At night, our little apartment can be beautiful. There are pink lights in the dining room, left over from her fifth birthday party. They climb in and around evergreen boughs that I took home from a camp Christmas party. The advent not-wreath is on the table…three shades of purple, but if the light is dim you don’t notice.
The tree is in the living room, with merry white lights. Another string of white lights cover the arch of the doorway, too. We put them up three years ago for Christmas and never took them down. In Selam’s room, a cluster of Christmas lights nestle into a clear block. My parents made it as a craft project years ago. Selam thinks the fairies live inside.
My coffee table holds a little wooden cabin with a single candle glowing inside. When I remember it, I turn on my Moravian star, too.
It gets dark so early. We all repeat these words to each other, surprised, and a little miffed to be honest. It’s as if the sun chose to abandon us personally, moving away without inviting us to the party or sending out a change of address. We stare at the sky, searching for the way home, the way back.
So we light candles, and decorate a tree, though we know Jesus was born in the summer, most likely. We don’t need a birthday in the summer,though. We don’t need a house full of light and candles and defiance when the sun spills into every crevice. We need it now, when the winter is new, when we are not yet used to shuffling in our silent houses in the encroaching dark. We need it now when we still remember the light.
Selam hates the dark. She can climb anything, swim anywhere, sing on a stage in front of strangers. She can move from half the world over and learn a new language, make new friends. You name it. She is brave. But she is afraid of the dark. The streetlights outside her window do not bother her. We actually open the blinds so that she can see them better. The nightlight keeps her company as long as it can, until she just has to bolt and find me, find another heartbeat with which to face the dark.
She does not like this time of year, when her trip home from after school care is in the darkness. We blow in the front door and before I’ve even taken off my coat, she’s started turning on the tree and the nightlight and the twinkle lights of every kind.
“Isn’t it pretty?” I say, unpeeling the coat, the briefcase, the lunchbox.
“I like the sun better,” she says, “but this is nice, too.”
When it is time for dinner, I strike a match and light the first purple candle. I turn to her, “do you want to blow out the match?”
“No,” she says, her face lit by the yellow flame.
“I really don’t.”