The Year My Tree Tried to Kill Me

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This article previously appeared at in December of 2005, under the title “Pine.”

The day was December 24, 2004. Christmas Eve. In Boston, it was freezing-ass cold, there was snow on the ground, and I was sick. Very sick. My Christmas tree had tried to kill me.

I’d decided to go bold that year and buy a really nice tree and decorate the hell out of it. I had even cleared all the furniture away from the front windows so the entire neighborhood could see my glorious display of arboreal glee. My only concern was needles.

In previous years I’d bought my Christmas tree early, too early, perhaps. One year, I’d visited the local nursery in mid-November, so my tree would be ready and waiting to accept the gift of glitter on the precise moment that Thanksgiving ended and the Season of Giving began. Then, on Thanksgiving Plus One, I broke out the Christmas music and spent the better part of the afternoon adorning my little, green friend with colored balls, blinking lights and Grandma’s fabled fuzzy sheep. It was quite the day.

By mid-December the tree had all but died. What had once stood as a seven-foot-tall monument to the everlasting spirit of the season of sharing had become a flaccid, brown stick covered with sheep. The needles, having severed their tenuous ties to the oppressive regime of the tree proper, had struck out to colonize the entire apartment. They were everywhere. Literally. Like sand in a bathing suit, they had somehow managed to lodge themselves into every conceivable nook and cranny, where they lurked, like coniferous kamikazes, waiting for their chance to strike at the webbing betwixt my toes.


It was therefore with painful memories of Carolina Pine Forest-scented assassins that I concocted my scheme for a defiant display of December delight in the year 2004. It was my intention to buy an even larger, fluffier tree this year, which unfortunately required that I wittingly provide refuge to even more of the partisan pine needles. But this year, I was not about to be bested by tree-leavings. I calculated that if I waited until the last possible moment to introduce the fir into my domicile, the traitorous tree would be back out the door before it would have a chance to shed so much as a single needle on my floor. It was the perfect plan. I’d have my tree and … do something else to it, too. There wasn’t a single way (I believed) that my plan could possibly go awry.

A word should be in your mind right now. It rhymes with “gubris.”

On December 23, I visited the nursery. I’d passed the lot on my way to and from various places over the previous month and each time had gazed longingly at the teeming forest of freshly felled firs. It was with this image in mind that I made the slushy trek into Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the night before the night before Christmas, when less adventurous souls were at home sipping ‘nog, but the spectacle I beheld when I arrived was vastly different.

The block-long, snow covered lot behind the nursery parking lot had become just that; a block-long, snow covered lot. It was all but devoid of trees. There were brigades of nefarious needles, and the aforementioned snow, but no trees. Not a single one.

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I found a boy in a green apron that looked like he might be an employee. I held up my wallet and said, “Trees?” He pointed. I followed. Behind a small shack at the far end of the lot, I found three anemic-looking trees. Three.

The boy smiled. I gave him a look that caused him to flee, slipping only once on the ice between myself and safety. My hopes for a dramatic display of December defiance began to fade. Still, I was resolute. I had ventured out on a snowy winter evening to buy a Christmas tree, and by the deity, I was determined to buy one. So I did. I chose the largest and healthiest-looking tree and a handful of wreaths – for padding.

An hour later, I was home, the tree was set up, the wreaths were strategically attached and I was hanging fuzzy sheep while Phil Spector’s Christmas album forced a wall of sound out of my stereo speakers. I was also drinking. It was a sad spectacle, but it was my life, and I was living it.


By 3:00 a.m., my dazzling display of December derangedness was assembled in the living room, and I was incredibly drunk. I sat down on the couch to admire the fruits of my labors and promptly passed out.

At around 11:00 a.m. I awoke to the startling sensation of being unable to breathe. My throat had closed up, my eyes were on fire, my chest was full of sputum and my nose had turned into a faucet. Something was clearly amiss. My experience with allergies told me that I was having a reaction to something. Common sense told me that it was the tree.

An hour later I was on my second-story balcony, in my underwear, dragging the arboreal allergy aggravator over the railing. By the time it hit the ground, scattering sheep as far as the neighbor’s lawn, I was exhausted, freezing and wheezing like a tuberculosis patient. I crawled back inside and went to bed. I had just turned 30, and I felt like I was dying.

An old friend of mine has a theory. Like many of his theories, this one was born in a bar, sired by whiskey. Naturally, it involves alcohol. The theory, which he claims is supported by actual medical doctors, is that the surest method of curing an illness is to drink heavily. This apparently convinces the invading illness that one’s body is not a safe haven, and that it should take its business elsewhere. The genius of this plan is that even if it doesn’t work, one is typically far too drunk to care.

When I first heard this theory, I thought it was crazy. On my 30th birthday, I decided it might just be crazy enough to work. Over the next few days, I nursed myself slowly back to something nearing health with a steady regimen of Maker’s Mark, chocolate chip cookies and KOTOR. I have no idea if this regimen had any effect on the progress of the illness or not, but like my friend had predicted, I was far too drunk to care.

By the time I sobered up, another new year had dawned, my tree-borne illness had faded, and I was 30 years old and a twice-defeated veteran of the Pine Wars. Each year, to commemorate the monumental struggle, I buy a fern.

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