She was a young mother... her boy was no more than three years old, and he was the sum and substance of her social life. They had recently moved across the country. The women she loved-- her best friends-- were all at least a thousand miles away. So were her parents. So was her husband, truth be told... immersed in the new job, disconnected from life at home. Or so it seemed to her.
The Thanksgiving sojourn to her parents' home was just a memory. The December days dawned, and the long, dark evenings held nothing more for her than endless repeats of the videos her son currently loved. It was just the two of them, the woman and her son. They were one another's everything.
A friend from years ago had relocated to a city two hours away. It was a lifeline, and she grabbed on greedily, driving the old rear-wheel drive car through a snowy morning to get to a home full of children (she had always wanted more children), and a sympathetic woman, flushed with the excitement of graduate school. They drank tea together. They watched the children tumble in the snow, the friend's older children kindly including her son. When it was time to go, she nearly wept. She was so lonely.
On the highway, dark in the twilight, she watched as farmhouses and small communities rolled past. She could see the beginnings of Christmas lights appearing. Some displays were garish and embarrassing. Some were evocative and haunting. Everywhere strangers-- people she would never meet, living in places she would never know-- were lighting candles and lamps against the darkness. She watched as she drove into the blackness, marveling at the beauty of the incandescent bulbs. She felt an irrational gratitude towards the strangers who had so decorated their homes. It seemed the height of selflessness-- all that effort, not for themselves, but for her, a lonely stranger, clinging to her son's childhood, driving through the long night.