Before my parents divorced when I was six, before I walked into their bedroom that morning and found my father’s underwear shelves empty, before he would walk ten paces ahead of my mom as she pushed my stroller down the street to avoid being identified as my father, before, at age 40, my father got his girlfriend, my mom, pregnant, before my parents moved to Los Angeles to wipe the slate clean, before their hasty marriage, before their near nightly screaming matches, during which I would stand in the doorway handing my mother tissues when tears overwhelmed her, before my father left his esteemed civil service job in Spain to work as a driving school instructor in L.A., before my mom did better than him as a bank teller, before he told me not to make the same mistakes he did, before I would see my dad on weekends when I was in elementary school and then every other weekend when I was in high school, before he would fall asleep when we went to the movies, before my mom handed out towels at an L.A. tennis club at night to help pay my private school tuition, before my dad moved into one depressing studio apartment after another, before he would tell me endless stories of Spain’s past grandeur over fast food hamburgers, before he flew up to Berkeley to visit me while I was in college and forgot to tell me what flight he was on, before he and my mom spoke civilly for the first time in decades at my graduation, before my father finally moved back to Spain to live with his sisters, before my mother remarried a man who opened the car door for her, before all that…
…my mother and father were madly in love.
They were living in an apartment in Madrid. Christmas was approaching, it was bitter cold, and my mom was homesick for the States. She missed her family, she missed her friends, and she missed having a Christmas tree. They were not yet common in Spain. The department stores decorated their windows with a few silver and gold garlands, but not much else.
So my dad took two wire clothes hangers, unbent them, and reshaped them into a rough triangle. From local stores he found a few silver garlands and carefully wrapped them around his wire tree, and hung it from the ceiling. The makeshift Christmas tree glittered in the lamp light.
My mom cried that night, too, but for all the right reasons.
I can’t say for certain, but I’m a September baby – it’s not impossible that I was conceived that Christmas Eve, when two people in Madrid still loved each other.