Jeff and I started dating just 2 weeks shy of my 15th birthday. He was 18 and I think it’s fair to say that we were in love within a month or two, although neither of us remembers when we actually started saying it out loud to each other. I know that when he left for college just 6 months after we met, I was devastated in the way only a 15 year old can be. My devastation was made worse by the fact that no one really understood how serious we were. Of course in hindsight, I totally get why everyone thought we were stupid. I mean, I was 15! We’d only been dating 6 months. And Jeff was going off to a good school that was thousands of miles away where he would meet other girls and move on. Except he didn’t. We may never know what combination of factors allowed us to stay together despite only seeing each other twice that year and in the end it may boil down to the fact that we were “meant to be together”. Except by typing that I just barfed in my mouth.
Anyways, Jeff and I wrote each other letters (real letters because this was 1994) almost every day. We also talked into tape cassettes and sent tapes back and forth until they were full. Some prematurely nostalgic part of me decided very early on in our relationship to save everything – every letter, every nerdy collage made out of magazine cut outs and filled with inside jokes that I barely remember now, every humiliating cassette tape containing our angsty voices that we recently promised to never, ever listen to again. When I was 15 or 16, my Mom took me to Pier 1 and bought me a weird, kind of ugly trunk (that I loved) so I could fill it with all my “Jeff memorabilia”. I don’t remember, but I assume my bedroom was being swallowed by manila envelopes and driving my Mom and Dad bananas. My parents have moved a few times since I left home 11 years ago but they’ve always trudged this trunk along with their things.
Jeff and I have now lived together for 8 and a half years. (This may seem like a subject change, but I will loop it back around eventually, I promise.) We lived in a tiny apartment for the first 5 years. Then 4 years ago we got married and soon after bought our house and immediately started tearing the shit out of it to make it “ours”. I tell you this to explain why we have never had a Christmas tree. Our space has either been too small or too chaotic. Two years ago during the holidays I think we were staying with our friends while our floors were refinished and last year in December most of our furniture was piled into one room while we built a fancy box beam ceiling in our dining room. A Christmas tree was out of the question. But THIS YEAR. This year, our house is 95% construction free, our living and dining rooms are DONE and Jeff and Jill Culver are buying a Christmas tree. And it will be awesome. This is our 9th Christmas cohabiting and our first Christmas tree. After almost 15 years together, it’s exciting to find that there are still “firsts” left for us to experience.
I haven’t thought of that trunk sitting in my parent’s basement in years. (See how I'm looping back around?) But a few weeks ago when I was standing by myself in Home Depot waiting for them to mix some paint, I turned around and noticed the elaborate holiday display. I had some time to kill so I walked up and down the aisles while thinking about our Christmas tree. I realized we don’t really have any ornaments for this much anticipated tree. Then the paint lady called my name and I went to retrieve my paint. While driving home with my two gallons of “chocolate froth” paint in eggshell finish, I remembered that ugly trunk from Pier 1. I thought of it because I suddenly remembered that there was something in it I needed.
Last weekend, Jeff humored me and drove us the hour and a half to my parent’s house in the pouring down rain so we could pick up the trunk and bring it home. It reeked of mildew but we crammed it into the back seat and drove it home. That night I rooted through the trunk and found what I was looking for.
In December of 1994, when I was still 15 and Jeff was about to turn 19, he came home from college for Christmas. We hadn’t seen each other in 4 months, almost as long as we’d been together before he left. I have absolutely no recollection of what I gave Jeff for Christmas that year, but on the drive home from Home Depot, I remembered what he’d given me and at the very bottom of the smelly trunk I found it.
For our first Christmas, Jeff bought me an ornament in the shape of a small, gold hand with fingers extended and a heart held between the index finger and thumb. When he gave it to me, it was with a note that said he was sure that one day, we’d have our very own Christmas tree to put it on.