own voice. Why couldn't they send me a hot angel?" She gestured towards the same room, but a different scent filled the air. "I told you I don't want to do this anymore. I don't need you and I really don't care about your wings. I'm not Scrooge. Did you take a wrong turn?" She ignored me making me stand in that moment. I remembered that Christmas. I learned to bake the best pecan pie on the block at fourteen years old. Griffin sat near the tree spinning his new basketball around his fingertips. The tree was the same with the same lights and the same ornaments, just not so neatly decorated. Dad propped his feet up sprawling the newspaper between his hands. And young Arden cut into her pie. We had to make new traditions. We learned how to open gifts and sing carols again. We had the opportunity to make a new Christmas. Dad gently put down his newspaper and smiled at us like we were the only people in the world. "Guys, I'm thinking of marrying Annie. What would you say to that?" It was quiet as both teenagers stopped all action. "Go for it, Dad," Griffin laughed. I bit into my pie. "She's really nice." I remember saying those words to him and I remember knowing life was going to be a little brighter because a new journey meant a new world for all of us. "No matter what, your mother will always be your mother. And we'll always remember her every day especially the holidays. I love you kids more than life itself. Always remember." I turned to Pru secretly wishing I could stay and watch them open gifts and read the Bible. "I had to show you the next chapter," she replied dryly.

I was never drinking wine again. I unplugged the lights and stared outside the window. The snow fell lightly against the trees. The quiet of Christmas engulfed me. Homes were filled with laughter and light while all I wanted to do was extra work. I turned from the window only to see Pru standing in my living room. "Wow. Am I ever going to wake up? Is this like one of those dreams where you're asleep for days? Am I in a coma?" "You aren't asleep. Stop saying that." "Well, if we're replaying 'The Christmas Carol' then you should be another ghost." Pru put out her hand. "I told you this isn't the normal old fairytale." "Whatever," I said thoroughly believing I would awaken from the nightmare at any minute so I might as well play along. "I guess we still have present and future, don't we?" I said quietly. "Not exactly. But, we are going to see Present right now."

My ghost angel, whatever she was, had lost her mind. We stood in the living area of a small, quaint home nicely decorated, but nothing I could recall. Pru wasn't doing her job. I had seen on those other 'Christmas Carols' they take the character to an old aunt's home to see everyone badmouthing them. Then, I heard their voices. "It's just part of the corporate world. You work your way up. You work a few holidays. It's really no big deal." They walked around the corner holding the infant wrapped in blue blankets. I hadn't allowed myself to get close to Jamie, but by being my intern she was my little slave. I had to teach her all I knew and I had to make her my assistant. I was quite envious of her little life. She rocked little Alexander in her arms quietly. "I know it's the ladder, Jeff, but it's about Arden. I've spent months trying to make her see the light of things and she shuns me. I try so hard to be her friend so I can help her and she just runs." They sat in a room without a Christmas tree as presents lined the coffee table. They were everything I wanted to be even though they didn't have half of what I did in monetary value. "Honey," Jeff pulled both of them close to him, "You'll work hard and you'll give Arden all of your spirit on Christmas and we'll be waiting right her for you with a big pumpkin pie and a book of carols when you get home." I turned around to Pru. "What's the point of this mush?" She laughed. "You affect people's lives with your spirit. It's your choice just how you choose to spread that spirit." She took my hand and all went black again.

Annie's elaborate decorations filled their house with such celebration. Everything seemed to be stuck in time as if I were looking at a picture. Atleast it was predictable this time where Pru chose to take me. I hadn't been home in so long that the small things were the easiest to forget. Walking around the corner I began to hear the laughter as my brother's six year old twins decorated a gingerbread house with Annie. After Griffin and Christy got married I felt like she took my place as the daughter of the home. She wasn't broken like me. I watched the two golden children fight over decorations. "Can we eat this on Christmas?" Eden asked excitedly. Annie laughed. "What if I want to keep it as a decoration forever and ever?" "Why don't you send it to Aunt Arden for giving you those big ole gifts under the tree?" I looked up to see my brother whisking into the room. I hadn't gotten the kids Christmas gifts in years, only sent gift cards. "Why did he say I got them gifts?" Pru rolled her eyes. "Don't you think it's easier for your brother to make sure family comes first and the kids don't end up hating you for never giving them toys? He's been doing that every year." "Maybe she'll come this year. I told Santa it'd be great to have the whole family together." Griffin put his hand on Edison's head. "Son, I really doubt she'll be able to make it this year. She just works so hard and doesn't really get any free time." "It's Christmas. Who cares about free time? You can always make time to come and build a snowman with me," Eden said sadly. It wasn't that my heart was so cold I thought my family wouldn't notice my absence each year. I knew every family has a connection and without each link they are not whole.

"Can we go back now? Do you have your wings yet?" I asked Pru. She grabbed my arm. "Far from it. Let's go into the den." Dad sat in his recliner reading over the afternoon paper. He never was one to partake in decorating even when we were children. Annie sat down beside him staring at the wall. "The kids are worried about Arden and Christmas." He didn't even put down the paper. "Christmas is a special time, Annie. She has too many memories of her mother at the holidays. If it hurts too much to come for her, then so be it." I laughed to myself. My dad was standing up for his little girl. He didn't really know the reasons I wasn't there. He just knew it was a duty to protect me. "Oh, please. It's been so many years and she came home for many of those years. The girl is selfish. I know she's not my own so I may be wrong in saying it, but she's plain selfish, Albert." Dad nodded his head and finally put down the paper. "I know. I can't change the world for her. I can't make her spirit come alive."

The darkness engulfed me again before I could hear the rest of their conversation. My blood boiled. I was not dead. Again standing on my porch staring at the brightness of Christmas. I glanced to my side to again see Pru. "Why are you still here? We didn't the whole traveling through time thing so now it's time for you to go away and let me see my future where I die an old alone woman because I had no Christmas cheer." She shook her head. "Well, it's just ridiculous. My spirit isn't dead. My dad doesn't have to change my world. I'm alive." "Fine. Then where's the truth? I've heard countless people claim to be Christians because they go to church. People claim to be psychics because they win the lottery. I wouldn't be here if you weren't doing the same thing with your spirit." I wanted her to disappear. I realized I wasn't exactly angry at her or at Christmas, but I wanted everything to change. My spirit had begun to fade years earlier and I let the light dim until it was barely a flicker. "Tell me, Arden, why did you really stop going home? You love family and lights. What happened?" "Life happened. After Mom died my dad got remarried and everyone seemed to fit into their own little places... except me. It wasn't about Jesus anymore, it wasn't about family even, it was about getting through the season without tears. So I stopped going home. I stopped buying gifts. I just hung some lights and went on to work." I wondered if my speech had made Pru sprout her wings. It seemed in the movies after the big reveal of pain everything changes. She crossed her arms. "You're a stubborn one. We all fit into our own little places and we all can't fit in that box of perfection you have in your mind. You can live like this hurting everyone around you for fifty more years for all I care. Or you can start changing your world this Christmas." She turned to walk away. "Wait, what about your wings? Did you get them?" Pru laughed. "That's up to you. I'm a rookie at all this changing the world stuff."

I never thought one person could change the world. It was all coming into perspective how Pru explained if we cannot change the world then atleast we can change our own world. Somehow my world had gotten tangled. Somewhere between baking pecan pies and throwing lights on my house I had lost everything my mother fought so hard to achieve. She spent countless hours each Christmas making sure every present was exactly what we asked for... she baked pralines and cookies just to make us happy... she played the easiest songs on the piano so we could sing along. Dad's home was now the same happy place full of anxious gift givers and and pies of every flavor. The story of Jesus' birth never changed. My family, Mr. Clarence's family, Jamie's family all sat down to read the exact same story. The backgrounds of our lives were so different, yet we came together in the universe for the same reasoning. I didn't want my life to be like this year after year. I wanted to read that story, eat those pies and rip open gifts. I wanted to fit into my own box of perfection for once. After I finally figured out just how to change my world I realized I only had a few hours to do it.

After a good night's sleep I awoke to the sun blazing through my window. Christmas Day. It was time to make things happen. I ran outside to see Mr. Clarence picking up his morning newspaper. "Hey, Mr. Clarence," I waved at the jolly man across the lawn. "I'm on my way home." He smiled. "Well, Merry Christmas to you and the family. By the way, thanks for the apples. Not sure where you got them, but your friend brought them over and boy, they are perfect for my pies." I was confused. "My friend?" "Oh yeah, the gal on your porch. Long black hair." I couldn't help but laugh. I might be crazy, but atleast the whole town was going crazy with me.

The office was quiet except for the humming of the overhead lights. I was a few minutes late after gathering all of the gifts I had purchased late Christmas Eve at the only stores still open. Nothing like last minute Christmas shopping with the crowds. Jamie popped out of her seat. "Hi, I was worried. You're never late." She said quietly. I brought out a box with a small fiber optic Christmas tree knowing it was more than she had sitting in that living area. "Listen, Jamie, go home and enjoy the day and don't come back until next year." I handed her the box. "This is for you and the family. And this," I picked up another bag of toys, "is for Benjamin." She stared at me as if I was a predator invading Arden's body. I didn't feel there was a need for explanation other than the fact I had bit hit in the head with a spirit stick.

The drive home was long and cold. I wasn't like Scrooge where I wanted to shout Christmas blessings to everyone honking and driving alongside me, but I did feel like cranking up the Christmas tunes. A long drive reminds me to think and ponder on the days gone and the days ahead. I understood a personality couldn't be changed through one night of reasoning, but this was the beginning of a beautiful journey for me.

I didn't ring the doorbell. I simply walked in the home carrying bags of gifts. The twins ran through the hall into my arms. Jumping up and down tearing apart my hair. Griffin and Christy stood behind them in awe. "I brought you two some goodies," I laughed. Eden ripped the gifts out of my hand and thrust them toward her daddy. "Look, she got us more!" I stood up in front of my brother. "Actually those other gifts under the tree are really from your own parents. These are really from me." Eden and Edison took the rest of the gifts and excitedly ran into the other room. "If they're really from you I'm scared of what you'd get two six year olds." Griffin laughed. He hugged me as if we hadn't seen one another in years. Maybe in spirit we hadn't.

The kitchen was filled with pies and candy. Annie stood over the turkey finishing off its perfect glaze. My dad stood at the bar finishing off his glass of apple cider. As I walked around the corner our eyes met and froze as if we were two beings from another planet. Without a word my dad swept me into his arms and erased away the years.

It seems so easy, but putting away pride and starting a new journey is never easy. Those that truly love others don't ask too many questions and don't ever give up hope that one day down the road that loved one might just come walking through the door. I had walked through a door I had shut in my own face and in that moment I suddenly found myself surrounded by the same love I felt as a little girl. I wandered into the living area as the kids ripped open their gifts under the tree. Dad sat holding an old photo in his hands. "You're missing the kids totally ignoring Christy's wrapping skills." He smiled up at me. "Thanks for being here. We need you around here more often. This picture," He pointed at the photo of our family when I was very young sitting around a Christmas tree. "This is magic." I laughed. "My gosh, look at Mom's hair. That's scary. Dad, this is our life now though. I know that." He nodded. "It's magic because this was only the first chapter. We have so many chapters in life and we choose what is written upon the pages. You chose for so long to not even write your chapter. I guess you were just waiting for a miracle to write the rest of your book. You forgot to live it." He was right. I had tried to shut out the world of spirit because it was easier than facing the writing on each page. He said the picture was magic. Magic that showed true spirit through the goofy grins of a cute little family. Little did he know the amount of magic it took to get me to realize I was dead.

Dad and I joined the main characters in our latest chapter to watch them finish ripping apart the gifts. Annie helped Christy piece together her new camera. Eden brushed her new doll's hair as Edison flipped his small foam football between his hands. And, my brother showed us all he never stopped living in his first chapter. Griffin grabbed the football from Edison's hands and rushed across the room. "Alright, kid, it's time you learn to go long." Edison giggled as Griffin launched the ball across the room. The little boy rammed into the side of the Christmas tree making the lights shake and ornaments hold on for dear life. Laughter filled the room as I noticed the small bell with my mother's initials ringing as it shook. "Edison, look what you did. You better be careful." Eden said. "I know exactly what I did," He replied back. "Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. Ya think that's true, Aunt Arden?" I was in shock. He was exactly right. We ram into things throughout our lives whether it be a tree or a wall of our own. We shake things up and in the end maybe a bell rings and that poor angel that had to help us through the wreck got a great reward. I laughed at Edison. "You bet, Edison. An angel sure did get her wings. I even know her name. Prudence. She's a stubborn little angel, but she's my own and now she's up there flying thanks to all of you."

I had not only changed my world, I had changed the world of those around me. I finally realized by writing my own chapters and actually living in those journeys that I could positively affect my family, my friends and my entire world. I smiled looking up at the tangled, coiled lights on my porch. At one time they were my only attempt at making the world think I fit into their box of perfection. They were never perfect and I gave up on them before I even took the time to unravel the beauty and glow that could have been every Christmas. It's funny… Tangled lights to some might mean an imperfect start to Christmas. Tangled lights to others might mean an extra few hours of laughter with loved ones as they fought to unravel the beast. However, tangled lights to me meant the start of a new chapter beginning the rest of my life.

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