1. Take the plastic tree out of the box
I cut through the layers of duct tape with a knife, tearing a hole in the photo of the father handing his five-year-old daughter her present. Bailey licks my face and I tell him to lay down. He follows me as I walk to the bathroom to wash my face. I hang up the towel, glancing at a framed picture of my late father and sister on the wall, taken some time two decades ago at JcPenney.
2. Put up the tree stand
I kneel on the floor, placing the stand on the base. A ceramic bakery, a police station and a home with people used to go with it. My sister took it as we cleaned out my father’s house. She said she’d make better use of it. Her children would love it, she told me. I’ve seen it only on her Christmas cards she sends every year. I let Bailey outside, telling him, “It’s cold, only ten minutes.” From the window, I watch him sit in the snow.
3. Look for the piece labeled A and follow the letters accordingly
One branch has a faded curve to it. It may be a C. I try to attach it and it slips out of my hand. Sitting on the floor, I pick up each branch, interpreting the marks on the end. Head in my hands, I sob, I don’t know if any of the pieces connect. I have no idea what I am doing. Bailey cuddles in my lap and rests his head on my leg.
4. Spread out the branches
Silent Night plays as I pull at the plastic needles and puff them up. My father cried every time he heard the song. I asked him why one year and he said he didn’t know. I will myself not to. Bailey howls as the singer reaches the high note. I put my hand over my mouth and grinned, wishing I had my phone on me to record it.
5. Add tinsel, lights and ornaments
I push the tinsel aside and search for Mickey in the box of Disney ornaments my aunt gave me when I was about ten. Mickey had somehow lost a thumb I discover as I place him on the hook and hang him up front. On the bottom, I find a dulled gold ornament with my name and sister’s engraved on it. My sister liked the snowflakes falling in the picture and chose it for the design... Both of us wanted to wear the red sweater. My dad stepped in and let me wear the red one. I place it next to Mickey. Bailey wags his tail as he sits in the tree’s cardboard box, watching me as I string the lights.