It had been nearly six months since Dave died and Christmas was coming, whether I cared about it or not. I got home and the driveway was full of familiar cars, the house lit up like Vegas.
Waiting inside were many of my closest girlfriends and a house decorated for Christmas; music, candles, food and a perfect Christmas tree ready to decorate. Each woman (and many who couldn't physically be there), presented me with an ornament to put on my tree. Each ornament had some personal meaning.
It's this tree that I pulled out and slowly reassembled the other day, picking up each ornament and finding just the right spot for it on my tree.
This is the third time I've done this. The love that this tree represents hasn't faded. The magic of that moment 3 years ago is still present in each ornament and each little limb of that tree, each twinkling light.
I am still stunned that my friends did that for me. I am still as shocked and grateful as I was that moment I first saw my house filled with their presence.
What makes that night and that tree and those precious ornaments even more precious, is what Christmas was like for me growing up.
With the exception of one or two years (when he half-heartedly attempted it), my father never acknowledged a single holiday. We didn't have a Christmas tree, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinner, birthdays, Halloween decorations... nothing.
Sometimes he'd give money to a female coworker who'd take me out to buy myself what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday. Sometimes we'd go to our neighbor's house for Thanksgiving. He'd turn off the porch lights every Halloween so we wouldn't have trick or treaters.
Each holiday would pass without acknowledgement and I grew up not having the experience of having a holiday at home. I felt fundamentally different from every other kid I knew. I felt like a tag-along to every friend's house for the holidays. I felt orphaned and alone.
I longed for a holiday that included family and friends gathering and eating.
But that kind of longing is too painful to carry for an entire childhood, so I shut it down. Until I met Dave at 20, I didn't acknowledge the holidays at all. Once we were together, we would cook for Thanksgiving and we'd have Christmas at his parents'.
When Dave died, the holidays were gone again for me. I didn't have it in me to create them for myself.
But my friends created it for me that Christmas. And now, I can carry on that tradition.
I think one day I might have it in me to really go big for the holidays, even if it's just me appreciating it.
Or maybe, I'll be the one who surprises another orphan with a decorated living room. Or maybe I'll start inviting the other orphans I meet to my lavishly decorated home.
For right now, what I can handle for the holidays is this little tree, almost tipping over from the weight of all those ornaments.
And when I sit here in my living room and look over at that softly lit tree, every drop of love that created it fills me up all over again.