December 5, 2000
Satellite View


The satellite image, as it downloads onto my computer screen, is grainy and indistinct ... like an early, low-tech ultrasound photo.

Panning and zooming, in an effort to enhance some of the detail, just makes it grainier and more indistinct. But once it finally finishes loading and zooming (and re-loading and re-zooming, a couple more times), it is unmistakeably the satellite image of a house.

My house.

Or, more accurately, my ex-house. I haven't technically been a resident there since August 1997. But two of my children still call the place "home." Four boxes of my high school journals and diaries still *live* in the attic. [i hope.] Plus I believe I invested enough *emotion- and elbow-grease molecules,* during the seven-plus years I put in there, to have earned permanent Offsite Resident Status.

I squint at the fuzzy image on my computer monitor. If I look carefully, I can see the chain-link fence surrounding the house and the yard. There is the driveway ...  the detached garage ...  the church parking lot directly behind the house. If I zoom in a little more, I believe I can even see the holly tree, and my ex-husband's tomato garden, and the abandoned sandbox in the far northeast corner of the backyard.

(I'll bet that if I zoomed in even further, I'd be able to see a little satellite image of Betty-Next-Door, peering through our living room window with her binoculars! But that's another story for another day.)

It is magical  --  and weird  --  to be sitting here in my little California office, on a sunny December afternoon ... eating one of my World Famous Turkey-and-Cranberry Sandwiches, listening to KFOG-FM, dodging phone calls ... and looking at a photo of my ex-house taken from a bazillion miles in space. The fact that this isn't a current image -- the disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage says These images range between a few days and several years old -- doesn't bother me at all.

If I want to, in fact, I can pretend that I'm looking through a magic *time-travel cam* ... back to some point in the early-90's ... 1991 or 1992, maybe: a few years before I popped that AOL disk into the PS1 Consultant and everything changed for all of us forever ... and I can imagine that there is a teeny-tiny Satellite-Image-Secra, still living and breathing and puttering around inside that house, as I sit here and watch her from a bazillion miles away.

I know exactly what she's doing down there inside her teeny-tiny/satellite-image-house.

She's decorating for the holidays.

In fact, by this point -- the middle of the first week of December -- she is probably in the grip of full-scale *Christmas Decorating Fever.*

There won't be a Christmas tree standing in the corner of the living room yet: it's too early in the season. The tree is traditionally purchased and decorated every year on her birthday, on the 15th: a tradition dating back to her childhood. (There won't be any outside lights on the house yet, either: the ex-husband *traditionally* hangs them about an hour and a half before Christmas.) But everything else about the house is already beginning to scream CHRISTMAS.

"Scream" being the operative word.

If you can zoom in on her, you can see that she has already purchased the December issue of each and every woman's magazine on the newstands: Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Womans Day, McCall's, Better Homes and Gardens. The most interesting recipes and decorating ideas from each magazine have been clipped and carefully glue-sticked into the "Christmas Ideas" notebook, for future reference; the most inspirational stories and poems have been added to the "Christmas Spirit" notebook. Organized lists are already posted on the refrigerator: Stuff To Buy, Stuff To Bake, Stuff To Clean, Gift Ideas, Stocking-Stuffer Ideas ... plus individual Wish Lists for every member of the household. She has begun to lay in her supplies of candles (white/vanilla-scented only) and Christmas cards (*country* themes are good) and silver tinsel for the tree (two boxes for a dollar). The Christmas Tapes are stacked next to the stereo for instant access.

She has glued tiny construction-paper Santa hats to every framed photo in the entire house.

Children's holiday artwork from years past -- including her own second-grade construction paper Santa, fragile and limp with age -- is lavishly displayed on the refrigerator and elsewhere throughout the house. A cluster of children's paper "snowflakes" are Scotch-taped to the living room window (although the truth is she made them all HERSELF, so they'll be perfect).

All of the familiar holiday decorations are already in place: the ceramic kissing angels, in their customary spot on top of the TV ... the Christmas stockings hanging from the stereo cabinet ... the snowman collection, perfectly arranged on one shelf of the bookcase; the Santa Claus collection on the shelf directly below it.

And -- the pièce de résistance -- the border of Christmas cards.

She has saved every Christmas card she has ever received in her entire life -- some of them going all the way back to early grade school -- and every year she climbs onto a step stool and meticulously, painstakingly masking-tapes the cards, one after another, in a long continuous row at the very top of the wall ... beginning at one corner of the living room, next to the front door ... going all the way around the room, and into the dining room and the kitchen and the laundry room ... snaking down the hallway into all three of the bedrooms and into the bathrooms ... and ending, in an unbroken chain of cards, at the original corner of the living room. It takes her an entire afternoon, and when she is done it is a thing of magnificent insanity.

Her teeny-tiny/satellite-image-house is filled with warmth and loveliness and holiday cheer.

The frazzled woman is not.

I watch teeny-tiny Satellite-Image-Secra, spinning and whirling around her little house ... trying to make everything perfect, trying to make everybody happy, trying to ignore the screaming noises in her head ... and my heart aches for her. I want to tell her, Stop for a minute

I want to tell her, The things you are spending the most time worrying about are not the things that are most important

I want to tell her Nobody gives a shidt if your candles aren't burning symmetrically.

I want to tell her Ten years from now, the only thing you'll remember is the way their faces looked on Christmas morning .

But of course I know she wouldn't be able to hear me from a bazillion miles away.

repaying a little more of that karmic debt

throw a rock