It was a mere few seconds after we buried the turkey carcass in the backyard next to two dead rats, three hermit crabs, and a finch and licked the last bit of whipping cream from our dessert plates that my husband turned the same shade of white as the tablecloth, knelt next to the dining room table, and began praying fervently, “Please dear God, I beg of you. Don’t let my wife ask me to hang the outside Christmas lights again this year. I promise to give you my soul right now, right here, if you can somehow work your magic so I don’t have to climb that ladder again this year.”
It’s no secret in our family that my husband has an overwhelming fear of heights. His fear is nondiscriminatory and includes anything that causes him to be more than two inches above the ground (including standing on his tiptoes). Last summer while we were vacationing in Wyoming, he accidentally looked over the side of the one-foot by one-foot wide mountain road we were stupid enough to travel on and noticed the sixty-five foot drop that awaited us if he happened to close his eyes to sneeze and missed one tiny hairpin curve.
“We’re all going to die!” he screamed while clutching the steering wheel. “I have to turn the car around right now before we all plunge to our deaths!” he shouted in a slightly hysterical tone while attempting one of the “Y” turns he practiced just once in the driver’s education course he enrolled in approximately forty years earlier. We moved forward half an inch. He quickly threw the car in reverse and backed up approximately one centimeter. Forward. And back. Forward. And back again. I tried not to think of the cliff that loomed in the background, just waiting for one minor miscalculation in our much unrehearsed “Y” turn.
Meanwhile, I was forced to once again transform myself into the therapist I was never trained or licensed in any state to be. “You’re okay,” I murmured in what I like to call my 1-900 voice, “We’re almost turned around now. You’re doing great. Stop holding your breath, you’re starting to look like a Smurf.” Nearly thirty minutes later, we were finally headed exactly where my husband prefers to be—down—which brings me right back to where we were just a few days ago.
I pulled my husband up off the floor and grasped him firmly by the arms. “I know you can hang these lights,” I said confidently as I opened the box of Christmas decorations and began the arduous process of untangling the lights. “Yes, I can hang these lights just like you can get over your fear of public speaking,” he muttered. “Remember the last time you spoke in public? To this day, I don’t think that kindergarten class understood why you muttered, ‘I’d rather die than talk in front of this many people,’ just before you started demonstrating how to make pancakes.” He sighed and trudged outside to prop the ladder against the house. Somehow we had made it through this process for the last two years, but after our experience in Wyoming, his fear seemed to have exploded into something neither he nor I, his very inexperienced therapist, could handle. As I met him outside with the first strand in hand, he muttered, “I don’t know why we have to do this every year. Christmas lights are stupid.”
He took a deep breath as I, once again, murmured, “Just take the ladder one rung at a time. Don’t look down. Look up. It’ll be over before you know it.” Suddenly, I realized that was the wrong thing to say.
“You’re right, it will be over in a matter of seconds,” he replied as he shakily climbed up to the second rung of the ladder. “Right after I plunge to the ground in a heap of flesh and bones!” He climbed up to the third rung and stopped. He wrapped his arms and legs around the ladder and shrieked, “I can’t do it!” And that’s when I knew I had to take action.
After I coaxed him down the ladder with a leftover piece of pumpkin pie, I headed to the local discount store. There had to be something—or someone—that could help us. A few minutes later, I stood in the holiday aisle, overjoyed and riddled with excitement. As I pulled the package off the shelf, I realized I had just found my Christmas miracle. I raced home to show him my treasure.
As I pulled in the driveway, he was putting the ladder away in the garage. He looked defeated. I thrust the package in his arms. “Looks like your soul is saved for another day,” I said as I watched him read the package directions. Suddenly, he smiled. His face slowly turned a healthy shade of pink.
“This is the answer to my prayers,” he said as placed one of the included hooks on the pole, affixed the string of lights to the hook, and slowly snapped the hook on the gutter. “I never have to get on the ladder again!” he yelled to anyone who cared.
Suddenly, the angels sang and everything seemed brighter in our world (mostly after he turned on the Christmas lights). Turns out in the end, together we had found a way to not face his fear, but instead run away from it like two scared elves in desperate need of a lot of psychotherapy.
The way I look at it, next year we only have one way to go—and that is up.