Perhaps I could accept it if the tree were still alive, but it's not. It's standing there in the corner, stooped over like a drunk on skid row, begging us to put it out of its misery. The angel at the top stares down at us, her little brown face twisted in a disapproving glare. The formerly fragrant branches are the consistency of old folks' toenails. Several of them are even curled upward.
Frankly, I'm worried that our dried-out tree is a fire hazard. But beyond the obvious physical danger it poses, it's just plain ugly. With needles so sharp you could use them to administer flu shots and gaps between the branches growing wider every day, our once-lush Frasier fir is looking more and more like a garishly decorated corpse. I've begun to call it the zombie tree. Any day now, I expect it to start moaning and lurching across the floor.
I wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish we would've done what normal people do, and thrown the tree out right after New Year's. We didn't, though. Instead we kept walking by, pretending not to see the needles falling to the floor like that scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." We all knew the tree was dead, but we insisted on carrying on our pathetic little charade. We still have a few small gifts at the base of the zombie tree. LaVeta still turns the lights on every night. Last week, I even watered it as if that would make a difference. It didn't, and I'm ashamed.
Sometimes, in those still, quiet moments in the middle of the night, I wake up thinking of our zombie tree, standing there in our living room, held in place by a tree stand that won't let go. I think of it, and I wonder what people would say if they knew we had a Christmas tree that eats brains.
But then it hits me. People already know, because our madness is on display for the world to see. Not only do we have a zombie tree in the corner of our living room, we also have a dead piece of pine rope tied around our outside railing and Christmas lights in the windows.
LaVeta turns them on every time she turns on the zombie tree. Then she lies on the couch under the withering stare of our disgruntled angel and 100 of her ornament friends.
Ah yes, the ornaments.
No one wants to say it out loud, but that's the real problem. We don't want to take down the lights and ornaments, especially since getting close to the zombie tree is like being tortured with a million needles.
The truth of the matter is, we overdecorated the tree, and now, rather than facing the fact that we have to remove and store the massive collection of lights and ornaments we've built over the course of 12 years, we've fallen into a state of denial. It's as if we think we can leave the zombie tree up until December.
Wait a minute. I might be on to something. Maybe, if we were really creative in working the zombie tree into the décor, we could pull it off. Maybe we could even start a trend. We could stop calling it a zombie tree, reclassify it as a "holiday tree" and use it to celebrate every special occasion.
For Valentine's Day, we could jab candy hearts at the ends of those sharp, little needles. For Easter, we could hide eggs between the dead branches and tell the kids to act like they're hard to find. For Halloween, we could put a mask on the angel and call her the Bride of Chuckie.
Before we knew it, Christmas would be back again, and we could pretend this unfortunate little incident never happened.
On the other hand, we could just do the right thing and throw the zombie tree out. I think we'll do that. We'll do it real soon. Right after we celebrate Presidents Day.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books,including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.