I wade through the Christmas morning obstacle course, around the scattered toys and books and abandoned candy canes. I grab a crumpled ball of wrapping paper and stuff it deep inside an overflowing trash bag full of tinsel and tape and cardboard packages. When the bag begins to overflow, I stuff the last handful of Christmas cheer into its plastic prison and tie it shut.
My siblings were happy to have me home from school, for the first hour. They then promptly forgot that they hadn’t seen me in months, and returned to bickering, sugar cookies, and singing Christmas carols out of tune. I sift through the aftermath of their Christmas morning, and clean up the wreckage. I head for the door.
“Don’t forget the crockpot,” my mother calls, “Take it to the dumpster, too.”
I carry the overfilled garbage bag and the old crockpot outside to the dumpster, into the cold, wet December afternoon. I consider how funny it is that my mother received this fine kitchen appliance on this same day, a year ago, and it has somehow already found its way to the dumpster. I open the lid and toss it in, along with the wrapping paper, the packages, the candy canes, and tinsel. I look up the street, at the soggy paper luminaries.
Everything is on its way out, isn’t it? I like being surprised when a kitchen appliance lasts more than a year, but why am I surprised in the first place? It’s almost like everything is just in a different state of being thrown away. Everything is going to get trashed; it’s just a matter of time.
How long will it be before we trash that brand new coffee maker we unwrapped this morning? Or the iPad? Or the new set of coffee mugs? How long will those things last? Five years? Ten? Twenty years?
I pull my brand new scarf and sweater tighter over my shoulders, and hesitate, before going back inside. I wonder, how long until I throw them out, too? How long before I tear a hole in the sweater, or the scarf gets lost?
Everything is just in a different stage of being thrown out, I’m sure of it. Everything is headed for the trash—the only difference is the amount of time it takes to get there. And that’s scary as hell. What is not going to end up in the trash, eventually? Anything?
My mind wanders, and I step back inside. My younger siblings clamber around the TV, eating candy canes and sugar cookies, watching Linus Van Pelt monologue about Christmas trees needing love.
Maybe that was it. Maybe this cliché answer of “Love and Christmas Cheer” is the one that won’t end up in the trash. Maybe love is the one thing that’s not on a path to the landfill. Maybe the Beatles really were right, and it’s as simple as that. If that were true, though, I think we would have better answers for everything.
“Watch Charlie Brown with us!” my little sister yells at me, as I turn to leave. There’s no escaping my siblings. When they want something from me, it’s as good as theirs. So I sit down beside them, and watch Lucy Van Pelt declare Charlie Brown a completely hopeless loser.
It’s not love. Love is erased when everything melts. Love is dependent on the people who carry it, the people who nurture it, the people who use it. My sister leans her head against me, and I understand that there is only one thing not destined for the trash.
That’s cliché, too. Almost as cliché as love. But it seems inarguable. Even when you’re in the ground, there’s no way to become unrelated to your siblings, or your parents, or your children. There’s no way to disconnect from them. You’ll always be family to them, and they’ll always be family to you, whether or not you like it. You can try to forget them, or disown them, or escape them, but they’re always there.
It’s in your DNA, and no escaping that.
“Do you wanna watch the Grinch with us?” my little sister asks me, as Charlie Brown ends.